Who’s the greatest guitarist on the planet? On the face of it, that question’s a no-brainer. It’s Jimi Hendrix. No, wait, it's Eddie Van Halen. Or maybe it's Eric Clapton - he was "God", after all. Or Page. Or Beck. Or May. Or... is it?
Perhaps it's just easier to ask guitarists what they think. You'll get a bunch of different answers, none will be any less valid than the others, and along the way you'll get some stories and perhaps learn a thing or two. So back in the day we asked Mountain's Leslie West, a man whose mastery of tone and riff would surely make him as good a judge as any.
West would be in a good place to decide. He'd seen them all, after all. Mountain had played Woodstock. They'd shared stages with Jethro Tull, Jeff Beck, Taj Mahal, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Steve Miller, Johnny Winter, The Allman Brothers, The Band, Black Sabbath, Humble Pie, King Crimson, ZZ Top, and just about any giant of 70s axe-wrangling you can care to think of.
So who did Leslie choose? He chose Joe Bonamassa. And then he told us why.
"I had Joe marked out as a name to watch from an early age," said West. "I know because I played with him when he was younger. Joe was 25, I think, when I appeared on a Warren Haynes song called If Heartaches Were Nickels on his debut solo album, A New Day Yesterday . Tom Dowd, of Cream fame, was producing the album and invited Gregg Allman and I to be on it – I sang a verse, Joe sang a verse and Gregg sang the chorus.
"I thought that Joe was an incredible player and I told him so, but I also gave him a bit of advice. He played so many notes that I said he should divide by two. He sounded like a 45-year-old blues guy when he was barely in his twenties. Joe later mentioned that in an interview, so I guess he took it on board.
"Joe was a great kid and I saw a lot of potential in him. He had played with BB King at the age of 12, and at14 I’m told they called him Superjoe. He spent many years playing club after club and has developed a unique sound. He plays much faster than I do, but his style is based on melody. I’m not a shredder and neither is Joe, but he can play like that if he wants to. And he has such great tone.
"I heard that when Joe played at the Royal Albert Hall in London, Eric Clapton got up and jammed with him. If you want proof that he’s on the way up, look no further. I still follow Joe’s career and have enjoyed his recent albums, but I still have a strong connection with that song we recorded together with Tom Dowd."