No matter which way you look at it, Joe Bonamassa is one of the most successful Blues artists of the modern era.
He’s successful commercially: 11 of his 15 solo albums have reached the number 1 spot on the Billboard Blues charts.
He’s successful collaboratively: Joe has played with legends like Eric Clapton, Stephen Stills, Steve Winwood, and many other well-known musicians.
He’s successful critically: His musical efforts earned him a Grammy nomination in 2013, and Blues reviewers consistently rave about his work.
To learn how Joe Bonamassa reached the high level of musical skill and success that he has, read on.
The Early Days
It all started on May 8, 1977, when Joe Bonamassa was born in New Hartford, New York. The guitar playing started quite young, as his father set him up with a guitar and lessons at the age of four. Over the next seven years, Joe’s hard work and persistence in learning the guitar paid off in the form of mentorship by Danny Gatton, one of the great American guitarists of the day.
One year later, Joe was gigging around New York and Pennsylvania in his own band, Smokin’ Joe Bonamassa. This led to Bonamassa opening for B.B. King at the shockingly young age of 12.
It’s hard to define when Joe’s early days ended and when his professional career began, as he became successful at an extremely young age. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to say his professional career began in 2000, when he released his first studio album at the age of 23. Called A New Day Yesterday, the album was produced by Tom Dowd and featured an appearance by Greg Allman. It peaked at number 9 on the Billboard Blues charts, which was a decent success as far as debut albums go.
Bonamassa’s modestly successful debut album was the start to a career that can only be described as prolific. Three of his next five albums hit the number 1 spot on the Billboard Blues charts, and the other two hit the top 10.
Some of Bonamassa’s most successful and critically acclaimed ventures have been his collaborative albums with Beth Hart, another well-known singer/songwriter in the Blues genre. They have released four albums together: Don’t Explain, Seesaw, Live in Amsterdam, and Black Coffee. Of these, Seesaw and Live in Amsterdam reached the number 1 spot on the Billboard Blues charts. Seesaw was also nominated for a Grammy award.
Bonamassa’s influences are rather unique when compared with those of other contemporary blues rock guitarists. While many successful blues artists typically pull inspiration from American musicians, Bonamassa pulled inspiration from British and Irish blues acts.
As far as specific musical pieces go, Bonamassa said in an interview with Guitarist magazine that three albums in particular have had the largest impact on his style: Rory Gallagher’s Irish Tour, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers’ Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton, and Cream’s Goodbye.
While a large number of artists have influenced Bonamassa, there are some who have made more of an impact on him than others. Here’s a complete list of Bonamassa’s stated influences:
Stevie Ray Vaughn
John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers
Life from Royal Albert Hall
One of Bonamassa’s most noteworthy performances is his concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England. Taking place on May 4, 2009, the 5,267 seat theater was packed to capacity for one of Bonamassa’s best performances of his long and illustrious musical career.
The concert started off with “Django”, a medium-length piece from Bonamassa’s 2006 album You & Me. From there, Bonamassa played some truly soulful renditions of “The Ballad of John Henry”, “So, It’s Like That”, and “Last Kiss”.
One of the highlights of the concert was a previously unreleased piece called “Further on Up the Road”, which featured Eric Clapton on guitar and vocals. This was one of the highlights of the night, as getting a chance to see both Eric Clapton and Joe Bonamassa on-stage is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
The concert closed out with some of Bonamassa’s best pieces ‒ “Just Got Paid” from the 2007 album Shepherds Bush Empire, “Mountain Time” from the 2002 album So, It’s Like That”, and closing out with “Asking Around for You” from You & Me.
An album of the live performance ‒ called Joe Bonamassa: Live from the Royal Albert Hall ‒ was released about 4 months later to significant commercial and critical success. It went Gold in the United Kingdom, and one acclaimed reviewer, Steve Legget, said the album was “simply wonderful” and was “full of great guitar paying, solid singing, and with a horn section and double dummers on board, the sound is full and even majestic.”
Live at the Greek Theater
The other Joe Bonamassa performance worthy of mention occurred at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. On August 29, 2015, Bonamassa took a packed crowd in the 5,870 seat venue on an incredible musical journey.
The concert started of with a pair of classics, “See See Baby” and “Some Other Day, Some Other Time”. These were written by Freddie King and Sonny Thompson, a pair of blues and R&B performers who were big back in the 50s and 60s.
Following this strong opener were crowd favorites like “Lonesome Whistle Blues” by Alan Moore, “You’ve Got to Lover Her with a Feeling” by Tampa Red, and “Angel of Mercy” by Homer Banks and Raymond Jackson.
The highlight of the midway point of the concert were a pair of songs written by Albert King: “Cadillac Assembly Line” and “”Oh, Pretty Woman”. These were soon followed by a trio of BB King classics: “Ole Time Religion”, “Nobody Loves Me But My Mother”, and “Boogie Woogie Woman”. The concert ended on a high note, as Bonamassa finished out the night with “Born Under A Bad Sign” by Booker T. Jones, “The Thrill Is Gone” by Rick Darnell, and “Riding With The King” by John Hiatt.
An album of this live performance was also released. Titled Joe Bonamassa: Live at the Greek Theatre, it was another solid commercial success, reaching the number 1 spot on the Billboard Top Blues Albums chart.
I’ll Take Care of You (Performance with Beth Hart)
Arguably one of Bonamassa’s most memorable performances is his live rendition of “I’ll Take Care of You” with Beth Hart. Performed at the Bacon Theatre in New York, their soulful performance of this Brook Benton piece brought chills to all in attendance. Bonamassa’s guitar playing and Hart’s hauntingly beautiful voice have brought about many beautiful pieces of music, but this one is one of the best.
While Bonamassa has had an extremely active solo career, he has also built a diverse collection of side projects. His primary side projects consist of his collaborations with Beth Hart, but these projects have been so successful that they might as well be considered an extension of Bonamassa’s prolific solo career.
One of Bonamassa’s lesser-known side projects is the Rock Candy Funk Party, a jazz-funk band. Their first album, We Want Groove, was released in 2013. This was followed by a release of a live album, Rock Candy Funk Party Takes New York ‒ Live at the Iridium. The band also played on the show Conan in 2014, but hasn’t done much in the way of public performance since.
Another of Bonamassa’s side projects is the Pickup Radio, which is a podcast series between him and guitarist Matt Abramovitz. The conversations Bonamassa and Abramovitz have on this podcast are about all things guitar. They talk about their favorite guitarists, their favorite guitars to play, and their favorite non-guitar musicians in the blues and rock scene.
Bonamassa also plays as the guitarist in the hard rock group Black Country Communion. Though also not as well known as Bonamassa’s solo material, the band has released four studio albums to a relatively positive critical reception.