Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday December 1st 2015


Tangled Up in Blues

Guitar king Joe Bonamassa visits Pensacolas Saenger Theatre
By Brett Hutchins

If you know nothing else about Joe Bonamassa, know this: he is a bluesman. You can hear it in his note choice and growling vocals. You can see it in the way he struts on stage. You can hear it when he speaks about the deep impact the blues has had on him. This is a man who was born to do thisliterally.

The son of a New York guitar shop owner, Bonamassa was in a musically-nurturing environment throughout his childhood. By age four, he knew what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. Despite the child prodigy label often placed on young players, Bonamassa was never pressured into something he was uninterested in. I was never forced to practice, Bonamassa recently explained to the IN. Guitar was something I took to like ducks take to water.

As a kid, it was the heavy hitters of British blues rockmost notably Cream, Jeff Beck, and Zeppelinthat resonated the most for Bonamassa. Its all subject to taste, but when you listen to Creams version of Crossroads as opposed to Robert Johnsons, to an eight-year-old kid, that sound is a lot more exciting. Ultimately, I ended up addressing the subtleties and rediscovering the original stuff later, but as a kid, it was exciting listening to those British interpretations.

After a couple of major record label deals early in his career, Bonamassa made a conscious decision to build his career independently. He has no qualms when comparing the way he does things with the current state of popular music. Necessity is the mother of invention. When youre talking about this type of music, major labels dont want to get involved. They want big singles with videos and exploding things on stage.

Bonamassa is proud of his career and the work it has taken to achieve the things he has. With nine records under his belt, its easy to see how such a rabid fan base has grown over time. It is this committed audience that he plays for, not his critics. I dont base my career on what people think or whether they respect it or not. I base my career on smiling faces and happy fans. What he calls the brick by brick approach to his career was a gamble at first, but it has proven hugely beneficial.

All this hard work came to a head at a May 2009 sold-out performance at Londons famous Royal Albert Hall that Bonamassa calls a culmination of 20 years of hard work. He was also joined by one of his boyhood idols for a songnone other than Eric Clapton. The call and response section of Claptons original Further on Up the Road is something that music fans have to admire. When asked whether it was overwhelming to be sharing the stage with Clapton on his home turf, Bonamassa was gracious and conciliatory. The whole thing was surreal. How could I ever repay Eric for that?

Collaborations are nothing new for Bonamassa, however. At the age of 33, its mind-boggling to consider the names he has played with: artists as diverse as blues master B.B. King and legendary bluegrass picker Sam Bush. Bonamassas most recent project, Black Country Communion, is a super-group of sorts. Joining Bonamassa are Jason Bonham (son of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham), Deep Purples Glenn Hughes and keyboardist Derek Sherinian. This combination is a brute force of American and British rock.

Although Bonamassa has proven to be a workhorse in the studio, the stage is where his gifts become most obvious. His presence is undeniable, and he has the unique ability to combine raw, unadulterated electric blues with more delicate turns of guitar phrase. It is this total package that promises to give Pensacolas beautiful Saenger Theatre and its patrons the show it deserves.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 1
WHERE: Saenger Theatre, 118 S. Palafox Place
COST: $39-$69