Blues and rock virtuoso guitarist Joe Bonamassa coming our way
By the standards of the relatively uncommercial blues-based music he plays, Joe Bonamassa, who performs at Kitec in Kowloon Bay on Thursday, is riding the crest of a wave.
His latest album,
Driving Towards the Daylight, entered the US blues album chart at No1 and the
Billboard 200 at No23 earlier this year; it has been selling briskly in Britain and other markets. "This last one has been the bestselling album of my career," he says over the phone from Los Angeles. "It only took me 13 records to get a hit."
Bonamassa, 35, was a child prodigy on guitar and had the huge advantage of growing up in a guitar shop owned by his father. His musical tastes were formed early by his parents' record collection, which emphasised British blues and progressive rock. Bonamassa also had the good fortune to cross paths with the late Danny Gatton, a guitarist who was as comfortable playing jazz as rockabilly and other genres.
"Danny became my friend and gave me guitar lessons, and that was pretty cool," says Bonamassa. "He was just my friend. I didn't know him as the legend he would become posthumously. I miss him dearly. He died almost 20 years ago."
Bonamassa's other influences included B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Paul Kossoff and Rory Gallagher. He has covered songs by all of them, and has played with King and Clapton. He first met King at the age of 11 and opened a number of shows for him while in his early teens. When Bonamassa fulfilled his ambition of playing at London's Royal Albert Hall where Cream had played their farewell concert - the young musician had painstakingly learned his licks from the recording from that show - Clapton guested with him on
Further On Up the Road.
Bonamassa's first solo album, 2000's
A New Day Yesterday, was produced by Tom Dowd, who also produced or engineered several of Clapton's most successful albums.
One problem with much of Bonamassa's recorded output is that there are so many points of comparison. He plays at least as many cover tunes as original compositions, and wears his influences proudly. It is only over the past two or three albums that a style recognisably his own has emerged.
"I like a lot of different kinds of music. I've been getting into more acoustic music lately. I listen to everything. The more influences you bring into your own music the deeper it gets. There's an Irish influence and a Greek influence. It adds to the blues, I think. We recorded two records in Santorini. There's a great studio there with a great vibe that really influences the music," he says.
Bonamassa has also been seasoned as a musician by a lot of hard touring, playing to steadily growing crowds. "We've been pretty busy," he says. "We just did UK, Europe, South America and a pretty extensive round of North America. We play to about two and a half to three thousand people a night. In the UK, it is maybe a bit more - four to five thousand. That's not bad for blues rock. Now we're starting to get into Hong Kong, Southeast Asia and all those sort of places. I have nothing to complain about."
Bonamassa - who also performs with Black Country Communion featuring former Deep Purple bassist Glenn Hughes and Jason Bonham on drums - will be playing with his regular road band featuring Tal Bergman on drums, Carmine Rojas on bass and Rick Melick on keyboards. Some fine blues can be expected, along with plenty of good old-fashioned rock guitar heroics.
Three albums demonstrating Joe Bonamassa's evolution as an interpreter of the blues.
(J&R Adventures, 2003): Bonamassa acknowledges his British blues roots with the Jeff Beck Group track from which the album takes its title, but proves that he is equally at home with the music of B.B. King, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, Elmore James, Freddie King, T-Bone Walker, Albert Collins and Robert Johnson, all of whom are covered here.
(J&R Adventures, 2009): Bonamassa begins to establish a style more recognisably his own as both an instrumentalist and a songwriter, composing more than half the tracks. The selection of covers is also engagingly quirky - Anthony Newley and Tom Waits mixed in with Tony Joe White via Rory Gallagher.
(Provogue Records, 2012): this brings the story up to date. Bonamassa continues to mature as a bluesman mixing his own originals with blues standards by Robert Johnson and Howlin' Wolf, and less predictable covers of tunes by Bill Withers, Buddy Miller and Jimmy Barnes, who contributes a guest lead vocal on his own 1987 hit
Too Much Ain't Enough Love.