Joe Bonamassa chats with Kevin Cooper about writing another album with Glenn Hughes and Black Country Communion, his British Blues Explosion Tour, being inducted into The Cavern Wall Of Fame, and his forthcoming concert at Newark Castle.
Joe Bonamassa is an American blues rock guitarist, singer and songwriter. When he was only twelve years old he opened for B.B. King. He has played alongside such artists as Stephen Stills, Eric Clapton, Blondie Chaplin, Foreigner, Buddy Guy, Steve Winwood, Warren Haynes, and Derek Trucks to name just a few. In the last thirteen years Bonamassa has put out fifteen solo albums through his independent record label J&R Adventures, of which eleven have reached number one on the Billboard Blues charts.
His career highlights include performances at the Royal Albert Hall and a Grammy Award nomination in 2013. Later this month he will be inducted into The Cavern’s Wall Of Fame in Liverpool.
Bonamassa’s most commonly recognized instruments are his 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standards. His extensive guitar collection is one of the best in the world and he is always looking to add to it.
In addition to his music career, Joe Bonamassa runs a non-profit organization called the Keeping The Blues Alive Foundation, whose mission it is to further music education by funding scholarships and providing music education resources to schools in need.
Taking a day off from his busy schedule he took the time to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Hi Kevin I’m good thanks, how’s it going with you today?
I’m very well thank you and let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.
It’s my pleasure, no worries man.
I was lucky enough to catch your recent gig here in the UK at The Barclaycard Arena in Birmingham and as usual you totally blew me away.
Thank you. The UK tour this year was really good. We had some really good shows. In fact the last two UK tours have been some really good gigs.
I have to ask you, just how is life treating Joe Bonamassa?
Life is fine. All is good and I am currently waiting on the delivery of an amplifier so what’s not to like (laughter).
You are getting ready to tour the UK once again, this time with your British Blues Explosion Tour. Are you looking forward to that?
Yes that will be fun I guess. To be totally honest with you we haven’t started rehearsing it as yet, so I don’t even know what it is going to sound like. But let’s just say that I am reasonably optimistic of our chances of it being a success (laughter).
The three legends that you will be honouring, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton; am I to assume that they are all heroes of yours?
Yes they are, totally all heroes of mine. This tour will be the third in a series of these tribute shows that we have played and in all honesty it will most probably be the last too. Firstly, a couple of years ago now we played a tribute show to Muddy Wolf, then we did The Three Kings Tribute show which was dedicated to B.B. King, Albert King and Freddie King and now this year it is a tribute to Beck, Page and Clapton. I think that will be enough and totally the right time to call it a day with these tribute shows. I think that I will have played enough tribute shows to last me a lifetime (laughter).
I was going to ask you, what we can expect from the show but it sounds very much as though it is still in the pipeline. Would that be a correct assumption?
That’s right it is totally in the pipeline. Actually, we are having our first rehearsal at the weekend. You should know by now Kevin that everything that I do is a fucking bum’s rush (laughter). We have a total of six days to rehearse the show and I think that it will be fine. We had a total of five days to rehearse the Three Kings tour last year. The set list is very blues centric, it’s not Zeppelin centric, it’s not Clapton centric; we will not be playing anything from Layla, we are avoiding those treacherous classics that can get people into trouble, but mostly me (laughter). We will be avoiding those problem areas and keeping the show blues centric.
So what area will you be concentrating on?
At this moment in time I feel that we will be drawing from a pre-1969 period. We will not be playing Stairway To Heaven and we will be keeping it well and truly in an early Yardbirds era back in the days when the Yardbirds were a blues band. That’s really the DNA of everything that came after. I don’t want to be regarded as a fucking cover band; there are already plenty of those out there in the world. So it will be a tribute to the early building blocks of the British Blues, mainly Beck, Page and Clapton. I am reasonably optimistic, that’s all that I can say. Before we get out there playing this stuff all that I can be is reasonably optimistic (laughter).
You are bringing the show over here to Newark Castle on Friday 8th July. Without wanting to spoil the surprise all that I will say is please don’t expect to find a castle like the one Kevin Costner found in the movie Robin Hood.
(Laughter) I want it to be a surprise to be honest with you. When we put these gigs together I know that the places are great and can tell a great story but part of the adventure of doing a tour such as this is actually when you see the venue for the very first time. Its great fun for me to do and it is totally an adventure. To be honest, I have been to so many castles that have been turned into restaurants and bakeries, and I have even played at Henry VIII’s joint, and I am still recovering from the tuberculosis that I contracted on that tour (laughter). Take it from me the romance has been worn off a long time ago.
I see that Joanne Shaw Taylor is opening for you. Was that your choice?
Yes it was. When I knew that at some venues we would need a support act then Joanne was my first call. Joanne has been a very good personal friend of mine for a long time now. Truth be told I think that she is a superstar in waiting; her latest album is great and I really think that in the next twenty-four to thirty-six months of her life it will be really interesting to see what happens.
The last time that we spoke you used those exact same words to describe Joanne. She has now stolen your quote from my interview and uses it on her PR blurb (laughter).
