Joe Bonamassa is to the blues-rock guitar what a tsunami is to a coastline: A devastating force of nature to be reckoned with. Easily one of the top guitarists living, he could go toe-to-toe with Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jimi Hendrix. So why haven't you heard of him?
He opened for B.B. King at the age of 12, and has played with Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Foreigner, Robert Cray, Stephen Stills, Joe Cocker, Gregg Allman, Steve Winwood, Paul Jones, Ted Nugent, Warren Haynes, and Derek Trucks, to name a few.
Bonamassa is a member of the newly-formed rock super group Black Country Communion which includes Joe, Deep Purple/Black Sabbath bassist Glenn Hughes, former-Foreigner drummer Jason Bonham, and KISS keyboardist Derek Sherinian.
The fourth generation of Bonamassas who have been musicians, he is the most successful. He has played at top venues all over the world, including the Royal Albert Hall in London.
In Europe and the rest of the world, Bonamassa is a bigger name. His concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 2009 sold out 5800 seats in less than a week when they went on sale four months in advance of the concert date. First and foremost a Blues man, his act is a harder sell in America. At the Hard Rock Live in Hollywood, Florida last night, they sized down the already small venue to 2,500.
Bonamassa has opened for B.B. King a few times, and he's played a lot of gigs from state fairs with fellow blues-rocker Johnny Lang down to an old hall in Fort Lauderdale, FLA which he recounts had seven people turn out to see him.
"Those seven people got the best show of their lives," he told the crowd at Hard Rock Live last night.
That's true of pretty much every concert that he has ever given. Bonamassa is the hardest working man in show business. He generally has no opening act, and he never leaves the stage until the last encore two hours later. He plays with a control that few living artists possess. He can play with blinding speed, or the faintest delicacy that can bring even the drunks at the Hard Rock into awe-stricken silence.
He plays and plays at concerts, and never talks much within the first forty minutes. To introduce guest drummer Jason Bonham at the Hollywood, Florida Hard Rock concert he prefaced Bonham's introduction with: "You know it's something special if you hear me talk more than once."
Bonamassa's simple stage suits and combed back hair and sunglasses make him look like Agent Smith from "The Matrix" with Converse shoes.
He blew away Ft. Lauderdale audiences opening for B.B. King two years ago. "I would have paid to just see him," said one amazed fan after he blew the audience away with 30 minutes of virtuosity on the acoustic blues guitar.
He does this, from Japan to Sweden to South Florida for more than 200 nights each year. His old concert shirts read: "Joe Bonamassa: Always on the Road."
The only thing holding him back in his early days was that he could play a guitar like nobody's business, but his vocal talents were more under-developed and required a few years of nurturing. Today, a strong voice with a lot of range gives him the whole package.
"This kid's potential is unbelievable. He hasn't even begun to scratch the surface," gushed B.B. King of 12-year-old Joe. "He's one of a kind."
Even though he's an excellent student of American Blues artists like Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, he cites Eric Clapton, Paul Kossoff and Peter Green's British Blues as more of his source of inspiration. He played with Clapton in his Royal Albert Hall concert.
Bonamassa debuted as a solo artist in 2000 with a CD called "A New Yesterday" produced by Tom Dowd which featured guest performances by Gregg Allman, Rick Derringer and Leslie West. His 2002 followup, "So, It's Like That" was his first to hit #1 on Billboard's Blues chart. Subsequent albums "You & Me" (2006) and "Sloe Gin" (2007) both hit the top of the Blues board at Billboard.
He has also spun records as a DJ for shows on both UK rock station "Planet Rock" and on Sirius/XM's Bluesville channel.
His 2011 calendar looks like his bid to finally conquer the American market is well under way. He will play mostly U.S. dates, including the House of Blues in Las Vegas on February 19, 2011.
Wherever he goes, if you like Clapton, Hendrix, or Stevie Ray, you'll love Joe Bonamassa, and tell a friend. In just a few years, he could be a 25 year overnight sensation.
My shiny two.