“I remember it was a great show which happened to take place on my mom's birthday,” grins blues legend Joe Bonamassa of his new Live At Radio City Music Hall CD/DVD release.
“She didn’t really know what she had agreed to, so me and my father conspired to get her up on stage to wish her happy birthday! I think it was a big deal for them… I mean, it’s Radio City Music Hall in New York City. That’s definitely a big deal, so I’m proud of it. Believe it or not, we just recorded another show at The Greek that’s going to be coming out, too.”
The 38-year old New York native already has 13 live albums under his belt spanning his 15-year recording career. And that’s not counting the dozens of unofficial bootlegs you’ll probably find in your local car boot sale. Joe Bonamassa finds making each tour unique not only reinvigorating for himself, but also his ever-growing legions of fans. For Radio City, it was a set with his acoustic band The Huckleberries before the main course of thunderous electric blues.
"And now we’re just about to start rehearsing for a new tour… again. Each one is different. We do tour a lot so I have to make the show different every time people come to see it.
“But I don't really get nervous. When you’re filming for a DVD, you’re just waiting for that first mistake. Once you get that out of the way, then you’re good! For some reason, a lot of people say Live At Rockpalast is my best live album. But I listened to it the other day, and it sounded good, but there were way too many notes played! I don’t think it’s my best work. Radio City is one I'm really proud of - the whole band played great!"
On the following pages, the blues hero talks us through the 10 guitarists who most influenced his playing.
Live At Radio City Music Hall is out now.
1. BB King
"Talk about a guy that was able to identify himself with just one single note, you know? Those early live recordings from the early 60s: Live At The Regal, Blues Is King... when he had that reverb-drenched stereo Gibson sound? That was the archetype for electric blues for me.
“Coupled with the quality of the material and his singing, it was simply a tour-de-force. And just so amazingly powerful."
2. Albert King
"Albert was a soul singer and had about 10 distinguishable riffs. But he was able to use it in such an incredibly devastating way… you always know it's him playing. No doubt about it.
“He wrote the playbook, and we’re all still using those same licks and clichés now. But you have to remember they were inventions back then."
3. Freddie King
“Freddie was the scorpion; he would tear your face off with treble and play with bad intentions, you know?
“Him, BB and Albert were the original masters… they don’t call them the three kings for nothing! But as a singer, Freddie was definitely the hardest out of the three to copy.”
4. Eric Clapton
"Eric Clapton has to be in this conversation. I learned to play blues guitar just from playing along to the Beano album. More so than even BB King, Freddie or Albert, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf or Robert Johnson.
“Eric Clapton was the conduit for me to get into all of those guys. And, of course, having him play with me at the Royal Albert Hall was amazing."
5. Jeff Beck
"When you hear Rice Pudding, as an instrumental it sounds like there’s a singer on it! Or Let Me Love You, Blues Deluxe, Morning Dew… everything off those first two albums. There was such a badass, nonchalant vibe to how he played that sucked me right in.
“Even though his playing is more technical now than it was in 1968 or 1969, the instrumentals he carved out on Blow By Blow and Wired were really sophisticated. When you hear Rough And Ready or The Orange Record, even though it was a band with no singer, he always made it really interesting by changing his style. He has an infinite capability!"
6. Ry Cooder
"The first time I heard Ry Cooder, he completely blew me away. Again, he’s one of my favourites because when you listen to him, you can’t help but listen.
“His guitar playing is magnetic. There’s something about the way he asserts himself in a soulful way, it services the song as well as letting you know there’s greatness there."
7. Eric Johnson
"I first heard him in 1986 when he was featured in a guitar magazine, back when they came with crappy vinyl that you would need to weigh down with coins to play! It was Cliffs Of Dover live at Austin City Limits, and it was just terrifyingly good guitar playing. I wasn’t even sure if it was real!
“Then I saw him live, and his tones were the best I’d ever heard. It was all being generated from vintage equipment like a '54 Strat and a couple of Twins, then a Dumble or a Marshall Plexi for that crunch sound. I wondered how this guy was getting all of these sounds out of his Strat. I’d never seen anybody have such a forward-thinking rig like that."
8. Rory Gallagher
"You need to have Rory in this list, just for sheer tenacity and intensity. And it was across all of his playing: his slide stuff, leads, writing… all of it. The crazy thing was he would just be plugged straight into the amp!”
“Rory Gallagher was incredibly raw, exciting, emotional and just so real. That was the main thing about him I guess - he was a very real musician, and there have been only a few like that."
9. Sonny Landreth
"Sonny reinvented slide guitar. Just like that! To the point where I’ve sat next to him a couple of times and watched him working away… it’s a freak of nature. The amount of stuff happening with the slide and behind the slide, and the sound that comes out is just unbelievably good.
“There’s also another slide guy worth checking out called Kevin Breit. He's from Toronto, and I think the guy is unbelievable."
10. Chris Whitley
"Sadly, he’s no longer with us; he died about seven years ago. But I was lucky enough to get to do a few shows with Chris in the States.
"He’d come out with a Dobro and would have a piece of wood with a trigger on it for a kick drum. And he’d play some of the craziest, most wonderful songs I'd ever heard. It was so unique and with him, the guitar playing was always another level!"