Joe Bonamassa: in the driver’s seat

Joe Bonamassa’s mission statement for his new record was simple – blues.
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The 35-year-old New Yorker and bona fide guitar god pays homage to the masters on Driving Towards The Daylight.

Tracks by Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Tom Waits, Buddy Miller and Bernie Marsden swagger alongside Bonamassa originals.

The record – his 13th solo outing in 12 years – continues the musician’s position as a conduit between the past and future of blues rock.

“I’m not sure if I approach it any differently to other blues artists,” Bonamassa says.

“I have a liberal definition of what blues is.

“Some people think that if it’s not Robert Johnson and recorded in some kind of shack on a direct to acetate recorder 85 years ago, then don’t even bother calling it blues.

“That’s one way of looking at it.

“The way I look at it is that the early Led Zeppelin stuff was just as much the blues as was Robert Johnson, who I share a birthday with.

“The British guys took the blues music in the late ‘60s and re-amped it and made into this classic rock, but very bluesy style.

“All I’m doing is taking their playbook and changing it around for 2012.

“Every so often blues just gets updated.

“Technology is different, people are different and geographically it’s different.”

Australian fans of Bonamassa will be delighted to hear Jimmy Barnes guest on the album’s closing track – a cover of Barnes’ own Too Much Ain’t Enough Love.

Bonamassa has a strong musical partnership with producer Kevin Shirley, who has worked with Barnes.

“Kevin produced the new Cold Chisel record,” Bonamassa says.

“With Jimmy and the whole Cold Chisel camp there’s a lot of six degrees of separation.

“My keyboard player is good friends with Ian Moss, who when we were in Sydney came out and sat in with the band.”

Bonamassa was later invited to duet with Barnes on a tribute record to Deep Purple’s album Machine Head.

“We got chosen to do Lazy which was a real thrill because it’s one of my favourites off Machine Head,” Bonamassa explains.

“Jimmy’s voice is so well-suited for that song.

“We just paid tribute, we didn’t try to beat the version or differentiate from it.

“We’re all fans of the band – the late, great Jon Lord especially.

“Jimmy was in Vegas to do that [tribute] session and we thought why don’t we do Too Much Ain’t Enough Love and make it bluesy and do a new version of it.”

Since his debut album in 2000, A New Day Yesterday, which featured interpretations of Free, Jethro Tull, Al Kooper and Rory Gallagher, Bonamassa has remained prolific.

Bonamassa has collaborated with B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Paul Rodgers and Leslie West.

He has built a loyal following of music enthusiasts around the world through heavy touring, 13 solo albums and numerous other recording projects, including a collaboration with singer Beth Hart.

Bonamassa also plays lead guitar with Black Country Communion, a supergroup featuring Glenn Hughes, Jason Bonham and Dream Theater’s Derek Sherinian.

He has just finished recording a third record with the band and is already planning another record with Hart.

After that he will put together four nights of music in London with four different bands, all of which will be recorded.

It’s a project he describes as “ambitious”.

“I think other people consider myself a workaholic,” Bonamassa says.

“But the whole thing boils down to: I am a musician.

“I enjoy working.

“I remember a time when the phone didn’t ring.

“Nobody gave a shit about what we were doing.

“I’ve always had this mentality that you have to create your own situation because you can’t sit by the phone waiting for someone to create one for you.”

Bonamassa seizes opportunities when they arrive.

“The Black Country Communion thing came out of nowhere and I said, ‘Sure, let’s do it.’

“The [record] with Beth Hart was actually my idea.

“I happened to see Beth at a festival we shared a bill at in Europe and I thought, ‘Man, if we did an Ike and Tina-style soul record, that would be fantastic.’

“Truth be told, I don’t like the pressure of having to front it all the time.

“I don’t particularly like it.

“I’m a solo artist by trade but if I can create a situation where I’m just a guitar player amongst other great musicians, then what’s not to like?

“If I don’t have to don the suit and sunglasses and go out and play that guy on stage – if you saw me on the street, you wouldn’t recognise me.

“That guy on stage is a different persona.”

While he might enjoy stepping out of the spotlight, Bonamassa also admits a reluctance to relinquish creative control.

“Democracy is a lovely thing, as long as one person is in charge,” Bonamassa says.

“Quite frankly, I started my career in a band and Black Country is a band.

“But I like being a solo artist.

“A band is like steering this cruise ship around an F1 track.

“You cannot make vital decisions [easily].

“Things come fast now, way faster than when I started 23 years ago.

“If I had a nickel for every email that says ‘urgent, ASAP, deadline’ then I’d be a millionaire.

“You have to be on your toes.

“The solo project allows you to focus your mind and decide what you want to be when you grow up.”

Joe Bonamassa performs at Newcastle’s Civic Theatre on Sunday, October 7 and the State Theatre, Sydney on October 5.

Driving Towards The Daylight is out now.

The Maitland Mercury has three double passes to give away to see Joe Bonamassa at the Civic Theatre.

For your chance to win simply fill out the coupon in today’s Mercuryand return it to the office by noon next Wednesday.

Guitar god Joe Bonamassa is returning to the Civic Theatre.

Joe Bonamassa’s new record is Driving Towards The Daylight.

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