Life in Joe motion with blues don

Joe Bonamassa Band (from left) Rick Melick (Keyboards), Joe Bonamassa (Guitar, Vocals), Camine Rojas (Bass), Tal Bergman (Drums)
Joe Bonamassa Band (from left) Rick Melick (Keyboards), Joe Bonamassa (Guitar, Vocals), Camine Rojas (Bass), Tal Bergman (Drums)
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BLUES is big business these days and right now this man is increasingly calling the shots.

Even with Europe’s economy in near tatters, forget visions of old chaps on Mississippi porches, 30-something Joe Bonamassa is the kid that grew up around a family music shop.

Joe Bonamassa

Joe Bonamassa

And the American is about to embark on his first UK arena tour – in no small part due to the belief of a Sheffield promoter.

“There were always guitars around the shop and my dad would also play different albums of classic rock guys that started my creative music juices flowing,” Joe recalls of his upbringing.

“Without that, I might have a different taste in music and who knows what that would be...”

As it is Joe, now 34, has become one of the most prolific and mainstream-accepted blues rock stars of his generation.

It was something spotted early on by city gig promoter Barney Vernon, who has helped engineer Joe’s live passage in the UK from clubs through to the likes of the Motorpoint Arena, where he makes his debut on March 23.

“You can see from my career that I am most successful in the UK and I believe that is because the Brits have opened their hearts to me as an artist and as a person,” says the musician, who has previously worked alongside another Joe and Sheffield gent, Joe Cocker.

“It took a lot of hard work playing in those clubs to get to where I am now.

“I think my fans see how hard we all work and how much I appreciate their support.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help of my great and loyal fan base in the UK.”

Then Joe’s abilities were given belief from a very young age. Gifted his first guitar at just four, within three years he could play the tunes of Jimi Hendrix note for note and at just 12 that instinctive playing saw him opening for blues legend B.B. King.

As an adult the virtuoso guitarist and singer now averages 200 shows each year, many in Britain where he found most influence growing up; the likes of Jeff Beck, John Mayall and Eric Clapton, with whom he shared a stage at his landmark Royal Albert Hall show – also one of Barney’s – in 2009.

While Clapton still has his loyal following there’s no denying Joe’s extensive wares – 12 solo albums since 2000 and two more with side project Black Country Communion – have not only re-awakened an appetite for blues rock but mustered a fresh audience across a wide social demographic.

“Every fad or trend seems to come back around sooner or later, like bellbottom jeans or classic rock,” says Joe, when asked to ponder the suggestion of a fresh blues boom.

“Blues to me is great because you can take something very old and morph it into something creative, fun and new for new fans over the world.”

Part of the attraction, however, has to be down to Bonamassa being a young man in blues terms, therefore striking a chord with those who might have viewed the genre as out-dated or tired.

Then, at a time when other kids were maybe into dance, hip hop or electro, in his parents guitar shop in New Hartford, upstate New York, an impressionably young Joe was finding fascination in an instrument that has endured fashions, genres and generations.

Now his audiences also include families with young kids, maybe inspired to pick up a Fender or a Stratocaster of their own.

“The kids that are re-interpreting the blues are the ones that are going to keep it alive when everyone else moves on,” he concurs.

“We need the younger generation to take the blues and keep it alive while making it their own. That is why I spend time with students, to tell them about the blues.

“But I think one of the worst things that an artist can do is compare themselves to other artists.

“I feel like you need to be yourself, but always pushing yourself forward and striving to be better, never settling.”

Certainly there’s no keeping Joe still for too long, a man who knows he’s on to a good thing and appears keen to keep the momentum going.

He follows his 2009 Live From The Royal Albert Hall DVD with a new Blu-ray and DVD release to coincide with the tour, namely Joe Bonamassa: Beacon Theatre – Live From New York (out March 26).

It includes renditions of Slow Train, from his 2011 album Dust Bowl, and fan-favourites Cradle Song, Blue & Evil and Mountain Time, plus appearances from a string of special guests such Beth Hart, John Hiatt and Paul Rodgers, whose Heartbreaker is covered on Dust Bowl.

“I’m finding more inspiration in storytelling in my 30s, in writing songs that are about something more profound than ‘My baby left me’,” reflects Joe.

“I like albums that are made with the right intentions, that sound organic and a little rough around the edges, like a great band playing live in the room – and that’s what we accomplished with Dust Bowl.”

While neither he nor we can promise a range of A-list guests for Joe Bonamassa’s return to Sheffield – his largest South Yorkshire show since his sold-out visit to Rotherham’s Magna Science Adventure Centre two years ago – Joe will come armed with the necessary for such a space, which is operating on a half-house capacity.

“We are bringing in more sound equipment so that it sounds amazing, and more lights,” he confirms.

“The whole production will be better. We really want to make this tour the best yet.

“That is our cycle: record a record, release the record, go on tour… over and over.”