American musician Joe Bonamassa is a bona fide guitar virtuoso. Inspired by a music-filled house growing up and a guitar from his dad, he mastered his favorite Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix riffs at just seven years old. By the time he was 12 – already proficient in country, rock, blues, and jazz – he was performing alongside icons B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, Stephen Stills, and Joe Cocker. Now 33, Bonamasssa plays more than 200 gigs a year and was named both Blues Rock Titan by Guitar World magazine and number one Blues artist of the year by Billboard in 2010. His twelfth solo album, Dust Bowl, is a passionate return to the bold rock tones of his earliest albums and features duets with John Hiatt and Vince Gill.
Are you on the road right now?
I am. I’ve been on the road for the past six weeks, actually. I do, like, 200+ gigs a year. It’s like Groundhog Day everyday. Everyday is the same you know…the same sort of stuff goes on…but it’s great. So great. This has been the best tour of our lives and we’re really having a blast out here.
And what about a personal life?
I have no personal life. I mean, my parents are here with me right now – and I’m talking to you. That’s it. That’s my personal life (laughs).
You come from a long line of musicians.
I do. My father plays guitar and my grandfather played trumpet and my great grandfather played too. I’m a fourth generation musician.
Tell me about your earliest musical memories.
My dad used to play me records when I was a kid and it was all different kinds. It was just a really musical household. Music was all around. One day it might be Jethro Tull and another day it would be something else altogether. It was just one of those kinds of things where I would sit there and soak it all up… like a sponge.
What attracted you to the blues so young?
It was just the kind of music I liked, you know? It’s just very honest and it’s so simple and you can interpret it in any way you want.
Did the aspect of storytelling appeal to you?
Well…not really. I was way more into the guitar and into guitar-playing at that point. That’s what I cared about. But as I get older, I appreciate the storytelling a lot more.
When you were 12, B.B. King said, “This kid’s potential is unbelievable…He’s one of a kind.” Were you able to appreciate such high praise from someone of his stature?
Yeah…I could a bit…but you know, at the end of the day I was in the situation where I was just a kid. I was just trying to take it all in.
Were his comments motivational to you – or sort of scary?
Uh (long pause)…I’ve always worked very well under pressure (laughs).
Age aside, does one need an old soul to play the blues?
Hmmm… It’s as simple as just liking the music I like and interpreting the music the way I think it should be interpreted. I play it the way I do…but whatever it is that people hear in there, that’s for them to say.
You recorded Dust Bowl in Greece. What was that like?
Greece is beautiful…and it was Kevin [Shirley] and me working together again. This album has a rock sound. For me, it was sort of like going back to my first album all over again. Every album I do is kind of like a snapshot in time. They all represent where I was at at that time and when I hear some of them I’m reminded of how young I was and I can hear the inexperience.
You’re supported by incredible players – what do Carmine Rojas, Rick Melick and Tal Bergman bring to the table?
They’re all really, really great cats. We’re very much a band – it’s not just me up there with musicians sitting behind me – we play as a band. We’ve been together for a long time we’re like a family. We have a blast together.
You’ve played the likes of Gregg Allman, Steve Winwood and Eric Clapton. Can you single out a favorite?
No, I really can’t. I’ve just had so many great experiences. I mean, I owe so much to B.B. King obviously, over anyone else, you know? He was like a mentor and really helped me along.
Does playing with music icons ever start to feel… ordinary?
No, no, no. Never. I’m really lucky to have had the experiences I’ve had. At any point though – on any night – I could still go out there and totally f— it up, you know what I mean? I still feel like at any time I could be out there with somebody and make a huge mistake or play something wrong. It’s possible (laughs).
Bonamassa’s latest LP, Dust Bowl, is in stores now. Visit http://jbonamassa.com/ to download the title track free.