Sunday, March 22, 2009

John Henry, Blue Collar Blues And The Royal Albert Hall : An Exclusive Interview With Joe Bonamassa

The story of Joe Bonamassa is a familiar one, at least in blues - rock circles, and one which has been told and retold in numerous articles both online and in print, even by this writer. So much so that one can almost recite it from memory. "Blues guitar prodigy, born in Utica, New York, started playing at age 4, toured with B.B. King by 12..."...stop me if you've heard this one before. You have? Okay, let's fast forward to the more present day. Those of you who haven't heard the story before can certainly Google it, but the past is the past and only serves to illustrate the path this artist took to become one of the most preeminent blues rock guitarists of modern times.

The fact is, ever since releasing his debut solo album, 'A New Day Yesterday' in 2000, Bonamassa has been on the radar of in - the- know fans of blistering blues guitar and has been steadily building an audience ever since. Five more studio albums and two live offerings later, all of which have hit the higher reaches of Billboard's Blues Charts, with four hitting # 1, his career has been on the rise exponentially due to growing acceptance of his mix of heavy blues and classic styled rock, putting him on the precipice of a near decade long "overnight success" story.

Although a good portion of the past decade has been spent touring, so much so one of the artist's official slogans is "Always On The Road", constant hard work wouldn't be the be all and end all to success if the music itself wasn't there. Music history is filled with countless bands who toured until they couldn't remember what city they were in, but it's the rare few who inspire the devotion of his fans, some of whom travel across the U.S. and even overseas to witness what have become known as legendary performances, reminiscent of the very finest the genre has ever had to offer.

Continuing into the present, many are crossing the pond for Bonamassa's sold out show in May at London's prestigious Royal Albert Hall. A landmark in the guitarist's career, self described as "Twenty years of professional sweat and toil all culminating into one moment", it puts him in the company of such heavyweights as The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Who and Led Zeppelin as artists who have played the historic venue.

Leading up to this historic performance comes a brand new studio album, the Kevin Shirley (Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, Aerosmith, The Black Crowes) produced 'The Ballad Of John Henry' released February 24th through J&R Adventures world wide. Quite possibly his strongest offering yet, it shows Bonamassa moving away from the acoustic textures which were a characteristic of 2007's 'Sloe Gin' and back towards a leaner, electric based sound, while at the same time expanding his horizons both musically and compositionally.

Consisting of 12 tracks (13 on the iTunes version), it showcases both the impressive guitar and vocal abilities of the 31 year old as he moves from strength to strength. The album features strong original material highlighting his newly re-discovered songwriting skills, such as on the "Kashmir" meets swampy blues of the title track and the introspective, Santana-esque "Happier Times". Also containing covers such as Tom Waits' "Jockey Full Of Bourbon", Sam Brown's "Stop" and the Anthony Newley/Leslie Bricusse penned classic "Feelin' Good", it's the song, not the solo which is the driving force at this stage of the game.

Albeit slicker and more mature than his earlier more traditional blues-based releases, it's a combination which has garnered him the highest chart positions of his entire career. Not only did he hit #1 on Billboard's Blues Charts for the fifth time, so far the album debuted at #103 on Billboard's Album Charts in the United States and # 26 in the UK Album charts the first week of release -- proof positive his audience continues to grow with every new delivery.

Recently I caught up with Bonamassa on the eve of his world tour, where the topics of discussion ranged from the new album, the upcoming show at The Royal Albert Hall, the renewed confidence in his songwriting abilities, Gary Moore, Rolling Stone Magazine and much, much more. Read on as we have an exclusive conversation with "New King Of The Blues", Joe Bonamassa...

Special thanks go to Erin Podbereski at Jensen Communications for coordinating, and a BIG thanks to Joe Bonamassa for doing this interview with Nightwatcher's House Of Rock...

© 2009 Nightwatcher's House Of Rock

Interview and text by Nightwatcher

March 23, 2009

Nightwatcher's House Of Rock : First off I'd like to talk about the new album, 'The Ballad Of John Henry', which has just been released via J&R Adventures. You've described this as unlike anything you've done, as being a blues album from start to finish. But, as I'm sure you know, there's a significant portion of the blues fold that won't agree with your assessment. What makes this a more consistent blues album to you in relation to your previous releases?

