Joe Bonamassa: the 10 guitarists that blew my mind

Joe Bonamassa
(Image credit: Marty Moffitt)

Joe Bonamassa. returned to the fray this month, with Notches, an anthemic new single. 

The co-write with Blackberry Smoke's Charlie Starr feels like a future live favourite already with an addictive riff, stomping chorus and great lyricism about Joe's journey so far as a hard-touring bluesman. 

“By the time we tour again there will be two albums that we haven’t toured on,“ he said, referencing Royal Tea, which was released in October 2020, and this as-yet-untitled album. “We are making a record in New York City in late March, and it is basically going to be a ‘subway record’ – a couple of guitars, a couple of amps.“

“That’s just how I used to do it,“ added Bonamassa. “Take the subway down to the studio – cash and carry!  The records in my world? Y’know, you’ve got production cases and I have a collection of guitars, and you have got all of these options, and it is almost too much.

“You don’t need half of it, and you end up just playing, ‘Yeah, whatever!’ Now, it's two amps, in case one blows up. Not two amps at a time, just in case one blows up. Add a couple of guitars and you’re good.”

To celebrate JoBo's return, check out 10 of the players rocked his world...

1. BB King

BB King

(Image credit: VALENTIN FLAURAUD/Reuters/Corbis)

"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 King

(Image credit: Future)

"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 King

(Image credit: Future)

“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

(Image credit: O'Rourke/Splash News/Corbis)

"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

Jeff Beck

(Image credit: Daniel DeSlover/ZUMA Press/Corbis)

"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

Ry Cooder

(Image credit: Kevin Estrada /Retna Ltd./Corbis)

“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

Eric Johnson

(Image credit: Scott Moore/Retna Ltd./Corbis)

"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

Rory Gallagher

(Image credit: WD Music Products)

"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 Landreth

(Image credit: Amy Harris/Corbis)

"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

Chris Whitley

(Image credit: Future)

"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!"

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Amit Sharma

Amit has been writing for titles like Total GuitarMusicRadar and Guitar World for over a decade and counts Richie Kotzen, Guthrie Govan and Jeff Beck among his primary influences. He's interviewed everyone from Ozzy Osbourne and Lemmy to Slash and Jimmy Page, and once even traded solos with a member of Slayer on a track released internationally. As a session guitarist, he's played alongside members of Judas Priest and Uriah Heep in London ensemble Metalworks, as well as handling lead guitars for legends like Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols, The Faces) and Stu Hamm (Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, G3).