Really, well you can chase her for the royalties as I’m far too busy (laughter).
I have been looking at your tour schedule and I have to ask you, do you ever get any personal down time?
I am taking two months off at the end of this tour which is something unusual for me and frankly I am really looking forward to it. I have worked really hard this year and I feel that I have earned some down time.
Someone has told me that you are intending to make a DVD of the London leg of the tour. Is that correct?
(Laughter) who told you that (laughter). Yes that’s right and that will be the second DVD that I have made this year as I have already recorded one live at Carnegie Hall. I will be performing a total of six separate tours this year, two DVD’s and a new studio album with Beth Hart and I have to be honest I personally think that is enough.
Just picking you up on something that you said. On the subject of Beth Hart, are you intending to be recording a new studio album with her this year?
Yes, Beth and I will be getting together at the end of August this year. This will be the third studio album that we will have made together and as most of this sort of stuff always goes in threes, after that I am not sure what is left for us to do. We have covered a pretty extensive catalogue and unless there are some glaring omissions in our song selections, then this may well be the last. We have pretty much covered all of the covers if you know what I mean (laughter). So truth be told I simply don’t know if there will be a Volume Four. I don’t think that anyone is chomping at the bit to hear Beth sing the great Bobby Darin songbook (laughter).
Your last album Blues Of Desperation is, in my opinion, some of your best work to date.
Thank you, I really do appreciate that.
Please don’t take this as anything other than a compliment when I say that I think that your voice has mellowed; it is sounding warmer and suits the songs better. Would you agree with that?
To be honest with you, I am now singing so much higher than I did before. However, the material pretty much dictates what goes on singing wise. I think that the songs on Blues Of Desperation are a lot stronger but less taxing for me to sing if that makes any sense. I actually quite like that. As I have said many times in the past, I am a guitar player who sings and not a singer who plays the guitar.
Dare I ask, are you currently writing for a new studio album or is that on hold for now?
At this moment in time the plan is for us to record a new studio album in July 2017.
On Monday 27th June you are going to be inducted into The Cavern ‘Wall Of Fame’ up there in Liverpool. How does that feel to be given your own brick on the wall alongside the likes of The Rolling Stones, John Lee Hooker, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and John Mayall And The Bluesbreakers?
What can I say, except that it is such an honour and a privilege. As you say, I will be on that famous wall amongst what can only be described as music royalty, I am deeply touched by this.
Later that day you will be showcasing the new show in The Cavern Club to a select few of your fans and supporters. Just how special is that going to be?
That’s right. What can I say; it is my way of saying ‘thank you’ to my British fans for all of the support that they have shown me throughout my career. I will be showcasing my British Blues Explosion concert, which will allow me to pay homage to some of my musical inspirations including Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. This really is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me. I’m so excited to be debuting the British Blues Explosion concert at the Cavern Club. It’s the perfect venue for me to showcase them. I hope that my fans will get a kick out of it as much as I do. For me it will certainly be magical.
Is there anything on the horizon for you and Black Country Communion, as the last time that I asked you, you said never say never?
Well, we are going to try and make a studio album in January 2017. Glenn Hughes and I are going to start writing for the album at the end of July this year and that’s pretty much it. The whole notion of this album is that until the material is good we are not going to make the record. I really feel that if truth be told we have one great album left in us. I personally feel that there is some unfinished business there but I also feel that we only have one great rock record left in us. Until that is ready then I guess it’s never say never again (laughter).
I love your other project, Rock Candy Funk Party and when we spoke you said that you were hoping to get the band over here to the UK. Are you any closer to coming over to the UK to play at Ronnie Scott’s?
To be honest we haven’t really got our heads around that as yet, with my current schedule being so hectic, but funnily enough I will be seeing Tal (Bergman) later today and we are going to start thinking about a new album together with trying to put together that run at Ronnie Scott’s. The trouble is that we need more material to enable us to play a Ronnie Scott’s. Currently we only have two albums worth of material plus a couple of cover tunes so we don’t have such an extensive back catalogue to enable us to play for five nights. Of course we could play the same show every night but believe me that gets old very quickly (laughter).
You have already signed up to your third Keeping The Blues Alive Tour At Sea next February. Is cruising and performing good fun?
I have to say that yes it is. It is not something that I thought that I was going to enjoy as much as I do, but once we did the first one I was thoroughly enthralled with just how much fun the fans were having. When I saw that I just thought “let’s keep it going”.
We spoke previously about how The Running Horse here in Nottingham, which is such an iconic venue, was struggling. I understand that you went up there to see what was happening. What were your thoughts?
Yes I did, after the sound check I had a walk up there and spoke to the landlord and landlady as the venue is now under new ownership. They didn’t know me from Adam and I just walked in there despite it being closed. I recognised the venue and I was sorry to hear that they were struggling but I am happy that it is still open. Hopefully the community keeps supporting the shows there. It is such a rite of passage to play there.
On that note Joe let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me. It’s been a pleasure as usual.
I appreciate it Kevin, thank you very much. I hope to see you at the show in Newark. Bye for now.