Friday September 14, 2012
Driven by sound
By PEIN LEE
Guitarist Joe Bonamassa has a roar that is quite his own.
American musician Joe Bonamassa is set to rock Singapore next week with a concert that may be seen as a pre-cursor of sorts to the upcoming Singapore Formula One series.
Born and raised in New York, Bonamassa is a fourth generation musician in his family. It could be argued that being the son of guitar shop owners provided him with a slight advantage in kickstarting a career in music. His father gave Bonamassa a guitar when he was only four years old; by 11, he had mastered a substantial portion of the repertoires of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix.
At 12, he opened for B.B. King in one of the latter’s shows.
In a phone interview from California, Bonamassa tells of listening to his father’s record collection and being exposed to British blues players, such as Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Gary Moore and of course, Jimmy Page. For Bonamassa, it was a revelation that Crossroads, a timeless blues standard performed by Cream, was in fact written by the venerable Robert Johnson, an American delta blues supremo from the 1930s.
Bonamassa’s association with the British brand of blues-rock would continue with lifelong dedication. His music would inevitably evoke memories of riff-driven pounding rock music in the same vein as Led Zeppelin’s virtuosic guitar solo work that runs the gamut of influences from Clapton to Jeff Beck. However, Bonamassa’s sound is also distinctly his own.
“It’s the result of a 40-year-old exchange programme,” says Bonamassa, 35, in reference to the migration of blues music to the British Isles and in turn having it re-introduced to the United States by acts such as the Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin as “blues-rock”.
“The irony isn’t lost on me,” he says, when asked about the similarities between himself and the near-mythical Jimi Hendrix. They’re both Americans who found initial acceptance in Britain.
Bonamassa’s 2009 sold-out concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London, in which Clapton appeared as a guest, launched him into greater public consciousness. “I don’t remember much of the Albert Hall, it was all very intense, and I was too wound up,” says Bonamassa. “The fear of screwing up in front of that full house kept me on the edge ... to give it my all.”
Since then, Bonamassa has returned the favour to Eric Clapton, participating in editions of the annual Crossroads Guitar Festival hosted by the veteran blues-rocker.
With 10 studio albums to his name – the latest being this year’s Driving Towards The Daylight – Bonamassa shows no signs of slowing down. He has invitations for work collaborations and projects that fill up his diary; he insists that he doesn’t take things for granted. One notable project is the Black Country Communion, a kind of “supergroup” comprising Bonamassa, Glenn Hughes (of Deep Purple), Jason Bonham (son of late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham) and virtuoso keyboardist Derek Sherinian. A third album from the group is due out in October; Bonamassa is also planning another record with soul singer Jo Beth Hart.
When asked about the diversity of the work he is currently immersed in, Bonamassa cites the need for diversity and exploration, while still operating within the context of the blues and blues-driven rock.
A self-confessed guitar geek, Bonamassa is most often pictured with a Gibson Les Paul ‘59, but in his live shows, an astounding range of guitars can be seen. “It’s not about showing off how many guitars I have, but it’s just easier to have a number of guitars on hand, with different tunings and settings. During a show, I can go through between four and six guitars,” says Bonamassa.
No matter what he is playing, though, the sound is quintessentially recognisable – relatively clean, not too much distortion, and plenty of drive. “I’m a reactionary kind of guy,” he says when asked about his approach to doing solos, considered the most important of all rock guitar weapons.
“There are guys who plan out each and every solo, but I start with a theme and see where it goes. At the end of it, I’m still a blues man.” And in the history of the blues, the journey is vital, as the experiences garnered will ultimately inform the music.
Bonamassa has been touring Asia for about four years now, and Singapore is just one stop on this leg, which also includes Thailand, Japan, the Philippines and China. Malaysia was initially on the cards, but that concert had to be cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances.
“In Asia, I play to smaller crowds than what we’re used to back in the US and Europe,” Bonamassa reveals. A more intimate setting is great for getting closer to the audience, something that would hopefully generate more appeal.
He plans to keep touring around Asia and is generally impressed with the energy and enthusiasm of the audiences, in particular when it comes to the classic hard/blues rock genre that he champions.
His concert in Singapore will be held at the Esplanade Concert Hall, which can seat around 1,600 people. The intensity of Bonamassa’s music will surely be at the forefront.
An Evening With Joe Bonamassa, promoted by Midas Promotions, happens on Sept 17 at the Esplanande Concert Hall, Singapore. Tickets are available through sistic.com.sg. This interview was made possible by Sammy Shirra-Moore, The Deck.