Joe Bonamassa : I think again, the subject matter... the way that it was recorded... if you listen to a song like "John Henry" or even "Stop". There are going to be people going, "Oh, Joe's doing a pop song." But if you listen to "Stop" there's no pop in that. We've pretty much muted anything "pop" out of it. Which is good. If you listen to the album, it starts with "The Ballad Of John Henry" and ends with "As The Crow Flies", and in between there are songs like "Lonesome Road Blues", "The Great Flood", "Stop" and "Jockey Full Of Bourbon". Those are all blues songs. To me, if I were to categorize this album at all, it's a much bluesier album than 'Sloe Gin'. Now, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In a lot of ways, it's just how the record's perceived. That's up to the fans to decide.

But for me, I think it's a strong record. It's the strongest thing we've done in the sense that by track nine, you've gone all the way there before you realize, wow, I've been here for an hour. I'm really proud of the work in that sense. We debuted the songs last night, six new songs from the album, and they felt like old songs, like songs we've been playing for years. People kind of knew the words, and it was really fantastic. That's when you know you've got a winner on your hands, when it feels natural, and it's not like you're forcing them. It's not like when you say you're going to play some new material and get that, "Awww, play "Mountain Time." (Laughs)

NHOR : So you're pleased with the response you're getting for the new songs live?

JB : Yeah, that was great. But we're only as good as our last night. Last night was great, but tonight we could suck. It's tragedy or triumph. That's usually what I try to strive for. Hopefully there are more triumphs than tragedies.

NHOR : The concept of John Henry as an all American blue collar hero you've said is very inspiring to you. What is it about the story which appealed to you, and how does it relate to the songs you've chosen for this album?

JB : The whole thing about the 'John Henry' story to me was not so much the story of John Henry against the machines, but it was more that John Henry did something great and was remembered by it. I think sometimes people in this country lose sense of the difference between being famous and infamous. They don't care how they become famous. They can do something stupid, put it on YouTube and three million people will see it. Famous or infamous. I wanted to make an album, make a track that would be remembered. Not six months from now, when most albums' shelf life come and go. But sixty years from now, like John Henry. Or 100, or 150 years. So that's the concept. Albeit it's a lot of hard work.

It's a lot more work to do something great which gets remembered than it is to do something stupid and be remembered. That's the whole concept, and that's why I called the album 'The Ballad Of John Henry'. Because it really does say a lot about the internal struggle which goes on in this country. Everybody wants to be famous, everybody wants to be rich, but nobody wants to work for it anymore. By and large, that is. People will see MTV Cribs and go, "Wow, how do I get that fast?" Yeah I know. I'll film a lot of college girls taking their tops off and call it 'Girls Gone Wild'. That's the thing that gets me.

NHOR : On the album you've once again chosen some very inspired covers which aren't the usual B.B., Albert or Buddy Guy songs which are the norm for many blues artists, or even the classic rock songs which have characterized your previous releases. This time around you have Sam Brown's "Stop", Tom Waits' "Jockey Full Of Bourbon", Ike & Tina Turner's "Funkier Than A Mosquito's Tweeter"... "Feelin' Good", which has been covered by a multitude of artists from Nina Simone, John Coltrane, Traffic, all the way to MUSE and George Michael. These aren't songs which have been covered much, if ever, by a blues rock guitarist. What led you to choose the covers that are on this album? Instead of the covers that you've previously chosen, these are all originally by vocalists, not guitarists....

JB :
This being my seventh solo studio album, and ninth overall, we've got to do something different. Blues represents a very small percentage of the albums sold in this country. In some cases it's an underground music that needs to be promoted more. But also in some cases we do this by our own hand. In the sense that it's like, "Hey, I've got an idea...Let's play "Mannish Boy." Well how many times do we need to hear that? Or "Sweet Home Chicago". Then there's that other song that was floating around that everybody did, "The Blues Is My Business, And Business Is Good". There's a lack of outside the box thinking that's going to get a bigger audience.

At this stage in the game, I don't really want to do Muddy Waters covers, or go back and do what I did on 'Had To Cry Today' or 'Blues Deluxe'. It's really critical if you're going to do a cover song to really rack your brain and think outside the box. It challenges the audience, it challenges you, and hopefully will break some boundaries down. Instead of playing the same old stuff that everybody else is doing. It separates you from the rest of the crowd. That's why I chose these covers. I've actually got to say that I didn't choose any of them. Kevin Shirley brought them all to the table. But I elected to do them because I thought they were great songs.

NHOR : So we won't hear you doing your version of "Red House" anytime soon...

