Few world-renowned guitarists have worked as hard as Joe Bonamassa in the last 30 years; whether you are listening to his music or not, he's earned it and doesn't take his success for granted. But it's come without wider mainstream media acceptance. He knows this, and he's ok with it.
In an appearance on drummer Kenny Aronoff's Sessions podcast, Joe reflects on his journey so far and shares a lot of credit for his success so far with the team around him. But there's no doubt he's been tireless in his own work ethic, despite being a critical darling in certain media circles eluding him.
"I will say this about relevancy in terms of my career; I never have been and never will be," said Joe. "I do a very specific thing. I know exactly what the fans want to hear and the question is, would you rather please the critics at Rolling Stone or please the fans that put you there? My answer unequivocally is; please the fans that put you there.
"So if that means there's a big sludgy blues rock song with an overblown solo at the end, I'm doing it," he added. "Because that's what people seem to enjoy. I'm not the one who's going to come out and drastically change the show; 'I'm not feeling playing guitar so I'm just going to stand up here and sing for you.' What, are you crazy? This is what these people paid for. This is the experience that you're selling."
But Joe isn't insulated from what he sees as a period of transition in guitar music right now; where people are making a living from playing the instrument without gigs or songs.
"I find now, looking at the guitar world in general in 2023, I find it in a state of crossroads," he began. "People have learned how to make real money by sitting in from of a camera and putting it on Instagram on YouTube and becoming an influencer. Which is great. I encourage anyone with a business model to do it like that. How long you can stay inspired doing one-minute videos is up to the individual. And I find that if I feel the need to stay relevant because I haven't posted something in a minute and I just go, 'I haven't played guitar today but let me tune this Les Paul up and do a one-minute video'.
"I've been guilty of this in the past where that one minute where it took me to film something in one take and just throw on Instagram was the only minute of music I had made that entire day. And that's not for me. That's crossing a line where your inspiration is the dopamine you're going to get from the comment sections of your social media. So for me personally, that's not the lifestyle I want to live."
Even though Joe is focussed on pleasing his fans, he's quick to remind us that he never claimed to be just a bluesman – as his forthcoming fifth album with Black Country Communion will remind people.
"I always say, when the arrows start coming my way of, 'He's not a real blues guitar player' – I never said I was one. I love Yes songs. I love Selling England By The Pound – I'm a Steve Hackett guy. I'm a Michael Schenker guy and a Ritchie Blackmore guy. I think life would be boring if I only played one style of music all the time. That's not to slight anyone who does it that way because everyone has their process but I'm ADHD in life and I'm ADHD in music.
"Mick Ralphs, Paul Kossoff – those were my guys because they were rock but they had a blues edge to them," added Joe. "And they had great songs and a big Les Paul tone that I always wanted to get. So in my career, we've done all kinds of records, not just blues – we've done trad blues but I've also done records with Glenn Hughes, Jason Bonham and Derek Sherinian… that's straight up '70s British rock. I like to know that I can speak all the languages and you have to exercise [that]. If you speak French and you haven't spoken French for 20 years, you're rusty. So I like to keep my thing fresh."