Over the Thanksgiving holidays, I was listening to a live performance by blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa from Madison, Wisconsin, on the SiriusXM B.B. King’s Bluesville channel. In between songs, Bonamassa recounted a story from the band’s current tour, noting that they had recently found themselves with a rare couple of days off while staying in nearby Chicago. Instead of going to their customary Days Inn, the band decided to treat themselves to two nights at the Four Seasons.
Bonamassa said the accommodations were just what you’d expect from a luxury, four-star hotel, with the only downside being the 1200 “yuppies” who were attending a financial convention in the hotel. He ran into a group of these young, well-paid professionals at the elevator, and with his “street person” appearance and guitar case in hand, he became an instant target for a bully who clearly had more money than brains. Here’s how Bonamassa told of the interaction:
Yuppie Bully: “Hi. What’s in the case?”
Bonamassa: “‘It’s a guitar,’ I replied. ‘I wasn’t going to tell him that it was Tommy Bolin’s Les Paul‘” (one of many vintage guitars owned by Bonamassa.)*
Yuppie Bully: “‘Oh? Are you playing here at the hotel?’ he says with a smirk.”
Bonamassa: “No, I’m staying here.”
Yuppie Bully: Laughs to his gang, turns to Bonamassa, and says, “How does a guitar player afford to stay at the Four Seasons?”
Bonamassa: “Because I’m f**king good!”
It was the quietest 44-floor elevator ride imaginable.
Bonamassa is good. Scary good. He grew up listening to the British blues artists favored by his father, and his career began onstage when he was only 12 years old, opening for B.B. King in 1989. Today, he is acknowledged as one of the greatest guitar players of his generation. Bonamassa has released 21 solo albums on his own label, J&R Adventures.
His most recently released project, Joe Bonamassa Live at the Sydney Opera House, captures a 2016 performance at the iconic venue. It begins with a great piano/guitar duet by the incomparable Reese Wynans and Bonamassa on This Train (adapted from the Jethro Tull song Locomotive Breath) that quickly heads into a rocking rouser.
Bonamassa’s acoustic side can be heard on the same tune, which opens his Live at Carnegie Hall: An Acoustic Evening video. I love that he’s playing a 1978 Doc Watson model Gallagher guitar for this tune. A little digging found out that—as I suspected—he listened to some Doc Watson growing up (as did we all).
Bonamassa’s country rock side comes out in this cover of Tennessee Plates, with guest vocals by the song’s writer, John Hiatt. To see Bonamassa’s work in contrast with other blues stylists, check out Going Down from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction of Freddie King. As one online commentator noted, Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top) plays classic Texas style blues, guitar god Derek Trucks (Tedeschi Trucks Band) is other-worldly on slide, and Bonamassa puts in more notes than should be humanly possible with his modern shred style blues.
But if you choose to only watch one Bonamassa video, make it this live version from Amsterdam of the Etta James classic I’d Rather Go Blind with the incredible blues rock singer Beth Hart. But don’t watch it in front of the kids…it gets intense, and you might have similar reactions as well!
Enjoy yourself some year-end blues.
More to come…
*Tommy Bolin was an American guitarist and songwriter who played with Zephyr (from 1969 to 1971), James Gang (from 1973 to 1974), and Deep Purple (from 1975 to 1976), in addition to maintaining a notable career as a solo artist and session musician.
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