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Q&A: Joe Bonamassa

For someone still in his early 30s, Joe Bonamassa has achieved a remarkable amount. At the age of 12 the guitar virtuoso opened a show for legendary blues star BB King. He released his first album when barely 17, a self-titled record with the short-lived Bloodline, a band that also included the sons of jazz great Miles Davis and Doors guitarist Robby Krieger.

You have a new album, Black Rock, coming out towards the end of March. How do you keep the edge when you seem to be constantly on the album-tour-album treadmill?

Well, I had to get into the mind-set of being 18 years old again. After everything we did with the last album [2009’s The Ballad Of John Henry], culminating in getting the chance to headline the Royal Albert Hall in London last year, I took a step back. And I said to myself: ‘Okay, suppose I’d never made a record. How would I approach this?’ I wanted to prove I still had the hunger and desire.

How do you know when you’ve actually done a good record? Is the reaction from fans a good indicator?

Partly, of course. Then there’s also the fact that [producer] Kevin Shirley and I can look each other in the eye and say, with total honestly: “We’ve nailed this one!” But the most important person is my dad. He’s my biggest fan and also harshest critic. If he can listen to it and likes what he hears… man, I know I’m on the right road.

You’ve got the legendary BB King guesting on the new album. How did that come about?

I’ve been fortunate enough to know Mr King for so long, but would never dare ask him to appear on one of my albums – this is an all-time great! But then I got to play on stage with Steve Winwood at a festival. We did [Traffic’s] The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys. That was such a thrill. Afterwards I felt confident enough to get up the courage and phone the man’s manager. I was so stoked when he agreed.

Unfortunately, when Mr King did his bits for the song, Night Life, I was on tour. So he went into a studio in Las Vegas, while I was in Luxembourg. But he did sign the lyric sheet and wrote me a letter. I’ve got them both framed.

**You’ve got some interesting covers on the record, including Bobby Parker’s Steal Your Heart Away, which Led Zeppelin nearly covered for an album. **

And it was Robert Plant who suggested it to me. Apparently Zeppelin worked it up for their first album but never actually recorded it. But when someone like Robert makes a recommendation, you listen. So I went for the early Jimmy Page vibe on guitar. I dug out the Telecaster.

The Black Country project - how did that happen?

Glenn Hughes and I have known each other for about two years. We’ve always talked about doing something together. But I really felt if it happened then this should be special, not just BonaHughes. What cemented it was when Glenn came on stage with me at the House Of Blues in Los Angeles. We did _Medusa _[by Hughes’s old band Trapeze] and Mistreated [Deep Purple]. That was such a thrill.

Kevin Shirley was in the audience and he thought it was incredible. He suggested Jason and Derek for the band, and before we knew it the four of us were in the studio working on five tracks.

**Jason rather let the cat out of the bag by giving away all the details in an interview. Did that annoy the rest of the band? **

Not at all. We just thought, right, let’s get the album done now. To be honest, this has been so much fun. No pressure, just four guys enjoying themselves and working off each other. To me this sounds like a big rock record. It’s not just an amalgamation of what we’ve all been known for in the past, but something different.

Do you get to sing at all?

Very little. Why would I, with Glenn there? It’s like working with Gordon Ramsay and making your own salad. What is the point? I’ll tell you what we have done – a version of Medusa. And I got to play [late Trapeze member] Mel Galley’s guitar. That was incredible. But I don’t know whether it will make the album. It depends how everything comes out.

Will Black Country tour at all?

It’s down to how our individual schedules work out. But first let’s get the album done and released. We’ll take it from there.

**Do you ever have the fear that you’ll wake up one day and it’ll all have been a dream? **

Oh, sure. Sometimes I find it hard to believe everything that has happened to me, all the great people I have been privileged to work with. I just feel so lucky. There are so many better guitarists than me, and that’s not false modesty. I’ve had a lot of help along the way, because there are those who, for whatever reason, actually feel I have a talent worth nurturing. I like to think I haven’t let them down.

If it all went wrong tomorrow, then I’d look back and feel grateful to have had the opportunity to do so much. That’s why I’m determined to enjoy everything I do. It’s not about money or fame, it’s about having the best time you can possibly have, all of the time.

MEDUSA

FIVE ARTISTS AND BANDS TO FEATURE BONAMASSA

  • Bloodline - his first band, released one self-titled album

  • Rock Candy Funk Party - two albums so far

  • Joe Lynn Turner - Bonamassa plays on the singer’s 2000 album Holy Man

  • Beth Hart - the pair have done two albums to date

  • Black Country Communion - three studio albums and out

Malcolm Dome

Malcolm Dome had an illustrious and celebrated career which stretched back to working for Record Mirror magazine in the late 70s and Metal Fury in the early 80s before joining Kerrang! at its launch in 1981. His first book, Encyclopedia Metallica, published in 1981, may have been the inspiration for the name of a certain band formed that same year. Dome is also credited with inventing the term "thrash metal" while writing about the Anthrax song Metal Thrashing Mad in 1984. He would later become a founding member of RAW rock magazine in 1988.

In the early 90s, Malcolm Dome was the Editor of Metal Forces magazine, and also involved in the horror film magazine Terror, before returning to Kerrang! for a spell. With the launch of Classic Rock magazine in 1998 he became involved with that title, sister magazine Metal Hammer, and was a contributor to Prog magazine since its inception in 2009. He was actively involved in Total Rock Radio, which launched as Rock Radio Network in 1997, changing its name to Total Rock in 2000. In 2014 he joined the TeamRock online team as Archive Editor, uploading stories from all of our print titles and helping lay the foundation for what became Louder.

Dome was the author of many books on a host of bands from AC/DC to Led Zeppelin and Metallica, some of which he co-wrote with Prog Editor Jerry Ewing.