JOE BONAMASSA (Live at The Sage, Gateshead, U.K., March 14, 2018)
Photo: Mick Burgess

Joe Bonamassa is one of the hardest working men in the business and he’s back on the road. Mick Burgess sat down for a chat with him about his upcoming tour, his Muddy Wolf album and forthcoming Three Kings album as well as news of a new studio album.

You’re heading over to the UK soon for a run of 8 shows. Are you looking forward to getting back here?

Last time I was in the UK I did 4 shows in London. That’s not really touring the UK. I haven’t played in Newcastle, Brighton or Leeds for a while so I’m looking forward to playing at all of those places again. It’s always great to play to my fans around the UK. It’s a real honour and privilege for me to play in the UK.

Blues music traditionally evolved in small, smoky clubs. How are you able to capture the spirit of the Blues in such a large venue as the Metro Arena?

I think you’ll have to ask the general public. I have no idea how I’ve been able to do it and why people enjoy it so much. I just do what I love doing and hopefully people will enjoy it too.

Do you sometimes miss the intimacy of those smaller shows?

I do sometimes miss those shows and every now and then I’ll play shows in smaller venues. I’m playing at Mr Kyps in Poole on 1st November as it’s the 10 year anniversary of my first show in the UK. We’re going to do this free show there and we’re giving away 300 free tickets so it’ll be a lot of fun.

You’ve now released 11 studio albums since 2000. What sort of setlist have you got lined up for this tour?

I’ll be revisiting some of my catalogue from 20 years ago that I haven’t done in a long time. We start as a 3-piece then move to 4-piece and we end up as a 6-piece band. It’s a nice evolution of songs and different facets of my career.

Do you vary your choice from night to night?

We swap a few songs around here and there but it’s a new show so we try to keep it cohesive over the tour but we will be changing a couple around each night. We want to make it a really special show for the fans.

Does your touring line up still feature Carmine Rojas and Tal Bergman?

It’s different this time. We have Anton Fig and Michael Rhodes along with Lee Thornburg, Paulie Cerra and Reese Wynans. It’s a really great band and I love playing with these guys.

A couple of days ago you released your latest live album. Live at Radio City Music Hall. Why did you record a live album there?

It’s a great place to play and is such a legendary venue that I just wanted to capture the moment and put it out for the fans to enjoy.

Do you feel that the live recordings capture the true essence of you as an artist?

Live recordings are snapshots of an evening in time. Hopefully it captures the energy of my playing and the atmosphere on the night in the way it was for the crowd that was there.

Talking of your live recordings earlier this year you put out Muddy Wolf at Red Rocks. Was that a one off show or did you do a series of shows dedicated to the music of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf?

We did a series of three shows at Red Rocks and that was a real pleasure for me as Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters were huge influences on me growing up. I just thought it would be a great idea to do a few shows highlighting their music with a few of my own songs in there too. We’ve also just done a month long tour of the Three Kings catalogue featuring the work of BB, Freddie and Albert King. We’ll be doing some of the Three Kings set and some of the Muddy Wolf songs on this tour. It’ll be a real hotchpotch and it’ll be great.

What’s so enjoyable is that you don’t pick all of the obvious songs. Was that a deliberate ploy to highlight the quality and depth of their back catalogue?

The whole reason for doing Muddy Wolf and the Three Kings is that it allowed me to do some of the catalogue songs that aren’t quite as well-known but are just as good, if not better than the more popular stuff. I wanted to go a little deeper than just Hoochie Coochie Man.

Earlier this year we lost one of the true greats of Blues, BB King. What did BB King mean to you as a musician and as a fan of Blues music?

He was such a giant of Blues and was so important to its development over the years. He could say so much with just a few notes and had such an incredible voice. The world is a poorer place without him. I’m so lucky to have played over 100 shows with BB King over my career. He was a great man.

You got to open for BB King when you were 12 years old. How did you manage that?

A promoter called my parents and asked if I wanted to open up for him and BB was nice enough to call me onto the stage. It was an incredible experience for me and I’ll treasure those moments.

BB King duetted with you on Night Life on your Black Rock album. That must have been a dream come true for you?

It was so wonderful of him to do that for me. Unfortunately we recorded our parts separately as I was on the road when he did his parts which is a shame but I’m still so proud that he was on my album.

Your last album Different Shades of Blue is your first to crack the UK and US Top 10. That must vindicate all of the work you’ve put in over the years?

I think it’s a testament to how my fans support me time and time again. Maybe it’s a testament to how bad the record business is that my record can chart so highly…Ha!! I just try to make the best records that I can and I’m so pleased that people like them and want to buy them.

You’ve probably done more to bring back the popularity of Blues music than any artist since Stevie Ray Vaughan. Why do you think you’ve been able to connect people with the Blues again?

I think Blues is cyclic. Sometimes it’s really popular and at others it seems to go underground. Maybe it’s just that it seems to be popular at the moment and people seem to like my interpretation of the Blues. Stevie Ray Vaughan was probably the last one to really crack it big time and it’s been 25 years since then so maybe it’s come round again. Maybe I’m just in the right time and place. People like it and they’ll seek it out.

You’ve never been afraid to take a different slant on Blues music. Black Rock for example was recorded on the Greek island of Santorini and the music contained influences from Greek culture. Do you feel that it’s important to try to constantly evolve Blues as a music form?

It was my idea to modernise something that hadn’t been addressed for a long time so I do like to try to evolve musically but at other times I like to play in a more traditional way. With Black Rock, I wanted to take Blues music in a different direction and try something new.

Have you started work yet on your next studio album?

It’s already done. It’ll be out maybe in the spring or summer of next year. I’m really excited about it, it’s a cool record. I can’t tell you the title yet though, it’s too early for that.

As well as your own solo work you done albums with Beth Hart, Rock Candy Funk Party and Black Country Communion? Do you have any plans to work on any projects in the near future?

We’ve just put out a new Rock Candy Funk Party record called Groove Is King and I’m scheduled to record a new album with Beth Hart next summer so there are a couple of projects on the go outside of my own work. I’m busy and it’s a lot of fun.

Rock Candy Funk Party was a great deviation for you incorporating Blues with Heavy Funk. How did that project come about?

Tal Bergman and Ron DeJeus asked me to be in their band. I’m just a guest. We put out these albums and play some shows and it’s a lot of fun. I think these projects usually last 3 or 4 albums then run its course but as long as I’m enjoying it I’ll keep doing it.

What Funk artists did you listen to growing up that left an imprint on your musical development?

I loved James Brown, Herbie Hancock and The Isley Brothers. I also loved Manchild and The Meters too.

Your UK shows finish on Halloween of all days. Where do you head after that?

We have a month of shows immediately after the UK tour that will take us almost until Christmas. After that I’ll have a new record out and more touring.

Joe Bonamassa’s UK Tour starts on 21st October in Newcastle and finishes in Brighton on 31st October.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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