As American blues-rocker Joe Bonamassa approaches his 26th year in the music biz, he continues to amaze with his versatile guitar skills.
Bonamassa’s career began opening for B.B. King when he was only 12 years old. Today, he is hailed worldwide as one of the greatest guitar players of his generation, and is an ever-evolving singer-songwriter who has released 15 solo albums in the last 13 years.
Known for his slick suits and trademark sunglasses, Bonamassa doesn’t look like the typical showman, but live, his performances have to be seen to be believed. There’s a strong case to be made that Joe Bonamassa is one of the hardest working men in show business!
Joe Bonamassa was born in New Hartford, New York on May 8th 1977, and started playing guitar at age 4. His father was an avid music fan and exposed Bonamassa to records by Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck. When he was 12 years old, he had his own band called Smokin’ Joe Bonamassa, and was asked to open for B.B. King at approximately twenty shows, which he did.
Before he’d even reached 18, Bonamassa was playing in a band called Bloodline with the sons of Miles Davis, Robby Krieger, and Berry Oakley. Although Bloodline did not become a famous act, it attracted some attention to Bonamassa’s guitar chops. His debut studio album, A New Day Yesterday was released in 2000 and featured both original tunes and covers. In 2009, Bonamassa fulfilled one of his childhood dreams by playing at the Royal Albert Hall in London, with Eric Clapton and Paul Rodgers as special guests.
Bonamassa’s tour schedule consistently hovers at around 200 shows worldwide each year. He founded and oversees the non-profit Keeping The Blues Alive Foundation to promote the heritage of the blues to the next generation, fund music scholarships, and supplement the loss of music education in public schools. He has toured and recorded with American singer-songwriter Beth Hart, and most recently, Australian father-and-daughter belters Jimmy and Mahalia Barnes.
Of all of today’s Gibson Les Paul wielding artists, Joe Bonamassa is among the most revered. “For me to be myself, I have to play a Les Paul,” he said. “I plug it in and it sounds like me—exactly the way I’m supposed to sound. Anything else just doesn’t make sense.”
So prolific is his relationship with Gibson, Bonamassa has many signature guitars from the great Gibson Custom Shop. The 1959 model that he affectionately calls “Principal Skinner” is the most beloved guitar in his extensive collection. From its faded Dirty Lemon finish, to its custom-wound humbucking pickups, the Joe Bonamassa “Skinnerburst” 1959 Les Paul is an exact replica.
The velvety Joe Bonamassa Aged Les Paul Goldtop is another tribute. At the very start of his career, Bonamassa played on “Rosie” – a crimson 1972 Fender Stratocaster that his father bought him from a store in New York. Bonamassa is a huge collector of vintage guitars and amps and also plays a number of acoustics.
Unlike most blues-rock guitarists, Bonamassa’s influences are British and Irish blues acts rather than American artists. He cites John Mayall, Eric Clapton, Rory Gallagher, Cream, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s and Jethro Tull as his main influences.
Playing by the unofficial motto “turn the gain up, and the treble down!”, Bonamassa’s sound is all about that warm, nostalgic tone. Bell-like, creamy, hot and sustaining, and paired with vintage equipment, his style is a throwback to the great blues and rock artists of yesteryear.
Truthfully, his sound is a lot more rock than blues – all controlled burns, riffs and self-indulgent echoey solos. Bonamassa is recognised by his solid body rock sounds on his electric guitars, and intricate, fingerpicking blues melodies on his acoustics. He also sings in a similar style.
The pop-rock flow of ‘Miss You, Hate You’, the fuzzy sustain of ‘One Less Cross To Bear’, the bass-y beat of ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’, the dirty blues drive of ‘Oh Beautiful’, the rollicking brass vibe of ‘Living on the Moon’, the gentle tone of ‘Different Shades of Blues’, the gravelling style of ‘Slow Train’, the lovesick blues of ‘You Upset Me Baby’, the metal-esque lick of ‘Just Got Paid’, the double-neck guitar battle of ‘Young Man Blues’, and the emotional instrumental‘Midnight Blues’.
Lucky for us, Joe Bonamassa has released a shed-load of live DVDs.
Arguably the best one is Live From The Royal Albert Hall. It is his fourth live album and was recorded on May 4, 2009.
Other good ones include: An Acoustic Evening At The Vienna Opera House, the Tour De Force London shows series, Beacon Theatre: Live From New York, Joe Bonamassa: Muddy Wolf at Red Rocks and Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa Live In Amsterdam.
In January this year, he dropped Live At Radio City Music Hall, documenting his sold-out, two-night run.
Below, get a blues lick guitar lesson from the man himself: