For most musicians, opening for blues legend B.B. King would be the pinnacle moment of their career. But for Joe Bonamassa, who shared the stage with King in 1989 when he was all of 12 years old, it was only the start. Since then, Bonamassa has established himself as one of the premier guitar virtuosos of his generation, and he has also distinguished himself as an incisive and compelling songwriter, a gutsy and soulful vocalist, as well as one of the most popular touring-and-recording artists around, averaging over 100 sold-out shows worldwide each year while amassing a body of work that spreads the already deep waters of the blues-rock form.
Still in his 30s, Bonamassa has already racked up more #1 Billboard Blues Albums than any other artist in history – 16 and counting – the most recent being his brand-new studio solo album, Blues of Desperation (J&R Adventures) which was released March 25. In addition, this album landed at #5 on the Billboard Top Album Sales, his highest charting yet. Blues of Desperation also hit #2 on the Top Independent Album chart and #12 on the Top 200 Consumption Chart, which includes album streams and single track downloads.
His previous studio solo album, Different Shades of Blue, debuted at #8 on the Billboard Top 200, the highest-ranking blues album in almost two years. Critics were unanimous in their praise for the album, with MOJO calling it Bonamassa’s “most cohesive and satisfying artistic statement yet” and Uncut hailing it as “the best yet and then some from an artist whose vision continues to expend with every release.” Prior to Different Shades of Blue, in 2013 Bonamassa issued the Live from the Royal Albert Hall DVD featuring Eric Clapton, which went platinum.
Bonamassa’s new release, Blues of Desperation, is a galvanizing set of 11 originals he recorded last summer in Nashville with longtime producer Kevin Shirley at the helm. For the album, Bonamassa collaborated with some of Music City’s most revered tunesmiths, with the material ranging from elegant and stately blues ballads to stomping, swaggering rockers to richly textured, transcendent, acoustic-based Americana. As a singer, Bonamassa continues to evolve as a fiery, heartfelt communicator, and when it comes to guitar playing, he’s second to none: Blues of Desperation brims with solos that are barn-razing one minute, soul-nourishing the next. The critics have already been
Remarkably, Blues of Desperation is Bonamassa’s 12th studio solo album in only 16 years, a feat even more astonishing when you consider his fleet of side projects, such as two collaborations with singer-songwriter Beth Hart (2011’s Don’t Explain and 2013’s Seesaw, the latter of which earned Bonamassa his first Grammy nomination for Best Blues Album), whom he is set to record another duo album of soul covers with this summer. In addition, there is last year’s Ooh Yea! – The Betty Davis Songbook, on which the guitarist teamed with Australian singer Mahalia Barnes and her band the Soul Mates (the two are set to go back into the studio together this summer, as well). Additionally, Bonamassa found time last year to jam with the merry funksters in Rock Candy Funk Party, who issued their sophomore album, Groove is King, to great acclaim.
Few artists thirst for the thrill of live performance quite like Joe Bonamassa, and his concert cycle for 2016 began with the realization of a dream – two performances at Carnegie Hall in New York City that conclude a month-long, intimate acoustic tour. (Last year, he made another goal real when he played a pair of nights at Radio City Music Hall, which resulted in the just-released DVD/Blu-ray and CD Live at Radio City Music Hall.) Following the acoustic dates, Bonamassa and his band hit the road for a full-on electric tour. The guitarist’s live performances have also been a favorite on PBS, with such shows as Tour de Force, Muddy Wolf at Red Rocks and An Acoustic Evening at the Vienna Opera House pulling big ratings.
Muddy Wolf at Red Rocks along with the recent Three Kings Tour were the first in an ongoing series of tribute shows that Bonamassa is performing to raise funds for the non-profit Keeping The Blues Alive Foundation he founded and oversees. The objective for the foundation is to offset the loss of music education programs whose budgets have been diminished over the past decade. KTBA provides new instruments, sheet music, classroom management tools and scholarships to schools across the country.
In support of KTBA, Bonamassa will be releasing Live At The Greek Theatre, an all-new CD/DVD combo showcasing his tribute to the Three Kings of the Blues. The show, which was filmed at the historic Greek Theatre in Los Angeles last year, will also be airing on Palladia, MTV Live, and Public Television.
For those who like their blues with a little nautical action, in February Bonamassa set sail on Keeping The Blues Alive At Sea II (the follow-up to last year’s maiden voyage), a four-day cruise from Miami to Cozumel, Mexico that featured, in addition to Joe, some of the most celebrated names in blues. This maritime Music Festival raised over $50,000 for the KTBA Foundation, and also spotlighted a group of up-and-coming musicians chosen to perform on the ship’s stages. Bonamassa is pleased to announced that he will set sail once again for Keeping The Blues Alive at Sea III, this time with new group of emerging talent from February 6-10, 2017. One of Bonamassa’s passions is nurturing new blues talent, a tradition passed down to him by his greatest mentor, B.B. King:
"He helped me get started in the music business,” Bonamassa explains. “It was this humility and this giving back to other artists that has stayed with me,” Bonamassa continues, “and it’s something that I try and do with other artists in my own career. B.B.’s legacy in my life was that he gave me a stage and allowed me to play to his audience, and some of his audience became my audience. I can never repay the debt of gratitude that I have for this man that befriended me and gave me that opportunity.”
B.B. King might not have guessed it at the time, but that 12-year-old whiz kid would go on to become an industry powerhouse. Ten years ago, Bonamassa and his longtime manager, Roy Weisman, started their own record label, management and concert promotion company called J&R Adventures, and together the two mavericks devised an independent business model that has survived and thrived during one of the music industry’s most uncertain eras.
It’s no understatement when Bonamassa says that “2016 will be another long and busy year for me.” Underscoring this remark, he runs down his dizzying to-do list: “Starting with a ground-breaking DVD shoot in the US at Carnegie Hall, and then our second annual Keeping the Blues Alive at Sea Music Festival will launch our spring tour of Germany, the U.K., Australia and the U.S. Next, we do the summer ‘tribute’ tour that will pay homage to the British Blues Explosion (Clapton, Beck & Page), which will be ‘legendary.’ During the summer, I’m working on getting back into the studio with Beth Hart. And then it’s more touring around the world – From Australia and back to North America. Wash, rinse and repeat!”