JOE BONAMASSA talks to Pete Sargeant about the commemorative set of London show DVDs


I had suggested to Joe B’s people that I ring him in the US to talk about the four-DVD release on his run of shows in London, having attended two of the four and discussed the project with Joe earlier.  Seems he didn’t want to do that, he would rather meet in person when back in England. Having some bits and pieces to give to him anyway, we drive down to Brighton the day of his sold-out show and caught up….. 

Joe is candid enough to concede that the four-show run in London left him and some other team members in a poor physical state. Maybe it took more out of him than he’d anticipated. 

First we talked about the initial Borderline show – see my separate review of the DVDs but the run started with a power trio of Joe, Michael Rhodes veteran bassist and drummer Anton Fig

JB : So how did it sound then, to you ?

JLTT: Beck Bogert Appice with a better singer !

Hmm ,,,who did the singing in BBA ?

Tim ( Bogert – PS ) the bassist and with Jeff on some eg Black Cat Bone

(Ponders) Now… that’s kinda interesting……

We talk about song selection – about 60 different numbers are salted for this week’s sets overall. The trio sounded terrific but the next night at Shepherds Bush Empire the drummer is Tal and there are the horns aboard

JB: Ah yeah Pete – you said you were going to be at that one – how did you find that ?

What I found was, the horns sounded really grainy. I don’t know who was mixing it 

Probably our guy

The horns sounded really grainy, but the best moment of the show was when you realised during ‘John Henry’ that your keyboard player was going off on this strange distorted solo and you just cooked it underneath

(Nods in memory and smiles ) Right…..

You must have decided at that point that this is going and we’re gonna let him play it out of his system

Sometimes those things would last eight minutes. I had to reel him in a few times and I’m like ‘We have another gig tomorrow. You gotta get going!’Joe-Bonamassa-2012_2-credit-Arnie-Goodman

It was kind of an Eric Gale moment. The art of accompanying other people is making them sound brilliant. That really stayed with me. That I think is why your bands work because you allow for that happening

There’s definitely improvisation. I mean, we get labelled ‘slick blues’ or corporate whatever they call it now (Sighs) . We get labelled that a lot because it’s a blues show, but it’s a production show. There’s lights, cues and whatever. But when you boil it down, it’s still improvisational music. You have to just roll with where everybody is going to take it. Soloing, nobody does the same solo every night.

What you – and I, less well – what we’re playing really is structured jazz. Let’s be honest 

(Laughs) Simple structured jazz !

(Laughs) Well, it’s jazz that connects. Jazz with a pulse 

Right. Jazz you don’t have to count to

Then the Hammersmith Apollo gig you had a lot more room to play with. The camera crew had a lot more room to play with 

It’s too cold in there ! The building never warmed up. It was freezing during sound check and freezing during the gig. I came off stage and was like ‘I hated that.’ I like it when it’s warm in a venue but I hate playing when it’s cold. When we walked outside in the van to take us back, it was actually warmer!!

I heard a rumour that you had a wander round at that point to see what merchandise was on sale

I thought it would be fun. We had a guy from Classic Rock there and he goes ‘Isn’t it cool that you can walk down the street and people recognise you?’ I said ‘I guarantee you, half of the people in that line won’t recognise me if I walked out there.’ He then said ‘Do you wanna try it?’ and I replied ‘Yeah. Let’s go.’ He and I went out there, I didn’t realise it was like that out there, Pete – what I did notice was pirating of merch and tickets. I was flattered by it all.

You must know it goes on, Joe?

