Joe Bonamassa: the World Guitar Day interview

(Image credit: Neil Zlozower)

Did you gravitate towards the blues because of the sense of expression you could convey through it? 

"Any well-arranged song, it doesn’t have to be blues, can have that effect on people. I gravitated towards the blues because of the dynamics. I never liked the assault. Back when I was a kid it was hard rock and eighties metal. It was just very one-dimensional and non dynamic. It was just go for three minutes and then stop. If you listen to Dazed And Confused by Led Zeppelin, Let Me Love You by Jeff Beck, Rory Gallagher or BB King, there was a whole book within three minutes; a whole story. There was the responsibility of the writer and arranger to take you on this journey. I think that’s why I gravitated towards the blues more than anything else. The dynamic range of the music was appealing to me."

When did songwriting come into the equation for you as a player, was it a gradual thing?

"I started writing songs when I was about 12 or 13. I wrote some songs for my first band Bloodline and then when I started doing my solo records I had to write songs and I just kept going and going. But I realised very quickly, probably 2004/2005 that I really had a shitty catalogue of songs and that I probably needed to find some or write some. So I really concentrated in the last decade or more on trying to get the best catalogue of songs that I can. Because that saves the night. That’s really what separates the show from a recital. 

"You can go on Instagram right now and type in ‘guitar’ and there’s a million guys that can shred, there’s a million women that can shred. They’re all better. What makes them come out in Thunder Bay Ontario on a Wednesday night? They’re coming for a catalogue. Do I go to see Eric Clapton because he’s a brilliant guitar player? Absolutely. Do I go to see Eric Clapton because I want to hear Sunshine Of Your Love? More so. It’s the artists that have a wonderful catalogue of material that they can also play great guitar over. So if you have a great song, you can play a great solo over a great song. Conversely, where I think the blues suffers a lot is if there’s a lot of great guitar playing over a very average song. And I’m guilty of that myself."

I really concentrated in the last decade or more on trying to get the best catalogue of songs that I can

Do you think that as your songwriting has developed, it’s impacted on the way you approach solos?

"Yes, we just had a record come out with Black Country Communion this week and there’s a song, Collide, and people commented saying ‘It’s really fun to see you using more restraint in your playing these days’. I didn’t give it a second thought. I played a solo on it that I thought served the song. And I also think that at this point in time, so much has been written and said about me - good, bad and otherwise - there’s a part of me that goes, I don’t have anything to prove to anyone anymore so I’m just going to make the best records I can, make the best versions I can and play the best solos I can. It just will happen. So that’s really been my modus operandi for the last couple of years, or even more."

You and Glenn Hughes are both used to being frontmen away from Black Country Communion and you both work closely together in the writing process – what was that experience like for you when you first started working together?

"My collaborations with Glenn, Jason [Bonham] and Derek [Sherinian], with Beth Hart and the jazz band, all that is 100 percent escapism for me. When I do a side project I don’t want to be the frontman, I want to be a guitarist in the band. Because I already do the frontman thing, I already have that. Why would I want to do a second version of that? So Glenn is our front guy in that band, always has been. He fronts it and he’s in the driver’s seat and it’s his choice to put it in first, second or third. I play more of a support role in that, and I solo on occasion."

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.