Bluesman Joe Bonamassa pays homage to his heroes with 'Three Kings Tour'
By Chuck Yarborough, The Plain Dealer
CLEVELAND, Ohio – Most boys at the age of 12 are trying to figure out how to get out of mowing the lawn or wondering if that peach fuzz on their upper lips will EVER become a mustache.
Joe Bonamassa, now 38, wasn't like most boys at 12.
Eight years after picking up a guitar for the first time, the New York state native who plays Blossom Music Center on Friday, Aug. 14, was touring Western New York and Pennsylvania with his band, Smokin' Joe Bonamassa, and opening for the legendary B.B. King.
He put out his first blues album, "A New Day Yesterday,'' when he was 23, and his most recent, the top-selling "Different Shades of Blue,'' just last year. Along the way, he's played with everybody who's anybody, including King; Crosby, Stills and Nash; and even in a supergroup called Black Country Communion with Jason Bonham on drums.
Bonamassa to this day is the consummate road warrior, which is why a few attempts to connect by phone to preview the The Three Kings Tour – in which he's paying homage to his heroes: Albert, B.B. and Freddie King, three unrelated superstars with blues in their DNA -- just didn't pan out. But he was able to answer a few questions – some our own and a few from readers -- we sent him via email.
Q: You've said that you were drawn to British blues. Can you explain in layman's terms what separates that from other genres of blues?
A: It basically boils down to environment and how you were brought up. The British kids were fighting to get out of the factories of Liverpool and Newcastle. The original masters were fighting to get out of Mississippi and [for] a better life. It is all about struggle and what battles and demons you are currently dealing with.
Q: You're obviously known as one of the greatest guitar players in any genre, but your singing is pretty darn good, too. What itch do the two different "instruments'' – your voice and your guitar – scratch for you?
A: Singing especially for this Three Kings tour is a challenge. Not only am I paying tribute to three of the best guitarists but arguably the three best singers. What was I thinking?!!!!!
Q: It's kind of interesting that music goes through cycles and style shifts, but one of the constants is blues. Why does it survive?
A: Blues is the DNA to all music. It's not a fad or based on trends or Twitter followers. It just is, like an eternal musical flame.
Q: How did "Different Shades of Blue'' end up as the title cut on the most recent album?
A: When James House came up with that title I was like, Bingo!! Not only is it a great title, but it sums me up perfectly.
Q: I like your voice on it, and the words really ring true. So I have to ask, is it easier for you to come up with licks or lyrics?
A: Lyrics are not easy for me because the subject matter has to mean something for me to pull it off. You won't find me singing a song about day drinking or girls in shorts. It's gotta be heartfelt. Not that day drinking and girls in shorts are a bad thing.
Q: How many different guitar tracks are on that cut?
A: Not as many as it seems -- maybe three. I go for a whole take in the studio, then layer as needed.
Q: I'm a big fan of "I Gave Up Everything for You, 'Cept the Blues.'' It's just honky-tonk blues. The chord riff has ghosts of Chuck Berry, even. How did that song come about?
A: It's a nod to Elmore James with a twist. Plus the tune resonates to me. As we all get older, we can't do the things we used to do and live to tell about it. But we still have the blues.
Q: One of the readers mentioned your vast collection of guitars. You've obviously got Les Pauls, Strats, Teles, SGs, hollow bodies, etc. What makes a song and a particular guitar perfect teammates? Is there one for an angry song, one for a love song, one for a hurtin' song? That sort of thing?
A: I have more great vintage guitars than anyone should be legally obligated to own. I am very lucky and I know that. I also worked very hard to get them. They are tools but things of beauty. It's my passion, but also my hammer and nails.
Q: What pedals do you have on your board?
A: Very little. Since switching to the high power Fender Twin amplifiers from the late '50s, I use a much more natural sound. Right now I have a Joe B Crybaby Wah Wah and a Way Huge Overrated Special for pedals. Other thing to know is ... There is no board! Just two pedals taped to the floor.
Q: How long has your band been together?
A: Not very long. I ended up switching up the lineup this year, not for any other reason but to re-inspire myself. We have a world-class dais right now: Anton Fig - drums, Michael Rhodes - bass, Reese Wynans - keys, Lee Thornburg - horns, Pauly Cerra - sax, Ron Dziubla - sax, Kirk Fletcher – guitar, Mahalia Barnes - vox, Jade Macre - vox, and Jaunita Tippins – vox.
Q: You are known as a great guitar player, but your music isn't JUST guitar – keys play a huge role. So when you write, do you "hear'' different lead instruments?
A: Reese is a wonderful foil to a night of heavy guitar. It's so great to have him to throw solos, too. He is a superstar. They all are.
Q: Have you written what you think is your signature song?
A: "The Ballad of John Henry'' did pretty good for me.
Q: Do you have a dream collaborator for a gig – living or dead?
A: Louis Armstrong. Writing the blues with him would be awesome!!!
Don't miss The Three Kings tour! You can get your tickets here: https://jbonamassa.com/tour-dates/