It’s not often you get to witness a living legend, even before he is actually considered a living legend. However, Joe Bonamassa is well on his way to becoming just that.
The 41-year-old blues guitarist has already had a stellar career having been nominated for two Grammy Awards, selling more than three million albums, seeing 20 of those albums reach No. 1 on the Billboard Blues Chart, and even creating his own music festival, “Keeping the Blues Alive at Sea,” a mega-cruise benefiting his charity, the Keeping The Blues Alive Foundation.
Bonamassa just released his 13th solo studio album, Redemption, on September 18. As usual with any Bonamassa release, he is going on the road to support it. The tour includes a stop at The Embassy Theatre November 6, where he will bring a whole new life to a show featuring new songs alongside career-spanning favorites.
During this visit, Bonamassa will be backed by a stellar band of legendary musicians including Anton Fig on drums (Letterman, Ace Frehley), Michael Rhodes on bass (Faith Hill, Randy Travis), Rock n’ Roll Hall of Famer Reese Wynans on piano/organ (Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble), Lee Thornburg on trumpet (Tower of Power), and Paulie Cerra on saxophone.
Redemption sees Bonamassa “at his most ambitious yet as he continues to redefine and push the barriers of blues-rock,” according to a press release. “Crafted with longtime producer Kevin Shirley, it features a collection of 12 songs that weave effortlessly through an assortment of genres and reflect the artistic re-birth that he is currently experiencing.”
Upon closer inspection, we find Bonamassa getting more personal with his music on Redemption. We’ve rarely seen the guitarist as introspective as when he powers his way through these 12 meticulously crafted songs. Full of trademark licks and instantly memorable riffs, the songs push the boundaries of blues-rock to areas we’ve seldom seen explored.
“I’m going through some other stuff in my life I didn’t expect to be going through,” the guitarist told Parade Magazine. “It’s a rising, it’s contrition, it’s acceptance, it’s everything. It’s painful, but knowing that there’s a rising coming. We made a record called Blues of Desperation and this seemed to be the next logical step. To look inward before looking outward. Sometimes you have to blame yourself before you can blame others. And that’s kind of the frame of mind I’ve been in for the last year or so.”
If it seems like Bonamassa is almost always on the road, it’s because he is almost always on the road. The guitarist plays 200 or more shows per year at venues all around the world. Fortunately for fans, he never seems to tire of the routine. An enthusiastic performer, his live shows are the main reason Bonamassa has been able to enjoy career longevity. He has risen from a 12-year-old child star opening for B.B King to a universally admired performer to a “must-see” act over the years. The proof is in the numbers: concert insider Pollstar recently lists him as one of the top 50 highest-grossing live acts in the world for 2018.
Bonamassa isn’t just a musical talent; the man has business sense as well. With a foresight in looking at the rapidly changing music industry, Bonamassa six years ago formed J&R Adventures with his manager, Roy Weiss, to preserve his interests.
“Roy and I go back 25 years,” he told Classic Rock Revisited. “His business strategy was to build a high-end brand thing. We’ve been very protective of that. We very rarely do festival dates and very rarely do we play outside of our own sandbox. Over the course of ten years, I am seeing deals done with major labels and major concert promoters that marginalize someone’s brand. You’re starting to see it now with rumors that all Live Nation concerts will be streamed live on YouTube next year.”
“On paper it makes millennials shout from the rooftops about how great they are,” he continued. “Truth be told, it is like handing an artist a shovel, a plot of land, and a gun. They are not only going to knock you out but they are going to make you dig your own grave first. The article I read showed that the bands are all excited about it. That is some good Kool-Aid.”
To his credit, Bonamassa continues to forge ahead and plans to continue the business model that helped him become as successful as he has over the years, and that includes continuing to play live shows whenever he can with as much enthusiasm as he can.
“Musically, my theory is that you’ve always got to go out there and play with fire. Play like it is your last show and make them notice you. That has not changed in my entire career, 27 years on. I have to go out and make an impression. During those lean years in the early 2000s, well, I look back at those times and it was a lot of fun. It was a struggle, but we were working towards something. At that time, our backs were against the wall on every show of every tour. We didn’t have enough money to get from Point A to Point B. Now, I have four tour buses and two semi-trucks. That is self-made, you know.”
Whether you’re a classic rock fan, a blues fan, or just a music fan, if you’ve never seen Bonamassa live before, you should take the opportunity to experience this guitar great for yourself. After seeing him fly around the fret board for two hours or so, you’ll be wondering why you waited so long. Bonamassa is a living guitar hero who loves to play in front of his Fort Wayne fans, who usually help bring out the best in him.
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