Can Joe Bonamassa get any hotter? A Top 20 debut for his newest solo release Black Rock. An upcoming sold-out UK tour. Winner of the Breakthrough award at the recent Classic Rock Awards. And there's more to come... a supergroup!
Image: © Karen Rosetzsky
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Back to Joe and his new band. Formed last year and consisting of Bonamassa on guitar and vocals, along with former Deep Purple bassist and singer Glenn Hughes, drummer Jason Bonham and keyboardist Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater, Yngwie Malmsteen), the band is "designed to rock," says Bonamassa. "This is a flat-out rock thing for me. There's very little blues going here. We're all about rocking, and I've been having a blast."
The group recorded an album back in January with producer Kevin Shirley, but copyright issues with the band's planned name, Black Country, have been holding up its release. MusicRadar checked in with Bonamassa to talk about the group and to see when we might expect to see the newest supergroup on the scene.
So, Joe, you've got a supergroup but you need a super name. Such is life, huh?
"Well, I think we do have a super name. I probably shouldn't say it...Oh, what the hell. We've been trying to call it Black Country, but I don't know if I'll be able to do that. Maybe we'll have to call it 'The Band Formerly Known As Black Country' or something.
"Here's the problem in a nutshell: If you have something that you think is even remotely original and can make money, you can copyright it. People make a living out of copyrighting names, and there's a guy out there who owns the name Black Country, and he's been a bit of a nut bag.Really! He's been leaving me all kinds of threatening Facebook messages telling me the world is going to come to an end if I call the band Black Country. We tried to deal with him, but he's crazy. I really think he's off his rocker."
I assume you've tried to reason with him in a business sense.
"Yeah, we've been trying. Like I said, he's a little out there."
And the name Chickenfoot is already taken.
"Yeah, see, that's a good one. All the great supergroup names are taken. Cream, Blind Faith, Chickenfoot..."
Now, you were in the band Bloodline when you were in your teens, and then you went on to a very successful solo career. Was it always your intention to get back in a group?
"No, it wasn't. It just happened. I don't get out much. I don't hang with all these rock stars and that kind of thing. But knew Glenn Hughes for a couple of years and we talked about doing something together. But we didn't want it do be 'Hughesamassa' or "Bonnahughes' or something silly."
That's two great names you're throwing away there!
"I'm real excited about this. You probably won't even recognize my guitar playing. I'm playing differently than I usually do. It's cool" Joe Bonamassa on his upcoming band album
"Yeah, I know. [laughs] Maybe I should rethink the name thing. Anyway, Glenn and I did a gig at the House Of Blues in Los Angeles, and Kevin Shirley came down and saw us and he immediately said, 'You guys should form a band.' So he knew Derek from Dream Theater and he asked if he'd be interested, and Derek said he was. And then we rang up our friend Jason Bonham. Boom! Before you knew it, we had a band."
Things happened quickly.
"Very quickly. We got together at Shangri La Studios in Malibu and cut five songs just to see how they would sound. We listened back and said, 'Hey, this isn't terrible,' so we booked another session. That also went very smoothly.
"I'm real excited about this. You probably won't even recognize my guitar playing. You'll be like, 'Is that a flanger? Is there a lot more gain on the guitar?' I'm playing differently than I usually do. It's cool."
Glenn sings, you sing - is there a designated lead vocalist?
"Glenn does a lot of the heavy lifting. I'm singing two songs. It's like this: when you have a Ferrari, why would you want to drive a Pontiac Grand Prix?"
You're selling your vocal abilities a little short, wouldn't you say?
"OK, maybe the Pontiac has a sun roof. [laughs] Glenn Hughes is massive as a singer. I mean, I sing blues, but I can't sing rock like he can. He's fantastic. And Jason Bonham is one of the greatest drummers in the world. I mean, that right foot is legendary. It shakes the ground. It's in his blood, obviously.
"I'll say this though: the best musician in the band is Derek Sherinian. He can play circles around everybody. He's technical, he's versatile, but he can play with real soul, too. You ask him to play a gospel bit and he's right there. A madly good player."
How did the songwriting happen? Did you collaborate?
"Glenn and I came up with the impetus of most of the ideas. Derek came in with some. And Jason's contributions were to make everybody's ideas that much better. Whatever he did, whatever he suggested made the songs fly. Give or take, we wrote things on the spot, and that was the exciting part of it all. Too much of the time, people labor over demos and take so long to make records, and that's how music gets stale. Sometimes you've just gotta pull it out of your ass!" [laughs]
What went into the actual discussions in forming a band? A lot of musicians get together and cut tracks and make records, but there's a big leap of faith involved in going out to the public as a real group.
"That's true. The good thing about Black Country - there, I just said the name again - is that everybody has a day job. We don't need this band to make money. We're just four dudes who really like playing together and made what I think is a terrific record. We're going to tour when we can and make this thing work. It's all about being serious, which we are."
Does the whole 'supergroup' tag worry you? Do you think people will place too many expectations on the band?
"You know, if people are expecting us to come out and headline the Monsters Of Rock with some sort of Zeppelin meets Deep Purple meets whatever, obviously they might be disappointed. But we're not saying that's what we do. We're four guys who rock pretty fucking hard. The songs are solid, the singing is great...there it is."
Now you just have to get that name thing figured out.
"Yeah. Maybe that can be the next contest." [laughs]
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