Joe Bonamassa: Bluesman in a Rock Landscape

Guitarist Discovered by B.B. King Blends Genres in Scorching Recordings

Joe Bonamassa

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Blues-rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa, born on May 8, 1977, in Utica, New York, came of age at a strange time for blues music. Bonamassa was one of three talented teenage guitar wunderkinds—the others being Jonny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd—to emerge from the long shadow of the legendary Stevie Ray Vaughan during the 1990s.

While both Lang and Shepherd would release their debut albums in 1995, Bonamassa didn't release his solo debut until 2000 (although it could be argued that the self-titled 1994 album "Bloodlines" was his coming-out party). Since unleashing his acclaimed debut on blues fans, Bonamassa has been more prolific than his peers, and he has shown a desire to improve his craft. When you have a blues legend like B.B. King singing your praises, you're on the right track.

6-String Blues Prodigy

Call it providence or maybe fate, but six-string blues guitar prodigy Bonamassa was born on what would have been blues great Robert Johnson's 66th birthday. Destined, perhaps, for a life in music, Bonamassa began playing guitar at the age of 4 on a small instrument given to him by his father, a guitar player and dealer. By the age of 7, young Joe had moved up to a full-size guitar and was working out on Stevie Ray Vaughan songs.

Bonamassa began playing gigs in upstate New York at 10, when he would be discovered by B.B. King. Recognizing the young guitarist's talents, King said, "This kid's potential is unbelievable. He hasn't even begun to scratch the surface. He's one of a kind." By age 12, Bonamassa was touring with the likes of King, Buddy Guy, George Thorogood and Robert Cray, among others. King was so impressed that he asked Bonamassa to open the shows of his 80th birthday celebration tour in 2005.

Bonamassa's Bloodlines

Bonamassa's recording career began during the early 1990s when, after meeting Berry Oakley Jr., the son of the late Allman Brothers bassist,  the two formed the band Bloodline. Other members of the band included Waylon Krieger (son of the Doors' keyboardist Robby) and Erin Davis (son of jazz great Miles Davis). Bloodline released a single self-titled album of hard-edged blues-rock in 1994 that features Bonamassa's scorching guitarwork. After the band's break-up, Bonamassa went back to his solo career.

Bonamassa made his solo debut in 2000 with the rock-oriented, Tom Dowd-produced album "A New Day Yesterday," named for a classic Jethro Tull song covered by the guitarist. Alongside Bonamassa's original songs, the album also has versions of material from Rory Gallagher, Free, Al Kooper and Warren Haynes. It also includes guest appearances by musician friends like Gregg Allman, Rick Derringer and Leslie West of Mountain. The album would subsequently hit No. 9 on Billboard magazine's blues chart.

No. 1 on the Blues Charts

Bonamassa followed his debut with 2002's "So It's Like That," which would become the guitarist's first No. 1 album, and released "A New Day Yesterday, Live," a document of his 2001 tour, the next year.

To honor the Year of the Blues in 2003, Bonamassa released "Blues Deluxe," a collection of three original tunes and nine classic blues numbers from artists like John Lee Hooker, Albert Collins, Robert Johnson and Elmore James, among others. "Blues Deluxe" would also hit No. 1 on the blues charts, a feat that Bonamassa would accomplish with three of his next four studio albums, as well as 2008's "Live From Nowhere in Particular."

Rock, Soul and Blues

On 2006's album "You & Me,"  Bonamassa recorded with Jason Bonham, son of Led Zeppelin drummer John "Bonzo" Bonham and a seasoned rock music veteran in his own right. On the next year's album, "Sloe Gin," Bonamassa played more acoustic guitar, and the songs feature the guitarist's warm, maturing vocals alongside a typical mix of rock, soul and blues originals and covers. "Sloe Gin" proved to be one of Bonamassa's most popular albums, spending nearly three months on the blues charts.

Over the course of more than two decades of performing and recording, Bonamassa has built a loyal and still-growing fan base that appreciates his enormous six-string talents, maturing songwriting skills and dynamic live performances. Bonamassa has also earned the respect of the blues industry. He was the youngest-ever member of the Memphis-based Blues Foundation's board of directors and is heavily involved with the foundation's Blues in the Schools program, which educates students across the country of the legacy and influence of the blues. Bonamassa was also a popular DJ on Sirius satellite radio, hosting his own blues show.

Bonamassa was particularly prolific in the period between 2011 and 2013, releasing two studio albums with singer Beth Hart—2011's "Don't Explain" and 2013's "Seesaw," which earned the duo a Grammy Award nomination—as well as the concert document "Live In Amsterdam" (2014), which was released on CD and DVD both. Four early 2013 concerts in the U.K. were released on DVD and Blu-ray as "Tour de Force—Live In London" in October 2013, with all four shows released on CD in early 2014. In late 2014, Bonamassa released "Different Shades of Blue," his first studio album in more than two years and a stunning classic of blues, rock and soul.

Albums Not to Miss

Bonamassa's acclaimed debut, "A New Day Yesterday," is highly recommended, but his 2009 album "The Ballad of John Henry" displays the full range of the artist's guitar, vocal and songwriting skills. Bonamassa further stretched his blues-rock muscles with 2011's "Dust Bowl," while the acclaimed "Don't Explain" is an exceptional collection of soul covers recorded with talented Los Angeles singer Beth Hart. Classic rock fans might also enjoy the guitarist's tenure with the classic rock group Black Country Communion.

Joe Bonamassa Discography