JB : Oh my God no. I don't think any blues band should do that song anymore. Ever. I've got an idea, hey let's do "Red House".... Please, do any other cover version except that one.

NHOR : There's been a sense that with every recent album charting higher and higher, that this one will be the one to put you over the top into mainstream success. Are you feeling at all that this one will be "the one", and you'll finally break big with this? Is there any pressure riding on this one?

JB : There wasn't any pressure. The beauty of being the tree that falls in the woods that only a million people hear is you've only got to deal with that. I think on this album... yeah, I think that if you stick around long enough and put out enough consistent albums everybody gets a turn. I certainly feel that at this point in time, this could be my turn. I've got to be ready for it and really work hard. After 'Sloe Gin' I felt a good flash of momentum. I felt really that this was my shot if there ever was going to be a shot. Here I am on the cover of Guitar Player Magazine, and we've debuted at #26 in the UK Pop Charts. So we're kind of in the league with the heavier players, so here we are, it is my turn.

But also understand that everybody gets a moment, enjoy your moment while it lasts, then try to solidify your base and go from there. I can't complain. Last night there were a thousand people, tonight there will also be over a thousand people, in America. How many blues acts, or blues-based acts, are doing that? And in Europe there's even more. I can't complain, I've been extraordinarily lucky.

NHOR : On the album you've added yet another dimension to your sound, with this being the first to feature a full horn section on several tracks. What inspired you to bring in a horn section this time around?

: It was the first time I could actually afford it. I always wanted to do it, going all the way back to 'You And Me', on a song like "So Many Roads". But I couldn't afford it. (Laughs) 'Sloe Gin' didn't really have the songs on it that warranted the horns. This one did, and we had a budget to do it, so there you go.

: Besides the horns however, there's a lot of guitar on the album, and not too many acoustic textures. Was any of this a reaction to some of the negative response some long time fans had to the sound of 'Sloe Gin', which had a more acoustic based approach?

JB :
I've got to be honest with you. Each record is a moment in time. People will say bad things about this one too. I had one guy going, "Where's the guitar? Where's the guitar?." The guitar's throughout the whole album. I could easily just put new lyrics to the old tracks. That's a lot easier, and in some regards that's what you think people want to hear. But I don't feel you're growing at all, and this approach obviously is appealing to a bigger audience. So this wasn't a response to 'Sloe Gin', it wasn't a response to anything, it was just where I was this year. Half of this album I don't even remember writing. In some ways it was such a bad time in my life, so it literally was a blur in a lot of ways.

But I'm really happy with the way it turned out, and I certainly think it's the best thing I've done. I have Kevin to thank for it. He really did a fantastic job as usual. A lot of the success lies squarely at his door. I'm just the guy who plays and sings on the albums. His engineering is fantastic. And what can you say about Anton Fig, Bogie, Carmine, and even this keyboard player Rick we let hang out with us from Australia? (Laughs) They're all amazing.

NHOR : Besides your regular band of Carmine Rojas on bass, Bogie Bowles on drums and Rick Melick on keyboards, the album also features Blondie Chaplin on rhythm guitar, who has previously been a member of The Beach Boys and has recorded and toured with The Rolling Stones for the past decade as a rhythm guitarist and backing vocalist. How did you get Blondie in, and what was it like recording with him?

JB : Blondie came in because he was a friend of both Anton and Kevin. This is the South African contingent. He came in to play rhythm guitar, and boy can he play. He really showed me that there's an art to playing chords. He and I would sit there while we were making tracks and I'd just watch him, and he'd watch me, our hands both moving on separate parts of the fretboard, and I really learned a lot from watching him. He's really a joy to play with, and I thought he came up with some of the most wonderful tracks.

NHOR : Along with the covers which I previously mentioned, the album also features six original compositions, which is the most you've had on an album since 'So, It's Like That' in 2002, which leads me to my next question: How are you feeling about your songwriting skills and how they've developed over the years? Are you feeling more confident?

JB :
I did feel more confident about them. I think it's also a situation where you live more life, and you have more to say. In 2008 I certainly lived a lot of life in one year. I think the album represents that. I lost a lot of my confidence as a writer after 'So, It's Like That', which was a product of too much thinking, and wasn't the greatest thing I've ever done. After that I just kind of got away from songwriting, and slowly but surely, after a ten year absence, I've gotten back into it.

NHOR : "Lonesome Road Blues" was from an old tape you found lying around that you had for years, is that correct?

