Joe Bonamassa was cut out for Blues-rock fame having been chosen by BB King at the age of 12 as “one of a kind” and asked to open his gig. Twenty-one years on, Bonamassa is a fully fledged guitar guru and singer-song-writer and touring the UK, with a visit to Newcastle City Hall on Sunday. There’s a special relationship between Bonamassa and Britain because the bluesman was initially inspired by the UK’s Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Irishman Rory Gallagher then the original Delta blues players.
I ask him first – bearing in mind the millions of youngsters picking at guitars in their bedrooms-how he knew from such a young age that his destiny was the guitar.
“Well I’ve been playin for about 29 years and was actually given my first guitar at four. I just worked hard at it and although encouragement isn’t critical-sometimes I know guitarists who were inspired to play because parents said they couldn’t do it-I never thought of getting a real job in my life. My father worked for someone else his whole life and I didn’t want that, not that I don’t respect what he’s achieved,” he says.
He admits that having a name like Bonamassa didn’t make his task any easier. But a string of successful albums and DVDs and 200 shows a year-5,000 packed in to see him at the London Hammersmith Apollo recently-makes you feel he made the right decision to keep “my complicated surname”. “It was after my record Sloe Gin (2007) that people woke up and collectively thought that Bonamassa was okay. You’ve heard of Joe Satriani and there’s a bunch of us Italians that have stuck to our guns and kept our surnames…and (to change) it would have broken my mother’s heart,” he jokes.
Black Rock is his tenth solo, and latest, album and Bonamassa explains that he selects songs which works for his voice and can sit alongside his own compositions. “I’ve always wanted to make records that are snapshots in time. I never want to be the guy who spent five years on one piece and then is devastated when it doesn’t come out right on record,” he says.
He’s always thinking of live performance when composing tracks. “We don’t use a lot of over-dubs on the records purposely because I don’t want to be caught in a situation where I can’t recreate that sound live,” adds Bonamassa who has collected hundreds of guitars during his career and lists nine Gibsons alone on his latest album, which was recorded in Greece and “I only managed to ship to crates of guitars over”.
Bonamassa adds guitarist Paul Kossoff of Free to his early list of influences and says: “The reason I play the guitar is because of English guitarists. Some of the intrigue in America is over this heavy handed British style. I do about 85 shows a year on the performing arts centres in New York, but I don’t think the blues circuit is that big. Success over here has helped me put two or three throusand in the theatres in Amercia and vice-versa. But being committed to both the US and the UK requires you to work for nine months of the year.”
He also has quite a following on twitter and through his jbonamassa.com website and puts it down to him writing most of the contributions himself. “When somebody else writes things on the website and pretends its me I actually go nuts because the fans already know my tone of writing. I also don’t do any of that ‘Check me out’ nonsense. I give random thoughts and I got called our for calling the MTV Music Video Awards show ****. But sometimes things are not great,” Bonamassa says.
He’s also got an album out with his new group Black Country Communion and confesses that the “communion” had to be added after an obscure Midlands band laid claim to the name Black Country.
“I wasn’t aware there was a band called Black Country and sometimes creativity can get stifled by legal nonsense. If your sitting around not doing anything with that name why worry? The album (Black Country) is out, so we’re not going to change it,” he says.