Joe Bonamassa is a premier Generation X blues rock guitarist of the 21st century. He began his career as a child prodigy at the age of 12 when he opened some shows for B. B. King in 1989. He played in professional bands with musicians his father’s age while he was still in grade school. He has 17 #1 Billboard Blues albums. Along with his solo work, Bonamassa and blues singer Beth Hart have released three albums together. Another side project is being a member of Black Country Communion along with Glenn Hughes, Jason Bonham and Derek Sherinian. BCC’s fourth album was just released and Blues Rock Review’s Bob Gersztyn spoke with Bonamassa about that and more.
BCC IV was just released. How do you feel about that?
I think that it’s the best album that we’ve done, it was a deep record and I think that it finally solidified our sound.
What were the circumstances for Black Country Communion first forming?
Glenn and I talked about doing something and Kevin Shirley had the idea of adding Jason Bonham and Derek Sherinian, like, doing a band and we were all down for that. That was in late 2010.
And then when you all got together you clicked?
Yeah, musically it does and basically it’s good for me in small spurts and small doses. It’s not a band that you can do 365 days a year. It’s too intense to be in. So, yeah, we work sporadically and occasionally. We did it at Kevin Shirley’s house, which is East/West studio, where Sinatra recorded and the “Beach Boys” did Pet Sounds. Kevin has a studio where he mixes the record but we didn’t record it there
Why did you write the songs for BCC IV at Glenn Hughes’ house?
That was the way it started initially and it seems to work better when I just go to Glenn’s house and his little room and we write and we were doing it for about eight months.
So then working with other people inspires you to expand your horizons in your own writing and performing?
Well, I think that one thing with this band is it gives me a creative outlet for a 1970s hard rock thing, where I don’t think that my fans would necessarily like a night of hard rock music. It would be too heavy for my fans who come to my shows daily, so you know this is a good vehicle for me to kind of exercise my Richie Blackmore, Jimmy Page and people like that.
So is BCC going to do a major tour that will include the USA?
We have two shows booked in the UK and we have a cruise, and that’s what’s on the books now, after that we’ll talk about touring. It’s good not to commit to 12 weeks straight on a gig. You know what I mean?
But basically you’re just doing it as a diversion then?
It’s not that at all, here’s the thing, we did a tour, a big tour, in 2011 and we’ve been dormant for five years, so we’re slowly getting back together. It’s not a diversion, it’s a fun project to me. It’s a very fun project to me, but it’s not something that I can do 365 days a year because I have my solo career and all this stuff that I do and everyone else has the same situation. Jason is out with I believe it was REO Speedwagon, Cheap Trick and Foreigner this summer. Glenn’s in Australia right now doing a Deep Purple show. Derek’s got a new band called the Sons of Apollo with Jeff Scott Soto and Mike Portnoy, so everyone’s busy. Nobody can really make this their full time job.
The reason why you got into the blues in the first place, you mentioned in one interview I was reading, said that you related so much to the British interpretation of American blues. Do you feel that working with British artists, in BCC gets you closer to that or any different perspective?
You know, in a lot of cases, again all those influences I had with British blues I can use. I can play that Richie Blackmore, I can play that Paul Kossoff role or I can play that Jeff Beck, or Jimmy Page or Eric Clapton role and it’s a lot more hard rock than blues for sure.
Capsulate what your plans are for the next year.
I have a record that’s coming out with Beth Hart in January. I have a solo record coming out next summer. I have 44 more shows to go this year and probably another 100 next year and that’s pretty much it.
I heard you say in an interview that you plan on retiring at the age of 62 in 2039, is that true?
Yes, it is. Fifty years in one profession, that’s enough for anybody.
I find it amazing when artists like B.B. King play until the end of their lives. I interviewed Bo Diddley a couple of years before he passed away, when he was 77 and he told me that he kept performing because it was his main source of income, since he had such bad record deals during his most productive years.
I don’t have a record deal. I own my own record company and we promote our own shows. We do our own everything including merchandising. We’re like a mom and pop shop. Yeah, but that’s not me, though. I’m not going to be touring into my eighties. I’m out of here after fifty years and I think that’s fair enough. How long you been doing this? Fifty years. Okay, you can go.
What do you plan on doing after you retire?
I’m planning on taking up golf and perhaps crochet.
My wife could teach you the crochet.
I’m in, I’m in, I’ll knit you one.
What are your hobbies? What do you like to do in your down time?
I collect guitars and that pretty much takes up my spare time, that whole world. Guitars from the ’50s and ’60s.
Do you feel that a purpose of music is to bridge cultural differences across, ethnic, religious and political lines?
Yeah, pretty much. The reason why I can play all around the world, where there are different languages is because it definitely is a universal language, music. I mean look at the Rolling Stones, they’ve played everywhere and you’ve got kids in Argentina playing “Start Me Up,” and you’ve got kids in Israel and you’ve got kids in China or wherever, Africa, Cuba and it’s great.
I was listening to a Mongolian Pink Floyd tribute band a couple of weeks ago on YouTube. Do you ever think about writing a three minute pop song?
I’m too old for a hit.
So you don’t care about having a pop hit?
I’m too old for one. Pop hits are for people that are 19 and 20 and I’m 40, so there will be no pop songs for me. Nor could I write something like Selena Gomez, that’s not the kind of music I make, you know what I mean? That’s a different world, it’s just completely different, that space, that mentality. It’s not like it was in the ’70s or ’80s, now it’s completely a parallel universe.
What kind of music do you like to listen to at home when you’re relaxing?
I actually don’t. I listen to talk radio when I’m in the car. I don’t like loud music. I very rarely listen to stuff.
What kind of talk radio shows do you like to listen to?
Recipes, there’s a couple of stations in L.A. that I listen to, people bitching about potholes in Los Angeles or just local interest stuff, nothing political.
Do you ever listen to “Coast to Coast” with George Noory?
Yeah, I like him, he’s good, a little bit.
He has some interesting people on.
Yeah, he’s a nut, that’s pretty sick.
What books or films have influenced you over the years?
When you write a song you don’t know where it comes from, but once in a while you reference something, but that’s neither here nor there. I don’t sit and read Kerouac and then try to write Bob Dylan songs.
I read on your website where you were playing with the air force band, how did that come about?
I guess they contacted me through the website or our office the same way that you did. They asked me to come see the facility and talk to the band and meet the general and I was, like, anything for the troops. I always have time for them, because they really sacrifice so much as far as their time and their lives and everything. The least I could do was come spend the afternoon and bash out some blues rock with them. They were really good by the way. A good band.
Interview by Bob Gersztyn