Joe Bonamassa: The Quiet Prince
On Joe Bonamassa’s Beacon Theatre–Live from New York DVD, which came out earlier this year, there is a short, but telling, segment tucked away on the bonus disc. In “A Busker’s Tale,” he tells the Beacon Theatre crowd how, earlier in the day, he gone into a New York City subway station and played his guitar—and no one gave him any money. The story brings a big laugh from the theater packed with his fans; however, it also speaks to Bonamassa’s station in today’s music world. While he can fill up concerts with fans, he is still another Joe playing guitar to the general public.
Not that he hasn’t made a name for himself. His résumé contains a healthy list of honors: Guitar International’s 2011 “Guitarist of the Year,” “Breakthrough Artist of the Year” at the 2009’s Classic Rock Roll of Honour Awards in England and Billboard’s No. 1 Blues Artist of 2010. And he is a perennial winner in Guitar Player’s annual Readers’ Choice awards.
His guitar prowess has long attracted the attention of his peers. B.B. King had a 12-year-old Bonamassa open for him and musicians as diverse as Vince Gill, Stevie Winwood and Buddy Guy have been impressed enough to want to play with him. LA-based blues rocker Beth Hart, who collaborated with Bonamassa on 2011’s Don’t Explain, puts it this simply: “Working with Joe Bonamassa is like spending your whole life dreaming about working with a legend and then, suddenly, you realize that you have.” Eric Clapton, one of Bonamassa’s own guitar gods, has not only joined him onstage but also invited him to his prestigious guitar summit, Crossroads Festival.
A charismatic player, Bonamassa might be best known for his lightning-quick fretwork. But he also displays an ability to pull out gritty tones while displaying a liquid-y touch on top of a virtuosic versatility at handling blues, country and rock and roll. He can wander the back roads of Texas blues a la Stevie Ray Vaughn, get down and dirty with Mississippi Delta-rooted blues or plug into hard-driving blues rock inspired by Jimmy Page or Paul Kossoff.
Despite the mountain of accolades from critics and peers, Bonamassa’s public profile isn’t as high among even general rock fans as many of his fellow guitar stars playing today. He has had the big-name gigs like Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks have with The Allman Brothers Band and Grateful Dead (two bands with huge, multi-generational followings) yet he also remains in the shadow of two other hotshot blue guitar prodigies— Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Jonny Lang, who made their marks just before Bonamassa’s arrival on the scene.
You might think that this lack of recognition might make Bonamassa feel bitter or cynical, but that turns out to be far from the truth. When asked about the busking episode, Bonamassa laughs it off, describing it as a “fun experience.”
Having lived in New York, he knows how hard it is for performers to pry money out of the pockets of subway denizens. The fact that the concert that night featured a guest appearance from one of his singing idols, former Free and Bad Company frontman Paul Rodgers, helped balance out the subway incident.
Bonamassa, who now resides in Los Angeles, actually enjoys this level of anonymity, finding an upside to “my life on the E-list,” as he calls it. “I like that there are no TMZ vans outside my house,” he says. “I don’t do a rock star persona…I’m not interested in maintaining an image…I don’t get decked out in Versace to go to the 7-Eleven…I just play.”
And play he does. Glenn Hughes (of Deep Purple fame) proclaims that Bonamassa (his collaborator in the hard rock outfit Black Country Communion), “is only really interested in playin’ guitar.”
He could serve as the definition of a road warrior. His motto, in fact, is “Always on the Road,” a phrase that can be found on his tour bus and his T-shirts. He regularly racks up more than 100 gigs a year, traveling around the globe.
When he is not on the road touring for months at a time, he seems to be in the studio recording. In 2011 alone, he released three albums: a solo effort ( Dust Bowl ), the Beth Hart collaboration and the second Black Country Communion disc. This year, so far, he has put out Driving Towards the Daylight as well as the live DVD, although more is on the way. A second BCC album is set for a fall release and he recorded one of his concerts during a summer acoustic European tour. Oh, he also plans cut do another album with Beth Hart in January.
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