10 Reasons Why Joe Bonamassa Is My Favorite Guitarist – Brian Reiser
Joe Bonamassa is the greatest guitar player in the world.
I can’t prove it. But I feel it in my bones.
I’m not saying he’s the greatest guitarist who’s ever lived. I’m not claiming that he’s better than 1960’s era Clapton, or B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix, or Stevie Ray Vaughan when they were alive.
I’m not saying that at all.
What I AM saying is that right now. Today. March 31st, 2017 in the common era, Joe Bonamassa is the greatest guitarist in the world.
I think I am in a good position to judge. I have worn out all his records, some of them multiple times. I’ve seen the man play live everywhere from the last row to the (almost) front center.
Like I said, I can’t prove this claim. But what I can do is give you 10 reasons why Joe Bonamassa is the greatest guitar player in the world.
And then I’ll let you be the judge:
Joe does have a tone. He has a sound. I can pick him out of a crowd. But Joe doesn’t rely on his tone the way some other musicians do. Say, a Carlos Santana or a David Gilmour. I’m not knocking those two guitarists. In fact, they are two of my other favorites of all time. But it’s an inescapable fact that much of Joe’s virtuosity is independent of his particular tone. His tone varies. Sure, he’s always Joe to some extent. But it’s not identical night in and night out. He can make any tone sound like a blues choir from a dimension beyond. And this leads right into point #2.
Weapon (Guitar) of Choice
Joe Bonamassa loves his vintage instruments. Specifically, those 1950’s and 1960’s Gibsons and Fenders. But he isn’t reliant on one guitar. He’s not Rory Gallagher with his Strat. He’s not Eric Clapton with Blackie. He isn’t B.B. King with King’s army of Lucille’s. It doesn’t matter what brand Joe is playing. It doesn’t matter the model. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an acoustic or an electric, expensive or cheap. He can make any guitar sound like he’s a rock god. Just as he isn’t reliant on a particular tone to make people love his sound, he isn’t reliant on a particular guitar either.
He’s a Top-Notch Rhythm Guitar Player
Joe Bonamassa can nail pretty much any lead solo at any time. But even most lead guitarists spend most of their time playing rhythm guitar. Joe manages to make his riffs sound captivating while singing some particularly daunting vocal lines. He also knows how to support and accompany other musicians without over or under-playing or drowning them out. That’s why he’s such a great collaborator with Beth Hart. He doesn’t take over the show. He just support her flawlessly. Rhythm guitar isn’t easy. Joe just makes it look easy.
Joe Bonamassa is as good on the Acoustic Guitar as on the Electric
Joe might disagree with this claim. I don’t care. He is. It doesn’t matter what anyone says. Some of my favorite music produced by Joe has been performed on the acoustic guitar. Joe doesn’t need gain and sustain to sound amazing. He doesn’t need fancy pedals. He needs a piece of wood and some strings and he’s magically transformed into the greatest musician on his particular instrument in the entire world. One listen to Vienna should be enough to convince anyone of this.
He’s Obsessed with his Music History and It Shows
From Robert Johnson to Eric Clapton to Eric Johnson, Joe Bonamassa knows his guitar history inside and out. Not only does he know it mentally, but he knows it in his fingers. Joe Bonamassa can play the entire history of blues and rock guitar without even thinking about it. He’s a savant. You would not want to face him on Celebrity Jeopardy Rock Guitar edition. Especially if the Daily Double question was about the British Blues Explosion.
Joe Learns from his Heroes Without Cloning Them
Joe can play like anyone. He can sound like Clapton on a Les Paul at one moment, and Stevie Ray Vaughan on a Strat in the very next. But he doesn’t become them. Joe is always Joe. He takes and incorporates what he’s learned from his heroes and from guitar history and transforms it into his own brand of blues. He’s no copycat. He’s just a master of everything that came before him. The way Quentin Tarantino creates films based on all of his heroes but then transcends them, Joe does it the same way. Joe isn’t just “the next Clapton” or “the next Stevie Ray Vaughan”. He’s the first Joe Bonamassa. And that’s an incredible thing.
He Can Write Riffs
Not everyone can write a great riff. Jimmy Page had the gift. Keith Richards had the gift. Joe has the gift. A great riff can easily become a great song with the right massaging. And that’s why Joe has so many great songs. Because he’s written so many great riffs. Very few of Joe’s songs begin with a simple A minor – G major – D major progression, or anything along those lines. He writes blues rock riffs that stick in the mind, that affect the soul. From “The Ballad of John Henry” to “Different Shades of Blue” to “Mountain Climbing” Joe is a modern day riff machine, taking up the mantle of guys like the previously mentioned Richards and Page. Being a great songwriter doesn’t make you a great guitarist, but being a great writer of riffs goes a real long way towards that end.
Joe Knows No Genre Bounds
Some of the most impressive Joe moments to me as I’ve watched him throughout the years has involved him recording himself on a cell phone suddenly ripping into a Danny Gatton hillbilly country riff. And it’s like, whoa, where did THAT come from? He’s known as a bluesman. And that’s what Joe likes to play. And he plays it incredibly well. You know what else he plays incredibly well? Hard rock (see Black Country Communion). Old School soul (see Beth Hart). Funk (see Mahalia Barnes). Jazz (see Rock Candy Funk Party). Country (see his Bona-scope recordings). And anything else you could throw at him. If that makes him less than a blues purist, I think he’s fine with that. And so am I. Because what he can do on guitar in any genre is face-melting.
Joe can shred anyone under the table. Literally, anyone.
But he doesn’t. Not all the time.
I mean, sure, he has his moments. But most of the time? His soloing is incredibly restrained, delving, diving and bobbing in and out of scintillating melodies, scrumptious harmonies, and heart-stopping dynamic changes. That’s why he can literally take a solo on every single song he plays in an evening and it never gets boring.
Because Joe’s not a shredder. He’s a virtuoso guitarist. Big difference.
His music is touching, emotional, memorable, beautiful, and brilliant.
And what else can you say to that, really?