KINGPIN of the BLUES
Guitar World|February 2022
JOE BONAMASSA RETURNS WITH TIME CLOCKS, HIS STRONGEST AND MOST DIVERSE ALBUM TO DATE — AND ALSO DISCUSSES HIS NEWFOUND ROLE AS 2021’S FOREMOST BLUES/ROCK IMPRESARIO
ANDY ALEDORT
“WHO DOESN’T LOVE A GOOD OLD-FASHIONED GUITAR BATTLE?

”Joe Bonamassa, calling in from “Nerdville,” his home in Nashville, is referring to the guitar duel that took place between Eric Gales and himself in August 2019 during his annual Keeping the Blues Alive cruise in the Mediterranean. This epic throwdown between two of today’s primary blues/rock virtuosos has garnered well over 3 million views on YouTube; if you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and check it out. It’s a miracle their guitars didn’t spontaneously combust into flames.

“That was so much fun,” Bonamassa says. “Everyone wanted to see Eric and me go at it in a friendly way. And it has to be just like that: it’s not a ‘competition’; it’s about spurring each other on in a playful, ‘Can you top this?’ way. It’s really fun for us, and I think it’s fun for the audience to see each of us trying to ‘outdo’ one another, raising the bar as we go.”

Bonamassa has just released Time Clocks, his 15th solo album, on his own J&R Adventures label. Eleven of these albums have reached Number 1 on the Billboard blues charts. About the new record, Bonamassa says, “What started out with the intention of being a trio record turned into probably my most adventurous and involved record.”

His longtime producer, Kevin “Caveman” Shirley, adds, “I think Joe has made an album that is truly transitional, from a blues musician to a superstar artist. I’m so thrilled to be along for the ride.” Bonamassa and Shirley brought the legendary Bob Clearmountain onboard to mix the tracks.

But Bonamassa hasn’t confined his energies to writing, recording, touring and melting faces. He’s also a co-founder of the Keeping the Blues Alive foundation, which functions as a record label and as a charity for struggling musicians. In June 2020, he worked with Dion on the Blues and Friends album, featuring luminaries such as Van Morrison, Jeff Beck, Paul Simon and Bruce Springsteen, while also producing albums for Reese Wynans, Joanne Shaw Taylor, Joanna Connor, Beth Hart and — with the upcoming release of Crown — Eric Gales.

Bonamassa spent some time with us to discuss Time Clocks as well as his collaboration with Gales, his very good friend.

Let’s begin with your collaboration with Eric Gales on Crown, which you co-produced and co-wrote songs for.

It all started with Eric’s participation in my Keeping the Blues Alive cruise in August 2019. We’d talked about doing it prior to that, but the stars finally aligned, and here he was. So I said to him, ‘Let’s have a big jam on “The Ballad of John Henry.”’ I said to the audience, “I think you’d like to see this gentleman and me playing over some sludgy blues rock shit in the key of E, just shredding the crap out of some guitars!” And I refer to him as one of the finest, if not the finest, guitarist in the world today, which I believe he is.

You and Eric have been friends for almost 30 years, going back to your days in Bloodline in the early Nineties.

That’s right, and I love him. When we have one of these epic throwdowns, no one gets out without a black eye! He’ll play something and I’ll think, “Goddam!,” so then I have to hit him with something else.

A good guitar battle has to be based on friendship and respect, but the audience also wants to see an epic standoff between guitar slingers.

That’s true, but we pull no punches. That kind of battle just makes everyone better. I know going in that Eric has this “fifth gear,” so I have to live in the fifth gear, too! When Eric plays, it’s on and there’s no half-power switch; he is coming right at you.

How did the material come together for Eric’s new record, Crown?

The first thing I did was I listened to all of his records — 17 albums — and I’d sing along to find his range. This way, while I was writing songs for the record, I’d write something with his vocal range in mind.

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