Joe Bonamassa, Back in Black.
Submitted by Dinosaur David B on Tue, 02/16/2010 - 02:57
Interview conducted by Janne Stark (also published in FUZZ magazine, www.fuzz.se). 2/10/2010
Over the years, Joe Bonamassa has been called everything from a wonder kid to the new king of blues-rock. With his new album Black Rock, and the upcoming, star-studded project, Black Country, Joe proves he can combine quantity and quality.
DRG: On Black Rock you have again recorded several covers. Has this become something of your M.O.?
JB: You know, I try to make records that are enjoyable from start to finish -- whether I write twelve tracks, or just five of the twelve tracks. I don’t have an ego about it, I just want it to be enjoyable. Most people just sit back and listen to it. They don’t look at the credits and they don’t care. Like when I was a kid putting on Led Zeppelin or Ike & Tina Turner records it was very rare that people wrote all their material all the time. So, yes, it’s kinda become my M.O. at this time, but it’s a page from a playbook that’s 45 years old.
DRG: I like that you make the covers your own, which makes them fit together really well with your own material.
JB: Thanks. That’s important when you're talking about doing covers. I listen to the original version, maybe twice. I feel, ok we can do this. I get the lyrics and sit down and rewrite the song with the original vibe in mind, or completely different and then at the end of the day they almost become re-writes, which is why they feel like my own. You know, sometimes ignorance is bliss.
DRG: You’ve also given the old Beck-track Spanish Boots a nice swagger.
JB: Yes, you know, the original version is beautiful because is ramshackle and it starts really great and then sort of off base. There’s no real structure to it. What I wanted was to give it a structure and a melody as much as I could. I’ve been trying to pull it off for ten years, but never got the vocals to work and I was not feeling I was worthy of singing it. So finally I’m ready to sing it in the proper key.
DRG: Weren’t you sort of intimidated interpreting Beck?
JB: I don’t care. Honestly. I’m not talking about Jeff in particular, I met him and he’s a really great man. I’ve been lucky enough the last 4-5 years to meet a lot of my heroes and truthfully, with the exception of very few, Eric Clapton being one of them and Jeff Beck, I’ve been disappointed almost every time. I've had some bad experiences come from hero-worshipping, so I’m done hero-worshipping. I don’t know if they were in bad moods for one reason or another, but at the end of the day, I’ve taken this attitude. To love their music is one thing. To be intimidated -- especially if they’re just gonna be rude to you because that’s the way they roll is another thing. I’m just a fan, regardless of what you think of my music. Fuck my records, who cares, right? It’s like, if you don’t like what I do, you don’t have to say it, just be a human being and be nice. I meet people I don’t like, but I’m not an ass about it. Just because you made a great record and people lie to you just to kiss your ring, that doesn’t give you the right to be an ass. So when I approached this record, all that went out the window. I felt if we’re gonna do a cover song, we're gonna do it the way we want to do it. And that’s it. About the Beck song, we did it a couple of years ago and (the idea of recording it) kinda stuck around.
DRG: Well, that seems to work. Like with Steal Your Heart Away, which is quite far from the Bobby Parker original.
JB: Robert Plant had come to Kevin Shirley’s house. Plant is super-nice, and he’s been following what we’ve been doing over the last 4-5 years. He’s like: "You know Kevin, you guys should do Bobby Parker’s Steal Your Heart Away because we were going to work it up for Led Zeppelin in one session, but we never got around to it and the record was finished, everybody was excited and Atlantic put it out." I was like, yeah dude, thanks for the tip. We listened to it and it was perfect for us. We added that kinda Zeppelin riff up front and just went from there. It was the perfect opener for the album coz it really sets the tone for that old English kinda like mid-rangey analogue sounding British blues record. That was what we were going after. That youthful, reckless abandon kinda record.
DRG: There are also some nice Zep overtones in Blue & Evil.
JB: Yes, I stole from Jimmy Page who stole from the rest of them. No offence (haha).
DRG: What I felt when listening to this album, like in When The Fire, is that the sound is really raw at times.
JB: Yes, for some reason. We recorded the basic tracks in the same studio all in one day, over the course of three days, but for some reason When the fire sounds like something done in Muscle Shoals. It was recorded in the same scale and I love the sonic temper of that track. It’s one of the favourite tracks I’ve ever done on any record. It just has this kinda juke joint, like English blues guys doing Mississippi juke joint music recorded in Muscle Shoals. It’s a very weird combination, but it just works for me. I love the rawness of that track. It just kinda sits right.
DRG: Then on the other hand you have Quarrymen’s Lament, which is really sweet sounding and really beautiful.
JB: Can you believe we did that and When The Fire in the same day? Talk about shifting gears!
DRG: On this album you’ve also tried a bit of different instrumentations, like more horns in Night Life and in other places.
JB: Yes, the horn section was totally on purpose. I mean we have BB King coming up to sing on the record so we had to have horns and do it right. The Greek guys add such a beautiful feeling to three of the other tracks. It really brought home what we were trying to do with the album, really.
DRG: In When The Fire, is that a Dobro with slide you’re playing?
DRG: You also managed to get BB King to guest on this album.
DRG: I also have to complement you on the excellent live DVD.
DRG: What I like about it is that a lot of DVDs today, they just put up a few cameras and roll. You put a lot of work in it, both with light setting and sound.
JB: It was a special moment. When we got the gig, everything was worry worry worry. It was like, ok, can we fill the seats? Fortunately we got past that hurdle. Then it was, let’s record this! It could be the greatest situation we ever got ourselves into, and it was! So before you know it, we got a whole big band, two drummers, horns and everything. I wrote a little letter to God and he came. It’s a big deal. The weight of this thing! Talk about sand bags on your shoulders. Nine cameras, three busses full of people, trucks and people I don’t even remember their names. I didn’t even have the time to show them the courtesy of remembering their names. May 4th you had the weight of the world on your shoulders and that’s a lot of pressure. Everybody did such a great job and Kevin Shirley, again. He put the whole thing together, dealt with the camera and sound crews.
DRG: Yes, two drummers, that’s kinda putting it out there.
JB: Well, we did have some rehearsals (haha). We had four gigs travelling around Europe a week before and we rehearsed diligently. That one shot was a quarter of a million Euros right on the line. That’s a lot of money for a little company like J&E Adventures and Provogue Records. We had one shot to get it right and thank god we did!
DRG: You also had a bonus track. Why was it not included in the show.
DRG: So tell me a bit about The Black Country.
DRG: Cool! So what’s your approach when recording this?
DRG: It feels a bit like the same attitude Hagar, Satriani etc. had with Chickenfoot.
DRG: So, what equipment did you use on Black Rock?
DRG: Yes, there’s a great crunch in your sound.
DRG: And Kevin Shirley is still the man?
JB: He’s my best friend, my musical mentor and I won’t make a record without him. I won’t do The Black Country without him, or my record. We’re pretty much locked in. Roy manages the show, Kevin produces the albums and I play guitar and the label does their thing. Everybody’s got a role.
We at the Dinosaur Rock Guitar would like to thank Joe Bonamassa and Janne Stark for this interview. Copyright ©2010 All rights reserved.
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