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The last time The Blade reached Joe Bonamassa back in 2014, he talked about the freedom of making and releasing music on his own terms, even as he was tuning guitars for his show that night.
This time, the blues musician called from Portland shortly before playing a two hour-long set before 3,000 people.
“We put out our own records, and we don’t really live in the music business,” he said. “I don’t take myself so serious, but I take the music very serious. It's this double-edged sword that, to me, has been critical in our development, because I can have a laugh about myself, but in return I take the show and the music very seriously.”
The guitarist, who has shared the stage with such legendary musicians as B.B. King, Eric Clapton, and John Lee Hooker, will return to Toledo on Monday night for another performance at the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. The Stranahan is calling it the “Guitar Event Of The Year.”
Who: Joe Bonamassa
When: 8 p.m. Monday
Where: Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd.
Tickets: $82 to $128 at the venue box office or at www.etix.com
Since the age of 9, Bonamassa has been a force behind his guitar, a path he continues today at age of 40 without any signs of feeling burned out. Aside from his solo career, he can be seen playing his guitar in Black Country Communion, a powerhouse act with members including drummer Jason Bonham, the son of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple, Black Sabbath), and Derek Sherinian, who has toured and recorded with Alice Cooper and Billy Idol.
Bonamassa also spends time as a guitarist for the electronica band Rock Candy Funk Party and still manages to use what’s left of his time hammering out solo albums.
He said his secret in devoting time to several different projects is planning releases as far as a year out. Last year he released his latest full-length solo album, Blues Of Desparation, as well as a live album Live At The Greek Theatre. This year alone, he released a live acoustic album, Live At Carnegie Hall, a full-length disc with Black Country Communion, and another album with Rock Candy Funk Party.
“I like to live in a bubble, and I don’t like to have to adhere to whomever's vision of what I should be doing, and I’ve always said that,” he said. “I prefer life in the bubble, and it’s always been a good place to be, especially for me because I am in a niche market. It's not music for everybody, and it’s also music that I do enjoy.”
The interview took place four days after a gunman opened fire from a hotel room in Las Vegas and killed 58 people. How does a performer who spends much of his life onstage respond to such a tragedy?
“In 2017 I would like to say we’re moving in the right direction, but to me I think we’re tumbling down the cliff at an alarming rate, and it is what it is,” he said.
Bonamassa said he doesn’t normally think about a tragedy like Las Vegas while preparing for a show, but there are precautions that wouldn’t necessarily have been taken five or 10 years ago.
Gone are the times of showing up to the venue and simply setting up stage equipment. These days, Bonamassa’s team has hired a full-time security guard acting as a liaison to each venue who locates and informs his team of areas where an attacker could potentially enter, along with the proper exits. It’s also not uncommon when arriving to that night’s theater to go through a metal detector, sometimes even to get to the back of the stage.
He said it’s just a sign of the times.
“If we choose as a society to live like this, then that’s how we choose to live as a society,” he said. “It’s not a question of, ‘Oh my God. Is this ever going to happen again?’ It’s a question of when.”
Just as other tragedies have happened in the past — he specifically mentioned the shooting at the Bataclan theater in Paris during an Eagles of Death Metal concert in 2015, a venue where Bonamassa has performed — he said the attacks can happen anywhere.
“You’re not going to change people's very entrenched opinions about guns and mental health, and I know people on both sides of the argument; it's just they’re not going to change,” he said. They don’t believe the gun has anything to do with it, and they think the person has to do with it, and I know [people] who believe the gun has everything to do with it.
“I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle,” he said. “You can’t let a mentally ill person go buy a collection of guns when [they] clearly shouldn't have them. I mean that’s common sense. It can happen anywhere, but you can’t live your life in fear.”
Bonamassa also spoke about the late musician Tom Petty, who’d passed away several days before The Blade’s interview.
“Tom (Petty) just died, there’s too many losses of irreplaceable talent; it's not being replaced,” he said. “I don’t know if we're in a place where it can be replaced artistically. When Tom Petty came up in those late ’70s, he was still hanging around the Beatles and his mentors. I don’t really know where it goes from here. We lost B.B. King a couple years ago. We lost Greg Allman this year. The list goes on and on.”
Asked what impression he’s striving to leave behind after being called one of the best modern blues guitarists, he said he hopes to let his music speak for itself.
“We offer an escape, and we're not political,” he said. “We don’t preach our beliefs; we don’t care what everybody thinks because we play music.”
“I gotta run. I got something going on in about 2 minutes,” he said at the end of the interview. It was just another moment of the musician making use of his time, and he was on schedule.
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