JB : Yeah, I wrote that when I was eighteen. I just found it on a DAT, and was like, "Why didn't I ever record this?" (Laughs)

NHOR : Any more of those lying around?

JB : Exactly. I think I'm out of them. I found "Bridge To Better Days" on a DAT, now this one.

What is your usual process when you write? Do you have to be in a certain mood, or have something inspire you?

JB :
I'm like a short order cook when it comes to writing. When I need to write a song, I'll write a song. I don't write for the joy, and I don't write just to have them lying around. But when I make an album, then I'll write songs.

NHOR : What are your personal favorites on this album, performance wise?

JB : I think "Happier Times" has a really good solo. I think "Lonesome Road Blues" is really good. "The Ballad Of John Henry" is really good, and "The Great Flood" too. Those would be my favorites from the album.

NHOR : The album, as available on iTunes, also includes a bonus track, "Chains & Things" which is a cover of the old B.B. King song. That's currently only available as part of the album purchase. Is there any chance that somewhere down the line that will be made available as an individual download?

JB : The iTunes people really like it when you give them something extra. So that's what we've been doing, so as of now, I don't believe it will be.(As of press time, the track is now available in Bonamassa's online store as an individual download at - The Editors)

NHOR : Do you feel that you're at your peak as a musician at this point in time?

JB : I think I'm more of an economy player now. As opposed to a shredder, because I just can't play very fast all the time. But I can play fast sometimes. So I think that adds to a mystique. It's not like I'm holding this golden gift that I can pull out at any time. That's simply not true. But as a guitar player I think I've been able to say more with less. That's really the whole thing. You don't want to sit there and be a shredder your whole life.

NHOR : You're going to be playing a show at London's Royal Albert Hall this May. What can you tell us about that? What sort of set will you be playing there?

JB : It's going to be a big band. It'll have Anton playing, and a horn section. The usual suspects. As for a set list, it's going to be like a best of . Then there will be a few songs that we can't do without having the horns and a big band. So that's where that will come in.

NHOR : What does playing at the Royal Albert Hall signify for you, knowing its long and rich history of legendary artists playing there?

JB : Twenty years of professional sweat and toil all culminating into one moment. But, no pressure though. (Laughs) It's honestly, if you would've asked me at eleven where I wanted to play when I grew up, I would've said "The Royal Albert Hall". It's the place I've always wanted to play. But I went in there, and actually went on the stage, and got that moment out of my system. I feel good about it, I feel comfortable. It's a little daunting, but a good sound check and treating it like any other gig, and I'll be fine I think. That's kind of where we're at there.

NHOR : Is there a chance you might be bringing back any older songs, such as "Pain And Sorrow" for example, for this show? Or is that beating a dead horse?

JB : I don't play like that anymore. I've really gotten away from that. There are so many good guys out there that do the two verses, twenty minute jam thing, that I don't feel like I need to be in that category. I used to do that, but I wouldn't even know how to do that anymore. It used to be like on auto pilot, you'd look down and you'd played nine songs in two hours and fifteen minutes. Now, it's sixteen songs in two hours. I think honestly, what separates me from the rest of the pack is that I don't do that anymore. I've economized it to the point where it's not neutered, but it means more when you do stretch out.

NHOR : I'm sure however that you're quite aware that there's a certain segment of your fans who wish you could be in that category for the rest of your career. Do you ever feel that you're in a situation where you're damned if you do, damned if you don't?

JB : Absolutely. Always. But you have to just trust yourself. And you have to look out in the crowd... and in those days there used to be 200, 300 people there, and now I'll look out and see a thousand to five thousand, and maybe we're onto something here. If they need to get their 20 minute jam fix, there are plenty of guys out there. They can go see Frank Marino. I watched him for two hours, and he played four songs. Which was great, he was fantastic. But in the two hours we were there, we had four drinks and saw four songs. It's almost like a drinking game, only you don't get drunk. (Laughs)

NHOR : But that's Frank's thing, and he's great at it....

JB : It is Frank's thing, exactly. But to me...we used to do "Pain And Sorrow" and "Are You Experienced" in the same set, and between the two of them that was 45 minutes. I don't even know where to start at that point anymore. (Laughs)

NHOR : I'm sure that you're aware that there are some who feel that Kevin Shirley is behind all that, that he's this svengali who's masterminding your career and has changed you from what you were before. How would you respond to that?

