oe Bonamassa is bringing nearly thirty of 175 guitars he says are “The envy of most collectors” on his first Australian tour with both acoustic and electric sets. A longtime collector of rare guitars and amps, he’s leaving at home one of his prized instruments – “My very first ’59 Les Paul” – which accompanied him here three years ago. “The guitar has the nickname Magellan because it circumnavigated the globe,” Bonamassa says. “But I will tell you what, domestic Australian airlines are not easy to deal with as far as bringing an instrument on the plane. So I ended up having to buy a seat for it.

“They treat you like an oversized passenger. You get a seat belt extender… So I strapped the guitar in the middle between me and some other dude that I don’t even know and then the guy tells me the guitar has to be in the window and you have to be in the middle. “My response was, ‘Then the guitar wants a gin and tonic and so do I’. I would never do that shit again. I did one tour with the ’59 Les Paul but never again.”

This year Joe Bonamassa is nominated for Film Of The Year alongside other great music endeavors: Inside Llewyn Davin, Metallica – Through The Never, The Rolling Stones – Sweet Summer Sun, Hyde Park Live, Supermensch – The Legend Of Shep Gordon, and The Doors – R-Evolution.

The blues-rock guitarist, said to have recorded 10 studio and at least eleven live albums since 2000, as well as a clutch of collaborations with singer Beth Hart and others and with Black Country Communion, plays an average of 125 shows a year. He says there will be 10 songs in the acoustic set, “and each song has a specific tuning and guitar. So there you go,” says Bonamassa, who used 12, including a 1932 Martin, in the performances released last year as An Acoustic Evening At The Vienna Opera House.

“That takes care of the first 10.” For the lengthier electric set, he will have “a primary and backup” guitar for each song. He has learned to be cautious in his 25-year career. “I can tell you this for free, the minute you think that something is not going to break is the minute that it breaks,” he explains. He’s touring Australia with six musicians. For the acoustic set he has Gerry O’Connor on fiddle and mandolin, Mats Wester on keyed fiddle and percussionist Lenny Castro. The electric half will feature his touring band – bassist Carmine Rojas, drummer Tal Bergman and Derek Sherinian on keyboards.

“It’s a seven-piece band if you get [us] all on stage. Lenny and Derek play in both groups. Tal and Carmine play only in the electric group. And I am on stage the whole night except for the drum solo. That’s when we drink wine at the side of the stage.” They’ll play “nearly twenty-two songs” from throughout his career. “Nothing repeats itself stylistically so the show goes by very quickly even though it’s two hours and 45 minutes.”

Bonamassa will treat audiences to music from throughout his career with some tracks from a new album, Different Shades Of Blue, co-written in Nashville with writers Jonathan Cain, James House and Jerry Flowers, but which he regards as his first of original material since So It’s Like That in 2002.Nashville?

“There’s a lot of closet blues cats in there,” he says. The writers with whom he collaborated have penned songs for the likes of Journey (Cain), Dwight Yoakam (House) and Keith Urban (Flowers). How did they contribute to the songs? “It could have been lyrics. It could have been verses. It could have been a riff. It could have been a chorus… It’s like going to a dinner party. You’ve got a bring something. Bring a bottle of wine. Bring a dessert. You know what I mean? No one just goes in cold and says, ‘What do you want to write today?’ It’s kind of not fun that way.”

He recorded it with long-time producer Kevin Shirley, at a studio in Las Vegas where they have recorded three earlier albums. “We like the vibe there. We get out of town, we don’t have any bullshit to deal with in town and there are no distractions.” He was recently in Sydney to back Jimmy Barnes’s daughter, Mahalia, on a new album of songs by Betty Davis. “The reason why I flew 28 hours from London to Sydney to come and record for 72 hours – 12 songs – was because I knew that it’s going to be great music with great musicians in a genre that is not associated with me, but something that I’ve always loved. That’s always been appealing to me.


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