Blues-rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa talks about his new album “Time Clocks”, his upcoming projects and much more
CLEVELAND, Ohio – At just 44 years old, Joe Bonamassa has accomplished more than most of the other two artists in their careers.
New York state guitarist Bonamassa played in his own band and opened for BB King at the age of 12. He was part of the “Mickey Mouse Club” (in his Hall of Fame, even) and before he could even vote he was part of Bloodline, a group whose lineup included the sons of Miles Davis, Robby Krieger of the Doors and Berry Oakley of the Allman Brother’s Band.
Since becoming independent in 2000, Bonamassa has released 16 studio albums – including this year’s hard rock “Time Clocks” – and almost as many live sets. He operates his own label, J&R Adventures, as well as Keeping The Blues Alive, which released Dion’s last two albums. He has released five albums as a member of All-Star Black Country Communion, four with Rock Candy Funk Party, four more with singer Beth Hart and produced Eric Gales’ upcoming album “Crown”.
Still dizzy? Wait for the author of the six strings to start talking about everything …
The recording process for “Time Clocks” was quite interesting.
Bonamassa: Honestly, this record is a testament to the trust Kevin (Shirley, the producer) and I have in each other. It was such a strange way of doing it; He is on Zoom from Sydney (Australia), up at two in the morning. We record in the middle of the afternoon. I’m like, “Wow, it used to be really… easy. Now, very cautiously, we are making something simple difficult. We did it as a trio, then everything that was added later was done in Australia and I wasn’t even there. I couldn’t do it if I wanted to. But I knew I could shell out a record and it would finish it without me even being there and that would be awesome. I didn’t hear it until he mixed it up and sent it to me saying, “The record is over…” That’s pretty cool.
Were you surprised by everything he sent you after fleshing things out?
Bonamassa: You know, I put it on and I listen to it saying: “OK, that’s one way of doing things. Then I was like, ‘OK, I wouldn’t have done anything different. I thought whatever he put in there was very good and served the songs and made everything bigger and bigger and bigger. The mix was great. I’m just very happy with it.
Did you ever think of leaving it as a threesome?
Bonamassa: The songs needed more. It would be one thing if we wanted to make a bang-it-out-on-tape record or a Taste record or Rory Gallagher record. But the songs were a bit more epic than that. The record asked for more stuff. The record envelope sounded good, but if I pulled it out like that, you’d feel like it sounded incomplete. Places that have strings or background singers and keyboards and everything, they’re there for a reason. We needed them to fill in the gaps.
You are rather prolific. Was any of the songs from “Time Clocks” already there, waiting for a house?
Bonamassa: I wrote the song “Time Clocks” for the album “Royal Tea” (2020) and forgot about it. We had a drumming situation the day before our recording; Anton (Fig) broke his ankle, so we had to cancel a session and go home. So when I came back and revisited everything I had forgotten, we missed the song “Time Clocks; I found this note on my phone called “TC Demo 1”. I say to myself: “What is the” TC 1 1 Demo “. Oh shit, I forgot that! ‘ So better late than never. It turned out to be the title song.
The songs on “Time Clocks” are very personal, aren’t they?
Bonamassa: In some ways, yes. The whole album, in terms of lyrics, tackles the concept of age, time, fighting against the idea that me and some of my peers have always been considered as the “kids” of the guitar, the young guns, little. whatever you want to call it. Now we’re all almost a decade older than Stevie Ray Vaughan (when he died). Now there are kids in their early twenties who are better than us. I feel the generational change in the music. So I decided to write about these concepts, about my fears, my thoughts, my vulnerabilities. The song “Time Clocks”, even though it was written before I thought of any of that, foreshadowed those ideas, so it was fortuitous to find it.
What has changed the most during this time?
Bonamassa: I think the idea that I’m not a guitarist on stage as much as I have to be, like, an Instagram influencer. If you told me 25 years ago that the world would boil down to this, I would be, “What is … an Instagram influencer, and why should I care?” But it’s so ingrained and part of the game. It’s really become important to a lot of people when they’re at home in their pajamas, trying to stay relevant. And it’s a paradigm shift that probably came faster because everyone was sent home in March 2020.
What kind of impact has age and experience had on your creativity?
Bonamassa: It’s weird. When I go out and play I find I have a spark that was not there maybe even two years ago. I’m like, “OK, do you want it? You’re going to have to fight me for this. I still have the ability to manage. And we reopened a lot of theaters this summer, the Greek Theater in LA and places like that, still full of people. I look down and say to myself: “… there is still a real audience. Wow … “
What are you going to work on next?
Bonamassa: I just finished making the Larry McCray record. I love Larry. It’s been around for years, had bad breaks. but we just made a great record, with some great songs. He was in a room in Bay City, Michigan, waiting for someone to call him. I said, “Larry, let’s do a … record.” He had a lot to say and really cool ways of saying it. It’s just a good record of blues songs that don’t sound dated. They sound modern. And we made a movie about it, so hopefully we can bring it to a larger audience. He’s so talented, it doesn’t make sense to me that no one has broken him in any significant way yet.
You released Dion’s last two albums on Keeping The Blues Alive. How did that happen ?
Bonamassa: Speaking of a gem. I have never met someone so passionate and in love with music more than him. Come on, it’s Dion! He’s one of the last, I think THE last of this generation that’s still around – maybe there are a handful, but no one with songs like “Runaround Sue” and “The Wanderer”. He’s 83, looks like he’s 50, has the energy of a fifty-something, maybe younger. And he loves the blues, man. LOVE the blues.
You’ve been doing this for so long that you must have a lot of crazy stories. Tell us one.
Bonamassa: I was opening act for Lynyrd Skynyrd about 20 years ago, and a drunk dude in the front row kept yelling “Free Bird” throughout my set. I finally stopped playing and thought to myself, “Of all the places to shout that. You KNOW they’re going to play it. There is no doubt that the last song of a Skynyrd concert will be “Free Bird”. You can set your watch to this. So, no, he won’t get it from me, but what the …
Joe Bonamassa will perform at 8 p.m. on Saturday, November 27 at the Covelli Center, 229 E. Front St. Youngstown. 330-756-5000 or covellicentre.com. Bonamassa also performs at 8 p.m. on Sunday, November 28 at the Palace Theater, 34 W. Broad St. Columbus. 614-469-1331 or palace.theatercolumbus.org.