Joe Bonamassa, blues rock musician, singer and songwriter, chats with Kevin Cooper about working with Beth Hart, performing at The Royal Albert Hall, his time spent with Black Country Communion and his forthcoming UK tour.

Joe Bonamassa is an American blues rock musician, singer and songwriter. In the past 13 years he has released fifteen solo albums through his independent record label, J&R Adventures, of which eleven of them reached number one on the Billboard Blues charts.

He has played alongside such artists as Stephen Stills, Eric Clapton, Foreigner, Buddy Guy, Steve Winwood, Warren Haynes, and Derek Trucks amongst others. His career highlights include performances at the Royal Albert Hall and a Grammy Award nomination in 2013.

In addition to his musical 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.

Kevin Cooper caught up with him in New York, whilst he was waiting to film The Tonight Show, and this is what he had to say.


Mr Bonamassa how are you today?

I’m good Kevin thanks, how are you today?

I’m very well thank you, and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

It’s cool Kevin, thanks for doing it.

I have to say that I have been a fan since I first saw you play at The Robin 2 in Bilston back in 2006.

That’s a long time ago now Kevin.

It is and I have followed your career ever since.

I have to tell you Kevin that The Robin 2 is a very special place. Places such as The Robin 2 are extraordinarily important as is the first place that I played over there in Nottingham. That was at The Running Horse.

I have to tell you that The Running Horse is really struggling recently.

Really, that’s really strange Kevin.

I have seen you play at almost every venue that we have to offer here in Nottingham. Everywhere from The Running Horse, The Rescue Rooms, Rock City, The Royal Concert Hall and then at The Arena.

Out of all of the venues that you have mentioned Kevin, The Recue Rooms was for me the most fun. What I can remember about playing at Rock City was just how dark the place was. It was impossible for me to see the crowd because it was that dark in there.

Your Rock City gig was back in 2008 and I have to say that you blew me away.

Thank you very much Kevin. Wherever I play in Nottingham I always manage to have a lot of fun.

So which do you prefer playing in, the small intimate venues or the larger arenas?

I have to say that I really do prefer playing in theatres Kevin. Whenever we play in the larger arenas we always move the stage around so that we get the feel of playing in a big theatre. I personally prefer the theatre feel rather than looking out into a canyon.

Having played here many, many times now, what do you think to Nottingham?

I have had some of the best times of my life over there in Nottingham. I totally love the place. It’s a great city for live music is Nottingham, as there is always something going on which is not typical of what you see normally as you travel around. I travel around playing one-nighters all of the time and most of the time I will be the only concert on in town. But in Nottingham there is always somebody playing; there is always somebody doing something.

And as I ask all Americans who visit the city, after seeing Robin Hood, Prince Of Thieves are you disappointed with the size of Nottingham Castle?

I have to be honest Kevin and say that despite playing there around twenty times I have never seen the Castle (laughter). But don’t worry, I will check it out the next time that I am in town.

You really should do because built into the base of the Castle rock is what is reportedly the oldest Inn in England, The Trip To Jerusalem.

I can kill two birds with one stone there Kevin, I can have a nice pint of Guinness and check out the Castle at the same time (laughter).

I have been looking at your tour diary and I have to say that it’s non-stop. Do you ever get any down time for yourself?

Not really Kevin. I am currently in New York ready to do The Tonight Show. I do sometimes manage to get a vacation but I have to say that this year has been particularly tough.

And what do you like to do in your down time?

That’s easy Kevin, I just sit at home, play my guitar and geek out.

I follow you on Facebook and every time that I log on it would appear that you have purchased a few more guitars?

That’s right, I do pick up the odd guitar here and there but that’s my only vice really.

At this moment in time how many guitars do you own?

It’s not a question of how many, it’s all about what you have got. I have some really nice guitars and I have been lucky enough to collect some really nice stuff.

Do you have a favourite?

It just depends upon the day and if you ever see me at home I will usually be playing a Fender Stratocaster.

Is it true that bootleg CD’s actually opened the door for you to perform in Russia?

Yes that is perfectly correct Kevin. What you have to remember is that everything in Russia is a bootleg. There is even a fake Joe Bonamassa website over there. At the end of the day I couldn’t care less if they are selling Joe Bonamassa bootleg CD’s or not. It has allowed me to tour there and to be in a position to sell five thousand seats in Moscow and three thousand seats in St. Petersburg. It has allowed me to find an audience which otherwise I may not have found.

