As Joe Bonamassa grows his reputation as one of the world’s greatest guitar players, he is also evolving into a charismatic blues-rock star and singer-songwriter of stylistic depth and emotional resonance. His ability to connect with live concert audiences is transformational, and his new album, Black Rock, brings that energy to his recorded music more powerfully than ever before. The tenth solo album and eighth studio release of his career – as well as his fifth consecutive with producer Kevin Shirley (Led Zeppelin, Black Crowes, etc.) – the disc adds an enlivening dose of ‘world’ vibes to Bonamassa’s virtuoso mix of ‘60s-era British blues-rock (à la Beck and Clapton) and roots-influenced Delta sounds.
Joe Bonamassa performs at the Kravis Center on Tuesday, November 22, 2011.
Guitarist Joe Bonamassa doesn’t just play the blues – he is a student of the form.
For example, here’s how he describes Rory Gallagher, an Irish blues guitarist who never got nearly as well-known in the United States as he did in Europe: “Think of Rory like this – what you see is what you get. He comes out in a flannel shirt, blue jeans, playing a battered old Strat. He walks up to the mic, and he just plays, and it’s honest, the music’s honest.”
Bonamassa, who’ll be performing at the Kravis Center in Florida on Tuesday, is not just interested in knowing the blues. He wants to pass along his knowledge – so he started Keeping the Blues Alive, where he visits with groups of middle-school and high-school students to keep the fire of the blues burning.
“That’s the whole point, how do we get through the next hundred years?” Bonamassa said in a telephone interview. “Blues is 100 years old, essentially, so how do we get to the next hundred years? We get the kids interested in it. A lot of blues guys tend to play the victim – that the music doesn’t get covered by the media, it gets ignored. But at the end of the day, you have to be proactive about it.”
So Bonamassa will be taking his love of the blues to the kids – including a session before his show at the Kravis.
“As it happens, it’s about self-preservation for the blues, but it’s also about giving a little back to the community,” he said. “I get to do this nightly, playing music and a couple thousand people show up, so I feel indebted to the community.”
These days, it’s just one more thing on a busy slate for Bonamassa – he’s just wrapped up a pair of albums and tours with the supergroup Black Country Communion, which also features bassist/vocalist Glenn Hughes, drummer Jason Bonham and keyboardist Derek Sherinian; he’s worked on an album with singer/songwriter Beth Hart that he calls the project he’s most proud of; and he’s touring in support ofDust Bowl, his latest solo record.
Bonamassa set out to make Dust Bowl a much more American album than what he’s done before – he said his guitar work was closer to that of Duane Eddy, the great surf guitarist of the 1950s and ’60s, than anyone else. He also had the chance to work with singer/songwriter John Hiatt and Vince Gill, a country legend who also happens to be a highly respected guitarist in his own right. Bonamassa first met Gill at the Crossroads Guitar Festival just outside Chicago in the summer of 2010, and from there, it just took off.
“I saw him from afar, but I didn’t really approach him,” Bonamassa said. “But he came up to me, and he said, ‘My wife and I watched your concert at Albert Hall on DVD and we really like it,’ and he asked, ‘Do you know me?’ I said, ‘I know exactly who you are!’
“I’m not one to go up to famous people, I don’t enjoy the experience, it’s very daunting to me. I probably wouldn’t have approached him, but he approached me, and it’s Vince freakin’ Gill! Two months later we’re doing a session with John Hiatt, and then he’s on stage with me at the Beacon Theater in New York. My Rolodex has changed a bit in the last 10 years – used to be my mom and dad and a couple of friends!”
If you go:
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 22
Where: Dreyfoos Hall, Kravis Center, West Palm Beach