JB : Here's a guy who has an endless stream of ideas. He's up at 4 o'clock in the morning thinking about stuff. He certainly is owed the bulk of the credit on a lot of this stuff. So he's masterminded this thing where I've gone from playing borderline London clubs to playing The Royal Albert Hall. Okay, I'll take that. Is that a bad thing? Tell me when the story gets bad. When he found me, by his admission, in a blues club in St. Charles, Illinois there were 250 people. It was sold out, but there were only 250 people there. And now, I'm playing sold out thousand seat theaters. This is since 2005. So he did mastermind the whole thing, and he did come up with the formula that works for me, and appeals to a bigger audience. I'm happy with that.That's fantastic.

NHOR : There's also going to be a filming of The Royal Albert Hall show for DVD release in December. Besides the show, what else has been planned for the package? Will there be any bonus features included?

JB : We're going to have a film crew come out on the road with us for the week leading up to the Royal Albert Hall show, but we're not that interesting of a group actually. There's no debauchery. There's late night tea and diet cokes, sometimes wine. There's no groupies, or band fights, so we're not too interesting to film. (Laughs) But we're going to have a making of, and some testimonials. A little bit of adventure, and some behind the scenes type of things. It'll all be flying by the seat of our pants type of stuff.
We'll certainly also probably put out an audio CD of the show too, for people who want to put it on their iPods.

NHOR : There are a lot of young blues rock guitarists coming up now. What is your opinion of guitarists such as Davy Knowles of Back Door Slam, Ryan McGarvey or Scott McKeon, who will be opening for you at the Royal Albert Hall?

JB : Ryan is my Facebook buddy now. He's a good kid. I think he's got the right attitude. He's got that throw caution to the wind kind of approach to it, which is exactly the key to success. Davy, I think, has done a great job getting his band on the radio, and I think he's done a great job tapping into that very loyal type of fan base like I've been able to build over the course of ten years, but he did it very quickly, which bodes well for his future. Scott is great, and he plays an English style, almost Stevie Ray Vaughan/Rory Gallagher hybrid, which I find very interesting. Those are my favorite new guys, all three of them. I've helped them out, each in a different way.

I can give them the ultimate blessing and say they're going to be the next whoever, but it doesn't mean anything. They actually have to go out there, pound the pavement and do the work. And it's a lot of work. Knowing what I know now, and if I were their age now, I'd be like, "Holy shit." (Laughs) When you get so deep into it, you don't realize, and take stock in what you've done. It is a lot of work, but anything I can do for those guys, I always try to do, and will. I really do think they're fantastic, and ultimately will put me out of business one of these days. But, I'm not going to let them yet. (Laughs)

NHOR : Gary Moore recently had a bit to say about you in a recent issue of the UK's Guitarist Magazine : "I think everyone latched on to him a bit too much and they've put a lot of pressure on him. You can't be a blues legend at that age for a start, and I think the lad's getting a bit overblown. I've spoken to him about it and told him off for playing too many styles. You know, if you want to be a blues artist, be a blues artist, stop playing Yes songs and Indian songs, and doing a bit of Derek Trucks and a bit of me. He has a lot of influences but I think he's still got to find his own voice really. I think he has to focus on one thing, but I don't want to be derogatory. He's a really great guy and he is going to be really, really good." Did you find that a bit off - putting at first, especially considering Gary has embraced numerous musical styles throughout his career, and do you agree with any of what he said?

JB :
At the end of the day, I had to put myself into his shoes. What would I have done, if at age 56, if I were being interviewed for the cover of Guitarist magazine, which is a big deal, and not only are they talking to me about Brad Paisley, but about some 31 year old punk kid with a Les Paul who plays in a similar style as I do? Lord knows what I would've said, especially if they caught me in a bad mood. Would I have preferred him to say Joe Bonamassa rocks? Absolutely. Would that have been preferable? Totally. But in his defense, he had already expressed that opinion to me personally face to face, before he said it out in the press. Which I respectfully disagree with. Because I think part of my charm is the fact that I am all over the place, and you don't know what you're going to get from album to album.

At the end of the day, nothing anybody's going to say to me is ever going to make me cry myself to sleep. But I don't think, no matter what your opinion is of someone, that slagging someone in the press does you any good at all. It doesn't make you look better, it makes you look worse. And Gary Moore, being 35 plus years in the business, probably knows that. So again it's not a big deal. I consider him my friend, and I certainly feel I'm doing better than Brad Paisley, in his eyes at least. So, it's not a big deal.

