Classic Rock

Joe Bonamassa

Maybe a mid-life crisis is good for a bluesman. It certainly hasn’t put a wall in front of the genre’s man of the moment.


Another year, another tightly packed 12 months for New Hartford’s prodigal son. In 2018 the king of contempora­ry blues guitar released his thirteenth solo album, a fourth with soul siren Beth Hart and his tenth live album in 10 years. It also brought some emotional trials and personal dilemmas.

Smokin’ Joe talks to us about his latest records, the new rock generation and his “mid-life crisis”.

This year you released albums of your own and also with Beth Hart. Which sides of you do these, quite different, projects appeal to?

Beth and I really enjoy playing that kinda music together. It’s a very specific kind of music – it’s blues-based but it’s also rooted in that kind of pin-up girl 1950s jump-jive kinda thing. And then the solo band is really more the sludgy mid-tempo blues rock that I’m kinda known for, so most of them have their intrinsic qualities that I enjoy. It really does work out well, because we get to do stuff with each other that we don’t normally get to do in our solo work, and vice versa.

Lyrically, Redemption shows a lot of emotion and vulnerabil­ity, although musically it’s mostly quite big and bold. Do you want open up to your listeners?

I think the more you do it, the more you endear yourself to them. I try not to reveal too much about myself, cos I’m a pretty private person. But I think the more you reveal about yourself lyrically and emotionall­y, the more the audience grabs on to it. There’s some people that are just straight out of a diary and into a song. I’ve never been that kind of person but it isn’t one of the things where I feel I short-change people. But I also feel I haven’t really dove into that enough either.

So is it something you’d like to do more of?

I do enjoy it, and I do enjoy different aspects of the songwritin­g and trying to break out more personal themes. I guess turning forty-one [which he did this year], you’re in your early forties, at this point you’ve got nothing to lose.

Back in 2012 you told Classic Rock: “The music biz can go fuck itself!” Since then you’ve cultivated a business of your own, and spoken a lot about the importance of the business side of what you do. Alongside all that, has your relationsh­ip with music – with your instrument – changed a great deal?

I think it has. To be a hundred per cent honest, I would say my relationsh­ip with the guitar isn’t at its best point at the moment. And that ebbs and flows. This year I feel that I’m searching for something, but I don’t know what I’m searching for. So I think it’s affected my relationsh­ip between myself and the music and my guitar and the music. But in a weird way I listen to the live shows and I think I’m putting on the most honest shows I’ve put on in many years. But I don’t feel like I’m doing that. It’s very strange. Intrinsica­lly I’m a musical journeyman, but I’m also a very… When you’re searching for something you can’t pinpoint, it’s very difficult cos you’re just going: “Let me try this. Let me try that” and “Maybe I need a break from that”, or maybe just quit the guitar altogether and become something else.


Who knows? I’m questionin­g myself on that fundamenta­l level. And it’s very strange to hear, because I’m thirty-seven years playing the guitar and almost thirty-eight albums in… There’s part of me that really questions my relationsh­ip with the instrument, and I need to figure that out sooner or later. But it’s not a rush, because I don’t feel any less inspired on stage. It’s just my relationsh­ip is not as good as its been with my own instrument. Which is very strange.

You mention the idea of searching for something. Do you think the answer lies in music, or your life outside of music?

I don’t know. The problem is you don’t know the answers to those kinds of questions once the seed has been planted. I have to figure this out, but it also might lead to a different direction. I guess what they call it is a mid-life crisis. It causes you to question fundamenta­l truths that you’ve accepted about yourself, over years… It’s different, y’know: are you making the most of as many years as you have on the planet? And that’s kinda where I’ve been at.

Ultimately the electric guitar is still the heart of what you do, but it’s not the central item in mainstream pop culture that it once was. How do you feel about that?

There’s this prevailing question of: “Oh jeez, the dominant force in the kids, for the first time in seventy years, isn’t the electric guitar.” So what? I mean, the notion that it’ll last forever, historical­ly nothing has lasted forever. To me it’s a shock that the guitar was the prevailing driving instrument force behind radio music for as long as it was. But it doesn’t mean that the guitar just goes back in the case or has a gigantic bonfire. The issue is finding creative ways to make it sound new.

“This year I feel that I’m searching for something, but

I don’t know what.”

Do you check out much new music these days?

I really don’t. I have a hard firewall if I hear any type of pitch manipulati­on or anything that sounds very like it was manipulate­d too much by machines. But I do think there’s a couple of new acts that have kind of caught fire and people have responded. One of my favourites is a guy called Marcus King. He’s like Lowell George [Little Feat] and Terry Kath [Chicago] and Warren Haynes [Gov’t Mule], or like a young version of those guys. The other band that I think has a lot of potential is Greta Van Fleet. I think what they’re doing is great, and I think they have the youthful enthusiasm and piss and vinegar that is required. Are they derivative of Led Zeppelin, of that British era of music? Absolutely. Aren’t we all? It’s unfair to criticise them. And they’re only twenty years old, they could come out with a monster record. Those are the kind of people that I think have potential, at least in the guitar-based community, that will at least draw a crowd and get people excited.

The ‘shop’ section of your website now includes a Gibson Flying V ashtray, an Explorer back scratcher, pins shaped like you wearing a sombrero… Who comes up with all this?

Well not me! The Explorer backscratc­her, we have one that’s on display in my guitar vault, and it looks nice on the wall. But the Flying V ashtray is a superstar. It’s a great guitar pick holder or for any kind of junk that you have like screws, or if you smoke.

Redemption is out now via Provogue/Mascot. Tickets for Joe Bonamassa’s April 2019 U K dates are on sale now.

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