I never… we’re the perrenial underdogs. I don’t know what goes on in the front. I know they do it in Italy and run down the street with it. It’s this kinda legitimate cottage industry set up in the front of the gig and I’m like ‘Very interesting.’ Truth be told, we stood there for at least ten to fifteen minutes and not one person recognised me. Until, Christie Goodwin started taking pictures and one guy looked up

Pink Floyd had that and they always knew they could go wherever they wanted without being recognised

I love that. I love that kind of vibe. You don’t want… I think the people with the worst life, are the ones with the super high name recognition and they can’t do anything without a posse or fanfare

The rappers deliberately create that. They wanna be seen with a load of heavies. People like Duff Paddy walk around and they want to cause a stir. Their ego needs that

I don’t. I actually prefer… if I need something round the corner, even now I’ll just walk and get it. If someone comes over and says ‘Hey looking forward to the gig’ great. There’s no trouble gonna happen. Never. I think we had a fight in the crowd last night because I think someone had too much beer  already. You start bringing this element of tension everywhere you have to walk, then you’re inviting it. I live in L.A. and I see the entourages. I don’t want people around me, you know? It’s like I’ll walk down the street by myself I love it. No one’s gonna DO anything

Royal Albert Hall- I know Donal Gallagher came down to that one and bought the ‘guitar’ down. What are your memories of the Albert Hall show? That was the Acoustic and Electric night.

Yeah, which is the prototype of what we’re about to do. When we hit America, we’re bringing both bands out

Ok. With Lenny?

With Lenny Castro and the whole acoustic band and we are basically gonna open up for myself with a twenty-minute intermission. So, Albert Hall was the night when we went ‘That’s a winning concept’ because I think it’s just such a nice entertaining way to put on a gig. Something different that we kind of haven’t explored before. So I actually enjoyed the Albert Hall way more as a performer in 2013 than I did in 2009. I’ll tell you why- I didn’t feel the weight of the world on my shoulders, I wasn’t petrified to be there, I didn’t feel like the whole of my career was on the line in one evening

Also, you’ve got the best band you could possibly find

We did. All the people that came out, it was a gas – I can’t believe that all these great musicians are here to participate in this.

When these DVDs come out, people are quite prepared to buy all of them

(Laughs) I won’t be offended if they don’t watch them all !

Presumably then, you wouldn’t have a favourite of them?

To be honest I don’t know. I’m a sucker for horns so the footage I heard from Shepherds Bush, I was like chuffed

GLENN S : When I heard ‘Midnight Blues’ it was just amazing.

Yeah horns really go well together. I’m a sucker for horns. I love anything with horns

That’s one reason I took Glenn to that night because I wanted him to see you playing with horns. What was your favourite number of that?

GS : I’ve gotta say ‘You Better Watch Yourself.’

BM : How weird is it for me who grew up with Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter to have my son who’s not twenty yet, grooving on a Little Walter song. That’s thanks to you I guess

It was kind of the same thing when I was your age. The first experience for me was (Joe plays ‘I Ain’t Superstitious’ riff on the custom Les Paul on his lap ) – Jeff Beck Group !

Micky Waller played that coda that drum solo out of the air with no notice by the way 

Wow !! Is he still alive?

No. I used to play with him

He was great. He always used to lead with the foot. Cause’ now with modern drum sounds everything is big and fast. In fact, in those days the kick drum sounded like a fourth tom. He’d start the fill with his foot and then go round the toms. I always thought that was a very unique way of… very jazz.

Did you know he was the musical director for the musical ‘Hair’?

( Surprised ) No !


He was.  I used to play harmonica sometimes with his band The Micky Waller Band. At the end of your solo you’d hear that foot come in just as you say. Then he’d take the band back to the verse

He’d lead with the foot. All that stuff. I was introduced to that music through the English blues players and now it’s funny because people write you all the time saying ‘I love your song ‘Cradle Rock’. I ‘m like ‘Er…I didn’t write it!’

Rory (Gallagher) was incredibly shy but he’d always talk to fans and there was no barrier between him. He wasn’t one of these pop rockers guys in a limousine. He’d walk into a venue with a guitar under his arm, an old checked shirt. Shake hands with people and just get on. I saw Taste do two consecutive nights and not repeat one song

That’s cool.

