Joe Bonamassa: the World Guitar Day interview

(Image credit: Marty Moffatt)

WORLD GUITAR DAY 2017: It’s hard to think of another player who illustrates the rewards of working hard to learn the craft and history of guitar as much as Joe Bonamassa. He may have been a child prodigy on the instrument, but his ongoing career success is the result of a musician who never stops learning about every facet of his art.

Joe’s achievements as a solo artist and band member made him the obvious choice to speak to about his inspirations, motivations and wisdom for World Guitar Day 2017. If he’s not recording or writing music, he’s usually somewhere in the world playing it. And on the night we speak it’s the impressively titled Thunder Bay in the Canadian province of Ontario that’s playing host to Bonamassa and his band for a show. 

But Joe being Joe, that’s not the only thing going on in his world right now. The recent release of Black Country Communion’s fourth opus, appropriately titled BCCIV, is a reunion of his classic rock supergroup with bassist/vocalist Glenn Hughes, drummer Jason Bonham and keyboardist Derek Sherinian that again lives up to the pedigree of its members.

So when it comes to guitar there’s lots to talk about with Joe, but let’s start at the very beginning…

You first picked up a guitar at a very young age, but do you remember your very first memories of it?

"My first memory of guitar was seeing my father play one. He had a Martin D-35, probably from the mid-seventies, the one with the blue casing. He would play Dan Fogelberg songs, Jackson Browne and Crosby, Stills And Nash. A lot of the kind of seventies singer/songwriter stuff. He had a band called Raising Cain."

What was your first guitar?

"There was a Yamaha classical guitar that was mine until I got my electric. My first proper, ‘Here’s your guitar, Joseph’ was a 1981 Chiquita, one of those Erlewine travel guitars. And it was good for a four year old because it was small."

Did you remember feeling an immediate attraction to the guitar?

"Truth be told, I felt like it was an extension of my personality. It still is, to be honest with you. I use it to basically speak without having to speak to people. The other thing is, it can also be used as a weapon. It can make people notice you, whether they want to or not. The dynamics of the guitar can be swung in such radically different ways, sometimes within the same song. That’s what’s always attracted me."

I felt like [the guitar] was an extension of my personality. It still is

You were playing the blues from a young age. Did you encounter the resistance of people saying ‘you’re too young to play the blues’? How did you feel about that?

"I still get people that say I’m too young to play the blues. I’m 40 and I’m cranky! At the end of the day, I think having some life experience is helpful to play any kind of music. The more laps around the sun you have… the deeper the music gets. It’s like anything – if you worked in a factory that made woven blankets, the more years you weaved, unless you get sick of weaving blankets, you’re going to get pretty good at it after a while. 

"What happens a lot of times is, and I was a victim of this myself, when you’re a kid you’re playing a facsimile of what you heard, vis-à-vis ‘feeling’ it. There’s a certain thing when you start getting into your late thirties or early forties where you stop caring. Not to the extent where you stop caring about the music, you just stop caring about what anyone thinks of you and you just kind of let it go – let the chips fall where they may. I think that’s kind of what has happened to me in the last four or five years. You’re not going to please everybody, so stop trying. Just do your thing."

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.