Joe Bona­massa

blues-rock’s favourite son talks about long-haul flights and why you should never run out of Diet coke…

Guitarist - - Music - Words David Mead

What was your first gig and how did it go?

“My first pay­ing pro­fes­sional gig un­der my own name would have been 8 Novem­ber 1989. It was $5 at the door and we had about 600 peo­ple show up. We ended up earn­ing $3,000 which, af­ter pay­ing the band and ex­penses, I net­ted $500. I bought a Su­per Nin­tendo games con­sole and a set of Joe Bar­den’s pick­ups – then I was broke again, which ba­si­cally, over the course of 30 years, has been the story of my life.”

De­scribe your cur­rent stage rig…

“I use four 80 watt Tweed Twins, three of which are from 1959 and one is a 2016 pro­to­type of the Joe Bona­massa 80 watt Tweed Twin, which will be out by the end of the year. I use a Cry Baby wah-wah pedal, a Joe Bona­massa one, and a Dou­ble­land spe­cial, which is ba­si­cally two Over­rated ped­als in one. My gui­tars are a 1951 No­caster, Terry Reid’s 1952 Tele­caster set up the same way as the No­caster with a hum­bucker in the front and the stock pickup in the back. I have a ‘55 hard­tail Strat that I’ve played for years; a ‘58 Mary Kaye Strat with gold parts; a Cus­tom Shop Gib­son Les Paul with Fire­bird tuners; a Cus­tom Shop Gib­son Fire­bird V in Pel­ham Blue; a ‘59 Les Paul, which is the Skin­ner ‘Burst; and I have a ‘58 Fly­ing V.”

What piece of gear is most es­sen­tial to your live sound?

“Es­sen­tially, the trick to my sound in 2017 is the 80 watt Twin. The thing is when you put Ce­lestions in them – and, by the way, this wasn’t my idea, it’s Keith Richards’ idea – they take on a very Mar­shall-y type of sound. Peo­ple are stunned, quite frankly, at how much gain and how big a rock sound you can get with a lit­tle yel­low box; I mean, they’ll shake the ground!”

What non-mu­si­cal item couldn’t you do with­out on tour?

“Diet Coke. You’ll never see me have a freak­out un­til there’s no Diet Coke. Then all pro­duc­tion, sound, lights, mu­sic… the en­tire op­er­a­tion grinds to a halt while I per­son­ally go out and buy my­self a six-pack.”

What’s the near­est you’ve come to a Spinal Tap mo­ment on tour?

“We did a club tour in 2001 and we got a tour bus for the very first time. We packed all our gear in the bus and were driv­ing around like pre­tend rock stars. We were show­ing up to th­ese clubs in the Mid At­lantics and the South while about eight peo­ple were show­ing up to the gigs. The tour went bank­rupt in 10 days! I re­mem­ber, about eight days in, watch­ing Spinal Tap on the bus TV think­ing,‘Their tour is go­ing bet­ter than ours…’”

What’s the best venue you’ve played in from a mu­si­cian’s point of view and why?

“There are two cat­e­gories: in­side and out­side. In­side it’s the Royal Al­bert Hall, hands down my favourite venue. I just love the place. I’ve played there four or five times and ev­ery time you step foot on that stage you just go,‘How lucky am I to have the fans show up ev­ery time and put me on this stage?’ and it’s re­ally true. The best out­side venue is Red Rocks. We just did it two days ago – to 10,000 peo­ple!

There’s some great medium-sized venues: I’m still par­tial to Mr Kyps in Poole in the UK, I like the Olympia in Paris, and The Fox Theatre in Detroit.”

What’s on your rider?

“I don’t re­ally have a rider so ba­si­cally we carry two won­der­ful chefs on the road that make lunch and din­ner for ev­ery­body. In my dress­ing room there’s a bot­tle of Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon (in case I de­cide to take a nip of it be­fore the show), and about six Diet Cokes and six waters. I pretty much try and go through all the water and two of the Diet Cokes be­fore I leave and that’s pretty much it.”

What’s the worst jour­ney you’ve had to or from a gig?

“I spent about 29 hours in the air and about seven or eight hours in limbo fly­ing from Adelaide, Aus­tralia to Lon­don to play with Jack Bruce in 2011. It was just af­ter Gary Moore had passed and Gary and Jack had booked a gig at the Royal Fes­ti­val Hall. When Gary passed away they asked me to fill in and I said, ‘You had me at hello,’ but some of the flights were de­layed and I be­came a noc­tur­nal crea­ture for the next month be­cause I was so flipped around. But it was worth ev­ery mile and I’d do it twice to play with Jack.”

What’s your best tip for get­ting the au­di­ence on your side?

“Here’s a thing – the au­di­ence re­sponds to en­thu­si­asm. If they see that you’re into it then they’re go­ing to be into it. And it doesn’t mat­ter if they par­tic­u­larly like your form of mu­sic; if you’re pas­sion­ate about what you’re sell­ing then they’re go­ing to buy right into it. If you go up there think­ing you’re too fuck­ing cool for school and you’re too cal­cu­lated and you’re do­ing every­thing that’s sup­posed to be done be­cause peo­ple tell you that’s how to be cool then you’re dead in the water.”

What do you do to warm up?

“I had this epiphany. We do this song in our set now called Slow Train. It’s an old song from five or six al­bums ago. It hap­pens to be in the key of F, and I took Terry Reid’s old Tele and tuned it up one step. With 11-52s on it this thing is not easy to play but it sounds great for the song. So what I’ve been do­ing to warm up is play­ing that gui­tar be­cause it’s so hard to play, but when I get down there for the show and I get on my reg­u­lar tuned gui­tars it’s like but­ter.”

What’s your favourite live al­bum?

“My favourite live blues al­bum is Live At The Re­gal by BB King. My favourite live rock al­bum is Hum­ble Pie Rockin’The Fill­more. There’s an elec­tric­ity that comes off that thing and it’s all out of Steve Mar­riot – there’s a guy who re­ally, at that point in time, was un­touch­able as a singer and an artist.” [DM]

“I was watch­ing Spinal Tap on the bus think­ing that their tour was go­ing bet­ter than ours”

Joe (right) with Black Coun­try Com­mu­nion bassist/singer Glenn Hughes (left) on a more suc­cess­ful tour than his Spinal Tap ap­ing days

Black Coun­try Com­mu­nion re­lease the new al­bum BCCIV on 22 Septem­ber via Mas­cot Records www.bc­com­mu­nion.

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