I was lucky enough to see the first UK performance by Black Country Communion. How did you find the time playing with Glenn Hughes?

I enjoyed it immensely. I love Glenn Hughes and I always will. That gig in Wolverhampton was, I think, our best gig ever. It was just so special to see Glenn performing on a big stage which he hadn’t done for a while, in his home town of Wolverhampton and playing the music that he wrote. It was totally amazing Kevin. It was a really emotional occasion for Glenn. It was fantastic for me to be a part of that and it is something that I will never forget. The Wolves Civic gig was simply on fire; it was such a great gig.

Is Black Country Communion just a distant memory now or is there a chance that you and Glenn will join forces again sometime in the future?

I would never rule it out Kevin but I simply couldn’t do it full time.

I was speaking to Beth Hart earlier this year and I said that I thought that whenever you and she get together, something magical happens. Would you agree with that?

I totally agree with your sentiment Kevin.

Why do you that that is?

I think that both of us have a mutual respect for one another. Both of us have our day jobs but this is something which suits both of our styles. However credit must go to the right people involved and we have a band of world class musicians behind us Kevin which certainly helps.

Beth did hint that you may be recording another album together sometime in 2016. Is there any truth in that?

We have certainly talked about it. The thing about recording with Beth is that it is a most joyous occasion because all I have to do is play the guitar and leave the rest up to Beth.

Back in 2009 you finally got to play at The Royal Albert Hall here in London. How did that feel?

It was great Kevin and I would have to say that was my biggest gig ever I think. For me as a professional it was either going to be the beginning of the beginning, or the beginning of the end you know.

With the exception of the Hendrix cover Hey Baby (New Rising Sun), you have written or co-written all of the other ten tracks on the Different Shades Of Blue album. How did you find the writing experience?

It was fine Kevin. You just try to make sure that your best stuff finds its way onto the album.

Together with Tal Bergman (Drums) Mike Merritt (Bass) Ron DeJesus (Guitar) Fred Kron (Keys) and Daniel Sadownick (Percussion) you are a member of Rock Candy Funk Party, will we ever see RCFP play over here in the UK?

Well Kevin we have been talking about playing Ronnie Scott’s over there in London and we are trying to work things out around all of our schedules so watch this space.

How is your Keeping The Blues Alive Foundation going?

It’s a labour of love which takes a bunch of my own money. It is hard to raise money for kids who are in music programmes, it’s just art Kevin. So we just put money of our own into the bucket as I’m not begging off nobody.

Do any of the new artists out there excite you?

There is a great little crop of blues musicians out there over in the UK right now Kevin. There is an Irish kid called Simon McBride who is very good, Joanne Shaw Taylor is a superstar in waiting I think and Aynsley Lister is also very good. There is a tremendous scene over there in the UK Kevin, with some great players.

How was it playing at Red Rocks?

It was great and in fact we have just sold it out again a month ago. It’s such a great place to play.

I have to mention Tour de Force to you. Back in March 2013 you played four venues over four nights with four different bands playing four different set-lists which incorporated sixty songs both old and new. Would you ever do it again?

That’s easy Kevin, I had a great time but I would never do it again (laughter).

Do you have any ambitions left to achieve?

To keep playing good shows whilst ensuring that the quality is right.

Do you have a single embarrassing moment which you can tell me about?

Not really Kevin as I suppose that I have been lucky that I haven’t had any catastrophic disasters. I simply try to avoid all of those pitfalls. On a couple of occasions I have had the odd amplifier burn out on stage but nothing too weird.

Which single event would you say has changed your life forever?

Playing The Royal Albert Hall in 2009.

Your next album release is going to be Live At The Radio City Music Hall in New York. Was that fun to make?

It was great to play there, a real thrill. We did two nights there and we had great fun doing it. The fans were fantastic to us. It was really cool.

Who has inspired you along the way?

Eric Clapton is a huge influence on me together with B.B. King. I also liked a lot of the British Invasion Blues guys such as John Mayall.

On that note I will thank you for taking the time to speak to me.

I appreciate it Kevin and I will see you in Nottingham. Find your way backstage as I would love to meet you. You take care and thank you.