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Featured Artist: Joe Bonamassa

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Born in Utica, NY, May 8, 1977, blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa got his start playing guitar when he was just four-years old. His father Len, a guitar shop owner, had exposed his son to music early, and when Joe showed interest in the guitar, Len gave him a short scale Chiquita on which he could practice. It didn't take long for the elder Bonamassa to realize there was something special about his son's abilities on the instrument. Within a year, the young guitarist was playing a full scale model and playing blues like a much more seasoned musician.

Joe was working regular gigs locally at the age of ten, and by the age of 12, he was touring with B.B. King. In fact, King called Joe "a legend before his time." Not bad for a kid just starting out.

At 14, Bonamassa attended a Fender guitar event and met Berry Oakley, Jr. (son of the Allman Brothers Band bassist), Miles Davis' son Erin, and Robby Krieger's (the Doors) son Waylon. Together, the musicians formed a band called Bloodline. This group released one album, which produced two chart singles — "Stone Cold Hearted" and "Dixie Peach."

After the band broke up, Joe took the opportunity to work on his voice and developed his signature raw, gritty vocals. In 2000-01, Bonamassa's first solo album, A New Day Yesterday, was recorded. He received musical support from Gregg Allman, Rick Derringer, and Leslie West, and the producer, the legendary Tom Dowd, became a fan and friend of the young bluesman.

Working on an album for Joe Lynn Turner, Bonamassa met drummer Kenny Kramme and bassist Eric Czar. The three hit it off and soon the Joe Bonamassa Band power trio hit the road. This combination proved quite successful, producing three more studio albums, a live album, two instructional DVDs (only one of which is currently available), and two live performance DVDs. His hard work led to Blueswax magazine naming him Artist of the Year two years in a row (2004 and 2005), and his album, Had To Cry Today, was named 2004's Album of the Year.

Over the years, Bonamassa has shown his commitment to music extends far beyond dollars and cents. While touring, Joe performs at special Blues in the Schools (BITS) events across the country and was elected to fill a vacancy on the Blues Foundation's Board of Directors. His seat represents the many roads blues travel, and serves as an example of what the blues is all about — tradition, diversity, tenacity, and perseverance. Working with BITS and the Blues Foundation has only deepened the admiration many of his fans have for him.

During the autumn of 2005, Joe Bonamassa began work on his sixth album, You & Me. This effort marked a great departure from his tried and true line-up as he brought in Carmine Rojas (bass), Rick Melick (piano, organ, tambourine), Jason Bonham (drums), LD Miller (harmonica), Doug Henthorn (vocals), and Pat Thrall (guitar). You & Me debuted at #1 on Billboard's blues charts and #1 on CD Universe, on both the rock and blues charts.

Changes for Bonamassa didn't end in the studio. Joe's new touring band now featured former Johnny Winter bassist Mark Epstein and Kenny Wayne Shepherd's former drummer Bogie Bowles. The sound was still Bonamassa, but the energy was fresh and sharp.

As Joe Bonamassa continues to challenge himself, people are eagerly lining up for the opportunity to see him perform. And there's no shortage of gigs. With the most ambitious tour schedule to date, it's safe to say that the Joe Bonamassa Band will soon outgrow the smaller and mid-sized venues they've been playing for the past several years.

From the U.S. to Canada to Europe, Joe Bonamassa's proven to be a solid draw for venues everywhere. Long-time fans, happy with his success, continue to spread the word on this blues guitarist who lives up to his "Always on the Road" motto.

Additionally, Joe recently had a guest spot on VH-1's reality rocker, Supergroup, as he sat down with Ted Nugent for a jam at Las Vegas' Sand Dollar Blues Lounge.

Throughout the month of August, Blogcritics.org will bring you reviews of Joe Bonamassa's entire discography. In the meantime, you can sample some of his work on his official website and on the Joe Bonamassa fan website.

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About Joan Hunt

  • This is an incredible biography, Joan. Nice work. I look forward to the upcoming reviews and especially the chance to see this great artist you keep telling me about live next week.

  • Connie, you’re gonna have so much fun!

  • Paul Roy

    Great piece Joan. I’ve already got tickets for one of his eight shows at Blues Alley in D.C. in November. That is such a small, intimate place. It is going to be a trip to watch this guy play from only twenty feet away.

  • pcornell

    Great story!

    I just happened to be with Joe as he did a phone interview with a newspaper – he was telling that story. It’s interesting and sounds fantastic, until you hear him play and then it puts his bio in perspective. However spectacular an artist he may be, he is a nicer guy.

