After a Sold out Coliseo, Advise for Rookies from the Latest Guitar Hero.
“At 12, I was already playing with B.B. King”
By Claudio Kleiman
Maybe the last link on a chain of guitar heroes that goes back to British stylists like Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton, the blond North-American Joe Bonamassa went through Buenos Aires, leaving in his visit a whole heap of dropped jaws in the sold out Coliseo’s floor. A few hours before the show while sitting comfortably and playing an unplugged Les Paul that he did not put down throughout the interview, he met Rolling Stone in the theater’s dressing room. The guitar, apparently an antique, is the model that Gibson custom made especially for Joe himself. It is even artificially “aged” like the authentic ’59 Les Paul. Joe tells us that it was a present from the people at Gibson for his birthday. Obviously, this is a guy that’s all about the details. During the interview, he called in his assistant because he decided to add “Song of Yesterday” to the repertoire for the night. And when I got in, the first thing he asked me was “Do you have a band?” while he kept correctly pronouncing my name and my band’s name. “How come? You Googled me?” is my incredulous answer. Obviously, the interview starts with Joe winning 1 – 0.
Your new solo album, Driving Towards The Daylight seems more rock oriented than the previous one, Dust Bowl.
Strangely, the concept was to make a Blues album, and it ended up leaning towards the Rock side. But it maintains some elements, like the Howlin’ Wolf’s theme “Who’s Been Talking” and Robert Johnson’s “Stones in My Passway”. Every time we make a record, we try for it to be different from the previous one.
Maybe some influence from your other band, Black Country Communion, got leaked in?
I’m not trying to establish any kind of competition between Black Country and my own records. Glenn Hughes does the vocals for BCC and I think both things are very different. I’m simply the guitar player for that band and I like it that way. Glenn heard me singing and wanted me to sing as well, but I told him, “you are the singer”. We’re about to get together with BCC to make another album in a couple of weeks. We’ll see what happens.
With BCC, you had instant success. Do you think people were craving that kind of music?
We felt there was the need to make new Classic Rock. I mean, new songs but played in a very classic way.
Your level of productivity is amazing: just last year you released three new albums, one solo, one with Beth Hart and one with BCC. How do you manage to do all of that?
Well, I work hard, but also every project is different. And this year I will also edit three albums: the new Driving Towards The Daylight CD that just came out; the Live from Beacon Theatre DVD; and now the Black Country one. We’re also planning another album with Beth Hart for January next year. I’m in a position where I can record a lot in different situations, and I love it.
At the same time, you keep a very full tour agenda.
Yes, we’ve been on tour for 17 weeks now. In general, we play between 135 and 200 shows a year, but we’re going to stop for a while. I have my own label, so I work when I want to; I have a catalogue of 14 albums. That’s how it happened.
What kind of sound are you looking for with your guitar?
I like a very straight tone, not too distorted nor too clear; clean and dark. That’s my approach and the Les Paul has that.
You started playing from a very young age. How was that?
My father is a guitar player; he put a guitar in my hands when I was 4 years old. Since then, I haven’t stopped playing. I was very lucky. When I was 12 years old I was already playing with Danny Gatton, B.B. King. And a little bit later with Albert Collins, Buddy Guy, and Robert Cray. At 14, I joined Bloodline for 6 years, and we put out an album for EMI in 1994.
And at 20 you released your first solo album, A New Day Yesterday, from a Jethro Tull song…
[He starts playing the song’s riff] Yes, I was a big fan of British Progressive Rock; bands like Yes, Jethro Tull… Although Jethro wasn’t really progressive, it was a Blues band.
Did you have to work hard in the beginning in order to be able to play that way?
I have to work very hard right now! It’s something that never ends.
Can you give any advice to young guitar players?
It is hard, every situation is different, but I would say you have to do your own thing. Don’t go after what I’m doing, or what anyone else is doing. Build your own scene. If you do your own thing, people are going to start talking about it. And don’t be afraid of working.