Joe Bonamassa doesn’t fit the normal mold of a Sunday Music Spotlight. Typically this space is reserved for young, up-and-coming artists. Artists who are just finding themselves musically and could be poised for a big break. Joe Bonamassa is relatively young, but he’s a long-time veteran of the music industry. It’s been 20 years since the guitar virtuoso opened for B.B. King. He was 12. Rather than being poised for a major breakthrough, Bonamassa already has a devoted following of folks who live and breathe the blues. So why is he here? Because he may be the world’s greatest living guitar player, and I’d bet that if you aren’t an avid blues fan you’ve never heard of him. Let’s fix that.
Joe Bonamassa didn’t set out to be a guitar master. He was just a kid that wanted a Nintendo. Since he’d been playing guitar for a few years, he figured that was a good way to make a little money to get it. He did a little better than that. At age 11 he was mentored by Danny Gatton. By age 12 he had opened for B.B. King, who was amazed at his potential. Since then he’s played with a who’s who of guitar greats: Clapton, The Allmans, and Buddy Guy to name a few. Along the way he’s released seven studio albums. Not bad for a guy who’s only 32.
It’s clear that Bonamassa was a bit of a musical prodigy, but does he suffer from the imbalance of technical prowess and musicianship that many prodigy’s have? Um, no. If anything his musicianship and emotional connection to the music actually outweigh his considerable technical skill. And that’s saying something. Because technically he’s nearly flawless. He draws upon influences from the Delta and from the English blues revival, from Robert Johnson to John Mayall. From Stevie Ray Vaughan to Eric Clapton. He manages to synthesize these influences and add to them, creating something that is instantly recognizable as “the blues”, but pushes the genre past what you know. He’s the blues’ greatest living ambassador and the best hope for the genre’s future.
The tale of John Henry should be familiar to every American, whether they know it through stories or through classic songs by Pete Segar and Johnny Cash. Bonamassa tells the story, but with a distinctly different feel. Instead of focusing on the story of John Henry’s demise, Bonamassa focuses on the aftermath, of those who came after the legendary railroad builder. And he does it a healthy dose of regret and blues.
“Jockey Full of Bourbon”
Tom Waits fans will recognize this cover immediately, though possibly only from the name. The barroom piano ties this musically to Waits’ original, but Bonamassa takes the rest of the song to other, more traditional places. And, though I hate to admit it, his take is better than the original. Sorry Tom.
“Stop!”, behind the scenes studio footage
“The River”, live
“Blues Deluxe”, live