Joe Bonamassa names 10 guitarists who shaped his sound
As far as the blues is concerned, when we think back on once-in-a-generation talents, a few names come to mind. Joe Bonamassa's name is perpetually perched in the upper echelons of that list. Ever-busy, Bonamassa once again finds himself on the road, this time for a quick jaunt of 16 shows.
"The tour has been great so far," Bonamassa says of the trek. "This is a short tour for us, but we're making as many stops as possible to get back out there and see everyone. We're trying to balance playing the songs we want to play against what people want to hear. I will say that this is a weird time of the year to tour because you go through these hot and cold swings due to unpredictable weather. It's all the same to me, though; if the room is full, I'm happy."
Tours aside, Bonamassa has quite a bit going on, with a new live record out, Tales of Time, recorded at Colorado's Red Rocks Amphitheater, in August of 2022, as well as Journeyman LLC, a bustling enterprise focused on helping independent artists get a fair shake in an unrelenting business.
"The Red Rocks show was my most ambitious production," Bonamassa recalls. "We had these huge screens, and we were filming the whole thing, and honestly, it went off great. The band played great that night, which worried me. With recorded shows, you run the risk of having an off-night on tape forever, but I think we did great."
"As for Journeyman, that's really a part of my Keeping the Blues Alive foundation," Bonamassa continues. "We're taking over responsibility for not only putting out records but young artists' careers. It's about trying to help independent artists. The challenge for independent artists is having someone believe in them as much as they believe in themselves. You need artists that are out there being themselves and not focusing on being the flavor of the month. I'm self-made for sure, and I want to help artists be able to do that for themselves and find ways to succeed."
To be sure, with a love for vintage guitars, the blues, and all that comes with it, Bonamassa has always worn his influences as a badge of honor. Indeed, his passion for the blues and guitar-driven music has always been apparent, screaming forth from show to show and record to record. But where did it all begin for Joe B?
To that end, Joe Bonamassa took a moment from the road as he dialed in with Guitar World to recollect the 10 guitarists who shaped his sound.
1. B.B. King
"I learned everything that I needed to know by watching B.B. King play. He was so incredible and had such a smooth presence on stage with a guitar in his hands. There was nobody that played the way he did before he came along. He was unique to himself, and for me, as far as blues players, everybody that came after is second to B.B. King.
"He was an entertainer, a singer, and a guitarist; he was the full package. He was a singer of the highest caliber; just listen to his radio hits and the famous stuff. B.B. King was the Frank Sinatra of the blues, in my opinion."
2. Jeff Beck
"What gets me most about Jeff Beck, and it's one of the things that I was taken with when I first heard him, is that nobody played the blues the way he did. He made the blues angry and mean.
"Jeff truly weaponized the guitar. I loved that about him. The fact that he used his guitar as a weapon was so distinct and aggressive. But he also got better every decade; he refused to stagnate. In my opinion, he's the greatest rock guitar player that ever was. We'll never see that again."
3. Eric Clapton
"To this day, Eric is one of my favorite guitar players/singers. When I hear people say, 'Clapton is God', I agree with that. It's not an assumption; it's the truth. To the people who disagree or think they could do it better, okay, go do it. Go do it, and then do it at the level that Eric Clapton does.
"That's the thing about the people you see online who give their opinions; they're just opinions. For him to go out there, and sing Layla at that level while playing the guitar the way he does, is incredible. It's not of this earth. Go do it as well. So, if you think you can do it, try it, and let me know how easy it is."
4. Jimmy Page
"The British blues thing was really my thing, and Jimmy encompassed that. His arrangements and his interpretation of the blues check a lot of boxes for me.
"A lot of people like to call Page sloppy, and that's fine. You can call him sloppy all day long, but can you play it? Go out and try to play those songs, and then let me know if you still think Page is sloppy. Try to play The Rain Song as well as he played it. You won't be able to. Not a chance.
"The thing about Jimmy Page that most people don't realize is he was a very in-demand session guy before the Yardbirds and Zeppelin. He did boatloads of amazing things before he even was in those bands; that's crazy. His compositions are second to none, in my opinion. Call him sloppy, but he was a once-in-a-generation talent. There's only one Jimmy Page."
5. Albert King
"Of the three Kings, I often go back to Albert because he was essentially the Immaculate Conception as a guitar player. Nobody before Albert played the way he did.
"Again, he had a lot of raw aggression and such emotion in his playing, and that's very appealing. As far as sheer playing, he might be the nastiest blues player there was."
6. Freddie King
"Like the other two Kings, Freddie's style was so profoundly influential. This guy was just a powerhouse, and he had such a big sound. His tone is amazing, and he was able to get a bigger sound than many other guitar players.
"What I love about Freddie is that while he was a great guitar player, he was also a popstar. But even with his pop sensibilities, he was a true ambassador to the blues. His stuff was just so great, and the combination of blues chops with that, at times, pop sound was so rare to hear."
7. Eric Johnson
"Eric was another one that I learned a ton from and whom I'm still learning from. Every time that I see him, I always apologize to him. I'm like, 'Man, I'm sorry for stealing your style.'
"His tone is distinct, and I don't have to remind people of all the amazing music he's made over the last 30 years. He's easily one of the best out there and has been for a long time. He can cover any style or whatever he needs to. He's a joy to watch and listen to."
8. Al Di Meola
"I love the way Al incorporated so many different influences into his sound. If you listen to his old stuff, those quad runs that Al is doing: they're insane.
"He has this incredible ability to play hyper-precise, articulate, and super-fast, and then suddenly, he will slow up almost to half-speed right in the middle of a riff and then, without warning, finish it out full speed again. I don't know how he did it. And he still does it. It's unreal to watch, and no-one really does that. At least, not the way Al does."
9. Ry Cooder
"With Ry, man, he can play one note on the slide, and it just melts. I hear that, and that's it for me. It's incredible. He did a ton of soundtracks, along with all his many records, and all of it is great stuff. He's such a musicologist to the point that he literally seems to have music and guitar throughout his DNA. When I listen to Ry, I can't help but be inspired."
10. Tommy Bolin
"His work with Billy Cobham and then Deep Purple, that stuff was my jam. But what stuck out most about Tommy's playing was how powerful he was.
"If you listen to Cobham's Spectrum, you can hear Billy and Yan Hammer both just going off, and Tommy is a perfect foil. He was so on task there and showed a ton of restraint, and that was a big reason why that record was so successful.
"Tommy wasn't really a jazz fusion guy per se – he was more of a blues-rock player –but I think his style made that record incredibly accessible in a way. It wasn't the type of shit that was over your head; it felt attainable if you were something listening to it, like you could do it, too."
Tales of Time is released on April 14 and available to preorder from JoeBonamassa.com.