Great evening in Dallas last night; first time I’ve seen bluesman Joe Bonamassa and it was well worth the drive.
For two and a half hours the 33-year-old New Yorker prowled the stage playing a dizzying array of what has to be called his own genre of blues.
Being relatively new to his music, I could be relatively objective about the marathon set in which he never left the stage, except for two minutes before returning for an encore.
From my 2006 piece… The blues ain’t just colors
“The blues don’t speak to you until you’ve buried somebody, unless a woman has ripped your heart out, until after you’ve been hungry.
“That’s because before all that… life has to happen, and if it hasn’t the whole point of the blues would be wasted on you. It’s the main reason pop music exists… to mark time for slow learners.”
Bonamassa’s blinding, fiery leads, sometimes jarring (and pleasing) changes of tempo and style, delicate, flamenco-like guitar interludes come unrelenting; his virtuosity soars… and for those of us who like our music turned up to 11… it’s also pure jackhammer and heavy percussion.
He’s unlike any other bluesman I’ve ever heard, though his influences are many. To my ear there is far more traditional Delta blues here than say, Stevie Ray, but there is a lot more rock and roll than Vaughn; yet Joe could never be assigned neo-old school status.
My friend, blues harpist Gunny Tibbetts summed it up well when I recently asked his opinion long long ago..
“Joe B is one of the most gifted, talented guitarists out there today, in my humble opinion. He’s a combination of the great masters from our era – Clapton, Beck, Page – who takes us into the 21st Century.”
Even higher praise comes from the dean of living bluesmen, the legendary B. B. King for whom Joe opened at the ripe old age of at 12.
After hearing him play, King said, “This kid’s potential is unbelievable. He hasn’t even begun to scratch the surface. He’s one of a kind.”
So… if you don’t like blues (which indicates a good physical is in order) you may not have heard of him… but for new and old fans alike Bonamassa’s 20-year-long “overnight” success is summed up by the wry license plate sold with his other merch last night:
He is commonly referred to as “The Best Guitarist You’ve Never Heard Of.”
He is here to stay and he most decidedly will live up to the Gunny’s prediction.
But if you wanna see and hear some very rare lightening-caught–in-a-bottle musicianship, catch him and or get his new album. (Yeah, I still call ‘em albums.”)
’til then… here’s his website where you’ll get a free download from his latest album “Dust Bowl”.
Bonamassa also has a unique blessing… according to The Bushmaster he shares Robert Johnson’s birthday; May 8, 1911 and May 8, 1977…. exactly 66 years apart and just one “6” off Lucifer’s own number.
Blues people around the world will of course celebrate this, Johnson’s 100th year, later this spring.
This takes on more irony due to the legend that as a young man living on a plantation in rural Mississippi, Robert Johnson was branded with a burning desire to become a great blues musician. Walking to a crossroads at midnight he was met by a large black man who took young Robert’s guitar and tuned it.
The “Devil” then played a few songs and then returned the guitar to Johnson, giving him instant mastery of the instrument. This was in effect an updated Faustian transaction; in exchange for his soul, Robert Johnson was able to create the blues for which he became famous.
He died 1938, at the age of 27; some say it was a woman, jealousy and a poison-laced bottle of whiskey… an end which is itself the blues.