Joe Bonamassa: my top 5 not-so-guilty pleasures of all time
“People think that I walk in my door and a copy of Bluesbreakers With Eric Clapton just flies off the shelf and into my lap," says Joe Bonamassa. "Not true. In fact, some of the music I listen to doesn’t even have any guitar in it at all."
Widely regarded as one of the greatest blues-rock guitarists of his generation, Bonamassa claims that a well-rounded musical diet is key to his creativity. "Listening to different genres can really open your own musicianship," he says. You can't just stay in one place."
There was a time, however, when Bonamassa's playlist wasn't so broad. At one point in his childhood, he refused to listen to music that was made after 1971. "I was the most tragically unhip kid around," he says. "My friends would ask me, 'Have you heard the new Van Halen record?' And I'd be like, 'Nope.' I was listening to Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush."
Bonamassa credits his childhood mentor, the late guitar virtuoso Danny Gatton, with opening his eyes and ears to a variety of sounds and influences. "Danny really changed my world," he says. "He would tell me, 'There's so much music out there. There's no way you can listen to it all.' And then there's guys like Ry Cooder and Billy Gibbons – they're musicologists. They know all the minutia. I'm not like that – I have ADD."
Funk, jazz, country, metal, fusion – all have a place on Bonamassa's iPod, right alongside his collection of blues favorites. Asked whether there is one form of music that he's completely allergic to, the guitarist laughs and says, "Anything that the kids call 'pop' these days. I was watching the American Music Awards, and I have to tell you, I didn’t have a clue who any of those people were. Everything they played sounded like it was made by machines. Boy, I sound like a cranky old man, don't I?"
On the following pages, Bonamassa runs down his not-so-guilty pleasures, five albums that will never make it into the Blues Hall Of Fame. But he loves them anyway.
Bruce Hornsby - Here Come The Noise Makers (2000)
“Obviously, all of Bruce Hornsby’s studio albums are great, but this is one of the best live records ever made. The arrangements are brilliant. He has so many ideas that he totally pulls off, and the instrumentation of the band is really cool. There’s a lot of tricky stuff going on.
“It’s a challenging listen, but it’s not like a riddle. You don’t have to put your thinking cap on when you go through it. You can drift in and out and float with the rhythms.
“When I get into somebody, I check out everything they do. For me, the live stuff is where the story is really told. Even with my one work – the studio recordings are a good starting point, but when you get to the live albums, the songs have been played a hundred times; the material is tested and broken in.
“I came across this record when I was in Barnes & Noble or somewhere like that. I was just looking through the CDs, and there was this album. Sure, I knew Mandolin Rain and the songs Bruce had on the radio, but by the time he did this one, he was almost like a cult artist with a jam band. I put the record on, and I was floored. I was like, ‘Wow, what a band!’”
Miles Davis - We Want Miles (1981)
“This was Miles Davis’ big comeback album. They recorded it at the Channel in Boston. There’s two beautiful versions of Jean Pierre on it, but the first one, where Mike Stern takes that Tele and just tears it a new one, it’s pretty spectacular.
“It’s funky, hip and so cool. I’m a fan of jazz-rock, where you get the adult changes, but there’s a rock guitar player involved. It’s the reason why I like Billy Cobham’s Spectrum and stuff like that. It kind of glues everything together, and it’s fun. You have the guys who know all the notes in every chord, but then there’s the guy who’s just like, ‘Hey, I’m going to blow over whatever you’re doing. That’s what sounds good to me.’”
Vernon Reid - Mistaken Identity (1996)
“If you listen to those Living Colour records, you can tell that Vernon’s got a unique guitar style, which is basically ‘It’s solo time and... go!’ [Laughs] He wasn’t pulling any punches. But if you check out Mistaken Identity, there’s very little soloing on it.
“For instrumental records, what I often feel is lacking are songs and hooks. Mistaken Identity, however, is very well put-together, and the songs and melodies are great. It’s not rock stuff at all. There’s a real jazz sensibility to it, with some rap and hip-hop elements, but it's not a jumble of styles. It makes total sense."
Harry Connick, Jr. - She (1994)
“Harry Connick, Jr. put out two records in the early ‘90s, She and Star Turtle. Both are great, but I think She is the stronger of the two. It really changed the way I look at songs.
“Everybody thinks of him as either the actor guy in movies like Independence Day or a crooner in the Sinatra mode – you know, he's in front of the big band or an orchestra. But when he gets behind a piano and attacks the keys with that New Orleans thing, he’s devastatingly good. It’s a very funky record, but it’s not like he’s putting on a style or anything – he’s authentic.”
D'Angelo - Brown Sugar (1995)
“I first saw a video by D’Angelo on MTV back when the channel still played some music – it wasn’t just running shows about teenage pregnancy and the cast of New Jersey. It was set in Philly, with D’Angelo at a Fender Rhodes piano playing the song Brown Sugar. It was totally tongue-in-cheek, his reference to these girls. But when you listened to it, you were like, ‘Wow, this is a modern-day Bill Withers thing.’
“I saw him a couple of years later on the concert they did after Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve. They would have the pop guys lip-syncing before the ball dropped, and then around 12:30 they’d cut to a soundstage where the real players were. D’Angelo came out and did his thing with a killer band – Eric Clapton and David Sanborn and all these amazing people. He sang a Bill Withers tune, and I was just hooked.
“Brown Sugar is fantastic, and so is another record he did called Voodoo. I like Brown Sugar better, though. He’s legitimate.”