NHOR : You've lost a tremendous amount of weight, and now you're skinny as a rail. What was your impetus for doing so, and how did you do it?

JB : Well, skinny as a rail and Joe Bonamassa will very rarely be said in the same sentence (Laughs). The impetus was I was tired of seeing fat pictures of myself. How I did it was I basically stopped eating. I started eating really healthy, and less of it. It's a lifestyle change. It's not just like you eat salads, put bleu cheese dressing on it, and have garlic bread on the side. It's got to be a lifestyle change. You've got to talk the talk and walk the walk. But you've got to learn to enjoy it. You can't torture yourself, shove it into your face, and think, "God, I can't wait until I can eat like a normal person again". Because this is your fate. It's your metabolism, and this is how it's going to work.

NHOR : What effect do you feel it's had mobility-wise, on stage? When I saw you last fall you were moving around on stage like I've never seen you do before....

JB : Yeah, I feel more mobile. But having a big stage to work with also helps in the mobility factor as well. Now I've actually had the area to go out there and work. It's been one of those things for me where I've been really happy with how it's turned out. And if it's not now, it's when. For me, being 165 pounds is where I want to be, and it's a struggle every day to keep it there. But it's a struggle I have to do if I want to live healthy. I do feel good, and I certainly feel more energetic. I can go to Japan, sit down with my legs crossed now and eat sushi for an hour and a half. Before I couldn't do that. There are things you can do now. You can tie your shoes without having to stand up to breathe.(Laughs)

NHOR : Of course, being on the road all the time isn't always the most conductive to eating healthy...

JB : But you can eat healthy things too. Like today, we had a sandwich platter, which is turkey, lettuce and a small piece of bread. But you can't go eating Snickers bars, pies, french fries, and things like that, and expect to be 165 pounds.

NHOR : Ronnie Wood of The Rolling Stones recently bought one of Jimi Hendrix's guitars for his girlfriend for £13,000. Seeing as you collect vintage guitars, what is your take on buying an instrument like that?

JB : I think those guitars belong in a museum. The guitars have given their all, and have done all they're going to do with the person that they're associated with. I don't think that if I bought one of Stevie Ray Vaughan's or Jimi Hendrix's guitars, or Paul Kossoff's Les Paul, that I would be able to do anything other than soil its legacy. I think they really belong in museums. But Ron Wood is Ron Wood. He's a legend, so he can do what he wants.

NHOR : Where would you like to take yourself, musically or otherwise, in the next five years?

JB : I have no idea really. Every time I sit down and write it's like a new version of myself. When I sit down to write in June of this year -- for the follow up to this album, that will come out in 2010 -- I have no idea what it's going to sound like, or who I'm going to be at that time. As opposed to September when we finish it. I never try to plan ahead, I just try and live for the moment.

NHOR : As you stated before, this is the ninth album you've had out, five of which have reached #1 on Billboard's Blues Charts, all have been in the Top 10, you've been on the cover of all the major guitar magazines, but a magazine like Rolling Stone hasn't given you a single mention throughout your career....

JB : Nor do I need them to. (Laughs) These people, radio people come to the gigs, and they try to play Colonel Tom Parker with me. They'll say, "Well, I can do this with you." I'll tell them, "I don't need this, my friend. Do you see an empty seat in this place? No. Okay fine". Do I have a chip on my shoulder about what I have to do to get a mention in Rolling Stone? Yeah, maybe. But at the end of the day, do I play bigger venues than some of the people who are consistently mentioned in Rolling Stone? Yes. Do I take a pay cut to be in Rolling Stone?

NHOR : Any opinion on why there hasn't been a single mention of you in Rolling Stone your entire career? They have these supposedly hip indie bands in there who sell maybe a few thousand albums, yet someone who is at the top of the charts doesn't rate a mention....

JB : Well, because I don't wear the right sneakers, I don't use the word "punk" in my music, and I like to play performing arts centers where creepy old people like to come, not Pabst Blue Ribbon sipping scenesters. (Laughs) People think that's the music business. They'll go, "Oh, well, we played Spaceland, there were 200 people, but they were the right people." Well, if those people paid $200 a ticket, then we'd actually make some money. But no, they paid $8.00, which means after the club takes their cut, we've made $500 tonight. Oh, that's fantastic. You can't pay your band with that. You can live in your van. That's stupid. There never has been a mention of me in Rolling Stone, nor will there be. We've never been on national television, nor will we be. Which, to be honest with you, I'm fine with that.

