joe bonamassa—aimee suzanne kruse-ross—march 2020
Few prolific musicians need an introduction and Grammy-nominated blues-rock guitar icon Joe Bonamassa is no different. He's played in the music industry since he, at 12 years old, opened for the legendary B. B. King and has been non-stop ever since. With more than 17 live albums, three collaborative albums and 30 singles, Bonamassa is revered worldwide as one of the greatest guitar players of his generation. Ahead of his “Guitar Event of the Year" show at Green Bay's Weidner Center on March 12, Bonamassa was kind enough to field some questions in anticipation of his event.
Hello Joe, thank you for taking time to speak with us this evening. I know you're quite busy but before I begin, where are we getting you from today? Are you at home or are you currently on the road?
I am calling from Melbourne, Florida where it's sunny and warm, but I understand that Green Bay's got some snow! But hey, it's northern Wisconsin, so I think you'd kind of expect that!
I'll begin by being honest that, until last week, I'd never heard of Joe Bonamassa and had no idea that your music existed. In going through social channels, the first song I selected was “I'll Play the Blues for You." And I have to say that this arrangement, to me, has the echos of the brilliance of the late Gary Moore, yet your sound is a bit brighter and more tenacious than Moore's, which is only a testament to your individuality as an artist.
However, I was quite surprised to see that he wasn't among the English musicians that you've listed as being inspiring, Would you speak of who your early influencers were, and how you determined that this was the type of music you ultimately wanted to play?
Actually Gary Moore has influenced my work quite a bit ... Moore is one of the reasons why we all play the blues the way that we do. He was a master guitar player, and singer, knew his work well and was brilliant in all that he did. He ranks right up there with other English singer-guitarists that I've admired. He made notes on that guitar and didn't just play them, he made them matter—they were soulful. And as a musician, I think that's what we all strive for. You want music that is, and sounds meaningful.
Of course, there are other plenty of other musicians as well like Eric Clapton, Freddie King, Peter Green, Ronnie Earl. As far as influences, they're all right up there.
Much of your work is reminisce of a writer/singer who is much older that your 40+ years. Would you say that you're a soulful thinker when working with music, and do you have any specific approach when you focus your attention on writing?
I would agree with that; the music, the words and the melodies I'm trying for reach me in a place where people don't normally see that aspect of myself, where it gives me the chance to write something meaningful. Nowadays, you can't just write a song about a woman in a blue dress that goes into a bar—that's already been done—and then just keep mumbling through the song—it's got to be meaningful.
I've seen previous interviews where you've been asked about writing the lyrics before the melody and vice versa. I'm curious if one is easier for you, or are you able to switch between writing and playing fluently?
Sometimes it's easier for me to write the lyrics first. If you write good lyrics for good music, then the song almost writes itself. The hardest part is just trying to find good subject matter, because you can have a great melody but if the lyrics don't mean anything, then it's not going to go anywhere. I like to write great songs that really speak for themselves.
Speaking of instruments, I understand that you played guitar for a good 15 years before you started singing. Would you share what inspired you to incorporate your voice as an instrument within your arrangements?
I decided that using my own voice, rather than the voices of others, was something that would add depth to my work and also reaches what I'm trying to accomplish. There's a lot of authenticity to that where I feel that the audience picks up on it and sees a lot of honesty in what I'm sharing. There's a lot of skill involved in singing, but it's really no more than just another instrument in that you have to try and get that sound out through your head, using the ears, the nose, feeling those vibrations in your skull, all of it. Believe me, and no one can tell you any differently, there's no one person that ever starts out singing great. It's just practice.
Can you tell us a bit about how you came to play with the late B.B. King, and can you share what influences he left you with?
Well, that was a long time ago, more than 30 years and he was one of the greats. He was so much larger than he knew, I think, and everyone knows that King and 'the blues' just go together. He certainly left his mark on the industry and I can honestly say that he was more, much more than just a musician. Just say his name, and that's all you need.
Can you speak a bit on what Green Bay can expect from your show?
I'm excited to get back to Green Bay! You can expect an old school show with a lot of new material. It's always a great time there and I look forward to returning.
Thank you so much, Joe. Green Bay looks forward to welcoming you!