Joe Bonamassa is one of the best rock and blues guitarists around. He talks to Chris Bond about his musical journey ahead of his gig in Leeds.
JOE Bonamassa is getting ready to go on stage in Oslo. As we talk on the phone I can hear him strumming his guitar softly in the background. “When I was 28 I didn’t have to do this, but I’m 38 now and I need to warm up these days,” he says.
There are few, if any, rock guitarists who can match Bonamassa’s virtuosity with a six-string (or a 12-string come to think of it), but equally he must be one of the hardest working rock musicians around.
As well as all the tours he has released 16 solo albums in the past 14 years, the latest being the impressive Different Shades of Blue, and even found time to help form the supergroup Black Country Communion with Glenn Hughes and Jason Bonham.
Next weekend the New York-born blues rocker arrives back in Leeds. The last time he was here he played at the 02 Academy and this time he’s at the First Direct Arena, which puts him up among the big boys. “The UK has been great to me and I’m looking forward to coming back. I’m playing some cities I’ve been to before as well as some new ones, so it should be a lot of fun.”
He admits, though, that he’s never quite certain what audience will greet him when he walks on stage. “Sometimes I go out and it’s like a goddamn soccer riot and then the next night everyone’s very polite, it just depends whether people are up for a party.”
Bonamassa’s rise up the ladder has been steady rather than spectacular, although music has been part of his life as far back as he can remember. “My dad was into music and he bought me my first guitar when I was four, so there was always guitars around the house,” he says.
At the age of seven, he was perfecting Stevie Ray Vaughan guitar licks, and by the time he was 10, he had caught BB King’s ear and was opening for the legendary bluesman before he’d even reached his teens.
Despite his obvious talent, and the support of people like BB King, he says he’s had to work hard to get where he is today. “It’s 90 per cent hard work and 10 per cent God-given ability.. I’ve had to claw and scratch for every opportunity and every modicum of success.”
He certainly had to play his fair share of dives when he was starting out on his own. “I remember those times very well and there’s no romance in that life. People come up to me sometimes and say, ‘I saw you playing at that club when there was just seven other people and it cost £10’ but that doesn’t pay for your gas, never mind the hotel room. It was tough at times and you question whether you have the stamina,” he says. “That’s what motivates me now because I don’t want to go back to that life.”
Bonamassa has been in bands before but prefers being a solo performer, albeit one supported by a small team of tight-knit musicians.
“I don’t have to depend on anyone else and I like it that way, because I know that no matter what happens, the guy in the suit goes on at eight.”
Joe Bonamassa, Leeds First Direct Arena, October 24. For tickets call the box office on 0844 248 1585. For more details go to www.firstdirectarena.com