It's like the 'Vintage Guitar' mentality. The first time I appeared in Vintage Guitar Magazine, I'd been collecting for years, and people were saying, "Joe, why aren't you in that magazine? You've put out five albums, and you have this tremendous collection of vintage guitars. Don't you think it would a no brainer?" But the first time I ever appeared in Vintage Guitar Magazine, I was on the cover. So, if I just wait around long enough, maybe they'll put me on the cover of Rolling Stone, and it'll be the first time I'm ever mentioned. (Laughs) That'd be cool, right?

It's also like the Grammy nominations, or a Blues Music Award nomination, or Miss Congeniality nomination, or whatever. A little part of me is tired of seeing the # 2, # 3, #4, # 5 people on Billboard's Blues charts get nominated for Grammys, and here I am the guy at # 1... did they forget my name again? They couldn't spell it on the brochure?

NHOR : Why is it that you haven't been nominated for a Grammy?

JB : Because I haven't made a record as good as the people who have. That's the only thing I can come up with. Who knows. I'd probably have a lot more to say about it if I hadn't just walked out on stage tonight and looked out in this beautiful theater, and there wasn't an empty seat in the house, which holds a thousand people, and it's sold out. I'd rather have this than a bunch of Grammys. Or Blues Music Awards. Especially those. I'd rather have this. At least you know you're touching people, your music's getting out there, and we're not just spinning our wheels collecting awards.

NHOR : Do you feel after all this time that you're still fighting the blues establishment?

JB : Oh God yes, and I will for the rest of my career. Fight is not the word I would use to describe it. The blues establishment and I, we've both dug trenches, and we're firmly entrenched in our positions. I just feel honestly that the music has to grow, and the music has to expand its audience. If they feel any differently, all they have to do is look at how many records they're selling in comparison to me.

NHOR : Most of the time in the case of purists, it's a case of feeling threatened....

JB :
My intention never was to threaten anybody. My intentions always have been to be different than anybody. I don't want to be lumped in with everybody else. Good or bad. If I'm going to be the lone ranger, I'm either going to be the lone ranger of shit, or the lone ranger of triumph. But at least I did it myself. And I have no one to blame but myself if it fails. That, to me, has always been my mantra.

I just want to do something that's legitimate and comes from my heart. I couldn't play the same kind of music that everybody else does, then show up at blues festivals and go, "Ok, who's playing the same songs as me tonight? Ok, you do this song, and I won't do that." (Laughs) I'm pretty confident when we show up at these blues fests that nobody else covers the things that we cover. Which sets us apart. That's all I really want to do, honestly.

NHOR : But at the same time you're not a media darling like John Mayer either...

JB :
Honestly, though, John Mayer is a very nice man. I met him at the hotel I was staying at in Los Angeles. He came up to me and said, "Joe Bonamassa? I've been wanting to meet you for awhile," He's a very nice guy. and he seems very sincere in what he's trying to do. He told me, "I just want to play my guitar and do it to the best of my ability." Which I can respect. That's what we're all here for. He's a good guy. To be honest, being an "A" list celebrity and having your picture taken every five minutes... I can only imagine how that would be. I'm not even on the "D" list, I'm on the "E" list. I could only imagine what that would entail. It changes your perspective a little bit. Ultimately he's a good guy and he plays for the right reasons, he's just trying to better himself. Would I like to see him play a Gibson guitar though? Absolutely. (Laughs)

NHOR : Is there anything else you'd like to say to the fans out there?

JB :
I'm just very appreciative. I think it gets lost in a lot of the circles here.It's like, "Oh, you've worked so long, it's been 20 years, you deserve this." No, nobody deserves anything. Have I worked really hard? Yes. But the fans put me where I'm at. So the fans really deserve all the credit. They buy the records, buy the concert tickets, and come out to the shows night in, night out. That's what drives the machine. Anything else is secondary compared to that. The fans drive the whole show.

For more information on Joe Bonamassa go to his official website at


caroline crosby said...


Frank said...

Nice interview.. fun to read..
And i have a subscription to rolling stone magazine and often wondered why there was never any mention of the awesome guitar player...

Shawn said...

Great story! Joe has an mp3 that he's giving away at from his website. Listen to it, it's called "Blue and Evil."

Jeremy Spencer 2014 US Tour