BluesWax Sittin’ In With
By Bob Gersztyn
In Part One of his interview with Bob Gersztyn, Joe Bonamassa talked about his Dust Bowl album, the globalization of the blues and Hubert Sumlin. This week, in Part Two, he talks about some of his other heroes and influences.
Bob Gersztyn for BluesWax: I just saw B.B. King a couple of weeks ago and I can’t believe that he’s still playing.
Joe Bonamassa: Plus he’s 86 now, right?
BW: Yeah, he just had his birthday about a month ago.
JB: He’ll never stop! There are two constants in this world, that the sun will rise and B.B. King will do a gig.
BW: You called B.B. King the possible connecting point between blues and rock. Why?
JB: He is mutually agreed upon that not only is he the king of the blues but he defines the genre. I hear B.B. King in Iron Maiden songs. I hear B.B. King in Zeppelin songs. I hear B.B. King in all kinds of music. Kanye West with some of that stuff that is more bluesy. Moby, I mean like that guy. I think that he sampled some of B.B’s singing, and it’s a connecting point because, it’s like one of those things you know that, if you don’t feel B.B. King, then chances are the blues are not for you. If you listen to Live at the Regal, and you go “This doesn’t do it for me,” then chances are, the genre of the blues isn’t your bag. Which is fine, but I think to me it’s like when you ask anyone about B.B. King, whether they play heavy metal music or they’re a rapper or a straight-up hard rock guitar player, they go, yeah, B.B. King, he’s the king, and it’s mutually agreed upon, and everyone has listened to a B.B. King song and has gotten something from it. That’s my theory.
BW: Taking guitar players, and since you already named B.B. King, who are your all-time top three guitar players of any genre and why?
JB: Of any genre? The two Erics: Eric Johnson, Eric Clapton, and probably B.B. King. Those are probably the guys that I look up to the most, as far as their careers and the music and just the way that they carry themselves. One of my favorite guitar players of all time is Jeff Beck and Paul Kossoff and Peter Green and Rory Gallagher. I met Jeff a couple of times and he was super cool. I wasn’t alive when Paul Kossoff was alive and I never got to meet Rory Gallagher, but I respect their music to the umpteenth degree. Fantastic! I have so many guitar players that I look up to, but those are probably the ones that come up in conversation the most.
BW: You named Jeff Beck and I read how you were influenced by Rod Stewart’s first solo album from 1969, after he and Ron Wood left the Jeff Beck Group to join the then Small Faces. An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down is a great album – I saw Stewart perform it with the Faces in 1970.
JB: It was essentially the Jeff Beck Group, sans Jeff Beck, with Ronnie Wood playing guitar and Mick Waller and I think it was Ronnie Lane playing bass. It was very incestuous.
BW: Okay, but exactly how did Rod Stewart influence you? I once read an interview with Rod Stewart where he said that he modeled his singing style after Sam Cooke.
JB: Yeah, and you can hear a lot of that, well one of Rod’s biggest songs was “Having A Party.” Rod Stewart’s music, just in general, take the voice off the table for just a second, just the way he was able to do the heavy blues rock, but with the acoustic element in it. So that acoustic guitar was very strong so he was very organic, almost an Americana feel to it, but it was all these British guys doing it. And then when he sang it was just unbelievable, I mean he had just had such a soaring soulful voice. It’s like listen to “Let Me Love You Baby” from the Jeff Beck Group or “Old Man River.” Serious stuff. Serious stuff.
BW: Who are some of your other influences for songwriting and performing besides the people you’ve already named?
JB: I think that Warren Haynes is a big influence on me, songwriting wise, singing wise. I think Paul Rogers is a big influence on me, singing wise, songwriting obviously. I think Chris Whitley is another one, the late great Chris Whitley, and I even get into guys like Harry Connick Jr., who made a couple of records that were really New Orleans based. Some of his jazz, big band stuff, and just the way that he puts melodies together, and lyrics and stuff like that. Really cool stuff. I’m an equal opportunity thief. I’ll take a good idea from anybody.
BW: How would you describe your approach to playing guitar philosophically, emotionally, and technically?
JB: I don’t really know. At this point, I just pick up the thing and play. I just pick it up and play. My theory is I give one hundred perdent of whatever percentage that I have. If I’m not feeling great and I’m going out there with sixty percent, then I’ll give a hundred percent of the sixty percent. And that’s my philosophy as I play. There’s some nights when we’re out for ten and a half, almost twelve weeks here, and your hands are tired, everything is tired, your voice is tired, but you give a hundred percent of it, and people will understand if you make a bad note, or your voice squeaks once or a couple of times during the gig. When they see you’re giving it your all, in some ways make people actually think it’s cool, then if it’s just a gig by numbers. Like you make it look too easy. Some of the gigs that I think go really well, like I feel like I’m playing really well and singing and people say, yeah it was okay. Then other nights where I think that I was like struggling a little bit, are the one’s that mean the most to people, and you’re going, I just don’t get it. I start thinking of it from the pundits point of view, well you know what? They can see, they can sense the struggle and they can see that you’re fighting a little bit, but you’re giving it your all. That kind of is more endearing than not breaking a sweat. That’s kind of like my theory.
BW: Before we conclude the interview I wanted to ask you if Vince Gill brought Amy [Amy Grant, Gospel Music Hall of Fame superstar spouse) along?
JB: No, he did not. She had to watch the kids.
BW: That would be interesting to have her on the album, too.
JB: Yeah, she’s great; what a singer she is. It’s a talented family. It’s a very talented family.
BW: My last question is, why do you feel that it is important for the legacy of the blues to be taught to future generations?
JB: At the end of the day, for me, it’s sixty percent, going if you don’t teach the next generation about this music, will there still be a genre? Will there still be people playing it in a hundred years? That’s like sixty percent of my concern. Then on the other hand, in terms of our situation, if we don’t have new fans coming to the gigs, 20 or 30 years from now, will we be able to do gigs? And you have to kind of cultivate that now. You have to start early and go into schools or do these public service announcements or whatever and just go, hey listen kids, everyone likes Led Zeppelin. Everyone knows “Whole Lotta Love,” but do you know who Willie Dixon is and do you know who Robert Johnson is? Do you know where it all came from? Basically you kind of get in the door using something that they know, and then kind of plant the seed, hey there’s a lot more where that came from. It’s just a web. It opens up the world of this kind of music to a kid. Not all of them are interested and some people frankly could care less, but the ones that are interested that need just kind of a push, you know? Those are the ones that are going to make up the generation of fans that are going to come to gigs for the next 20, 30, 40 years, and that’s important.
BW: Okay, we’re all done. Are you playing tonight in Pheonix?
JB: No, no, we’re off tonight. We’re doing two nights at the Orpheum Theater, here in Pheonix, and it’s great, both shows are sold out. I remember starting here in a little dive bar, called the Mason Jar, with like three people, but that was a decade ago.
Based in Oregon, Bob Gersztyn is a contributing editor at BluesWax.
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