    Don’t miss the opportunity to buy his music or see a live show – even if you have to travel to do it. You won’t be regret it!

  • Jane Hall

    Hey Paul I’ll be at the 11-4 shows in DC along with a few Joe fans from out of town. I miss seeing Joe at the Recher in Towson but the last Blues Alley show was literally the closest I have been to Joe while he’s playing.
    And definitely his live show is out of this world. Since seeing my first show of his a few years back I have found myself preferring to travel a little farther for his shows than seeing other artists right in town. But I also have gained much interest in other blues artists and the local scenes from other Joe B. fans that I have met from Joe’s official website forum.
    I love how Joe’s blues rock but he’s got tunes that fall in every wavelength of the blues spectrum.
    If you don’t know Joe you are missing out.

  • Paul, you’ll have to get even closer to the stage. Get right up in front, with the edge pressed against your belly. I promise you’ll love every note.

  • Jane Hall

    Blues alley has these little tables and you only get that close if you are seated that close and its probably a better experience for many music lovers a little further back. to get your belly on that stage would require getting down on the floor or something and actually thats not out of the realm of possibilities, lol. OOH new term BonaMecca! get down and face BonaMecca! (no offense intended!) I hope I manage to get a super-close seat again but all seats in there are 20 feet or less from the stage probably. That was the first time I saw Joe get up on the speaker box thing to make sure those in the back could get a full view as its a low stage.
    got me all worked up again about this show!!!

  • betty

    Just a hypothetical question – I’m not sure this is the right place to post but I’m doing a little research on audiences of different musical genres.

    Do blues artists’ audiences demand any sort of integrity from the artists they follow?

    What would a blues audience think of an artist who refused to pay royalties due (nothing more than basic industry standard, by the way) to a producer? Let’s take out the probability that the artist is in breach of contract, and add to that the possibility that the producer was a friend who had done many favors for the artist and completed the albums in question in well below even standard independent label budgets?

    Considering that the blues are supposed to represent the downtrodden and that artists expect audiences to pay for tickets, merchandise and records, does a blues audience have any expectation of integrity from their artists or is it all just about the fact that a guy can get up and play and no one really cares how he operates his business?

    Just wondering and I’d love to hear some opinions on this.

  • Jane Hall

    well from a fan point of view, integrity is important to me but one of course has to be careful to not make decisions without all of the facts, or based on assumptions. If there was a legal decision it might give some facts from which to base a decision on, but not always and ain’t that the truth.
    I don’t think the blues is always about the downtrodden. Maybe the downtrodden feel the blues alot…..and then there’s those who feel the blues and then think they are downtrodden…

  • While watching a documentary on record producer Tom Dowd, there was a young guitarist working out some very cool riffs. The caption said “Joe Bonamassa.” When I looked him up, and read his story about being a guitar prodigy, I bought some of albums. I was blown away.

    I finally had the chance to see Joe Bonamassa when he came to Boston (at Sculler’s, March 2006). He was simply awesome, a true guitar god. And he’s a very accessible person after the show (although he was quite understandably tired!).

    Nice article, and enjoy his playing!

  • Bill Stangeland

    Well done Joan! This is exactly the kind of recognition that a talent like Joe deserves. I can’t wait to see what’s next. I’m bummed I missed the recent Vegas shows, but I’ll have to settle for a few shows I’ve targeted for later this year.
    For anyone out there that hasn’t seen Joe live, find the nearest show and do whatever you have to do to get there: walk, drive, take a bus, take a train, fly…you won’t be disappointed!

  • Stay tuned for reviews of all the Vegas shows and two interviews with Joe.

    Fantastic stuff from Joe recently. And much more to come.

  • RockinRon

    Hey Joanie:

    Great work on this Blog. Joe and the Boys are certainly on the Bridge to Better Days thanks to fans like You and Me!

    RockinRon-Portland, Oregon

  • Tom McD

    It was at a BB King blues concert at Wolf Trap Farm Park in Virginia that I first heard this INCREDIBLE blues player open the show. Having seen some great talent (Hendrix live at Woodstock…yeah I’m old)in my life I have to say that Joe Bonamassa is one of the best! I now make it a point to see him whenever he’s in the Washington DC area (already have tickets for a Halloween night show) and to anybody who has not had the pleasure of seeing Joe live I’ll just say..run..do not walk..to his next concert..you’ll someday be telling people you saw a legend in the making!!
    Great article Joan! Thanks!