That impressed me as a young player. I thought ‘That’s the way to do it.’ How do you choose numbers now? It must be difficult for you?

Same way as I always have- lyrics first.


Yeah if you have a great lyric, you can put music to it and tell a story and have it flow. But it’s also very easy to put music to a bad lyric. Good music to bad lyrics is still a bad song. But, one chord to a great lyric is still a good song.

Your current band- you have Derek Sherinian with you on this tour. Who else do you have on this tour?


The drummer from the jazz record..

And Carmen (Rojas)

We saw you and met you briefly at Hampton Court. That show was stunningly good 

I think it was the best show. Unfortunately, I think it was the best in the run. The second night in Amsterdam was good but for me the London show was the best

I recognised Blondie from his playing before I recognised him visually because he looked a bit like Lou Reed. Of course, he used to tour with The Beach Boys all the time on guitar. Did you ever see him play with The Beach Boys?

No but he’s out with Brian Wilson now.

Brian Wilson has the most astonishing band. He’s just done some recording with Jeff Beck

Yeah, they’re out in the States together Jeff Beck and Brian Wilson.

Have you met Jeff?


I did once. What did you think?

Very nice to me. He was complimentary. I hear stories about him. Actually, I met him twice as I did a couple of gigs with him. One he was very conversational and cool and the other one he was probably not having a great day because he just wasn’t around. Whatever you say about the guy, when he picks up a guitar it’s an insanely good experience.

He’s a ‘vocalist’ with the guitar, isn’t he?

I think those records he did late nineties that were kind of techno-oriented, I think he honestly doesn’t get enough credit for those. They were very revolutionary and ahead of their time. Nobody is making guitar instrumental music like that. It’s ’68 he made ‘Truth’ I mean he’s not gonna play ( plays the riff off ‘You Shook Me’ ). He’s not gonna do that for his whole life. So, he’s always on the cusp of something brilliant

I think so. I think what he did with Coltrane’s ‘ Naima’ almost makes me tearful when I hear that and I don’t know why 

I didn’t even know that was Coltrane

It’s up there like ‘Love Supreme’. You know the John McLaughlin and Santana

Yeah. My favourite Santana track is ‘The Healer’ with John Lee Hooker. That is burnin!

They were affected by Miles. You talk to Robben Ford and his time with Miles actually spooked him into something a bit different. Miles would say ‘Don’t play what you know, play what you don’t know…’

Right. To a jazz guy, that’s like throwing an atomic bomb at someone’s head ! That’s why Miles he loved Schofield because Schofield was always out of the box

And ! Mike Stern.,,that’s why my favourite Miles album is ‘Star People’. What instruments are you going to be using on your current dates?

This one here is a Gibson built for me.

This is the new one?

Yeah they built it over the summer. It’s a narcissist guitar.

What do you call that ? Tobacco?

Tobacco Sunburst but it’s got my name right on the fret-board. It’s cool. I’ve got a couple of old ones with me a Firebird and a couple of 335s.

You used a Strat at The Borderline

I did because those songs in my catalogue were basically done on a Strat so I had to

Does that come into your head though? That’s amazing! You actually think that the original guitar is what I should use on this?

That Sunburst Strat was the guitar I used on the records and a lot of the tours. The only thing I don’t own anymore is the Gold Sparkle Strat which I sold at Clapton’s Auction in 2010

Kevin Shirley made a brilliant job of the Acoustic set  But re live recordings, have you done one of the gigs with Beth Hart?

Yeah we recorded the gig in Amsterdam for a DVD. We played  two nights there which was good thing because we needed it. The first night I played (I thought) really well. I hit the note and the mark. But the rest of the band was kind of average and  Beth had an off night. So the second night, I played what I thought was average and the rest of the band had a good night. With live recordings, you have to fall on the sword for the greater good you know?

I always know when I’ve played well and I know when I haven’t 

(Emphatically ) And the difference is about ten per cent !!


( Thanks Peter, GRS )