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Tim: Blues... the Next Generation (Joe Bonamassa)

BLUES… the Next Generation
By T.E. Mattox

here's an old French proverb that states, "the more things change, the more they stay the same." For the life of me, I couldn't think of a more insightful description of modern day blues, even if I tried. One could speculate it was a similar philosophy that became the tipping point for so many American blues musicians, who found themselves drawn toward the European life style. Artists like Champion Jack Dupree, Memphis Slim, Richard Ray Ferrell and Sugar Blue all spent significant portions of their lives playing, living, and recording throughout Europe. Yet, they all shared a common bond; the ties that bind…their roots were buried deep in the blues.

Honeyboy Edwards performing on stage at Long Beach, CA
David 'Honeyboy' Edwards on stage in Long Beach, CA. Photo: Y. Mattox

Watching the Grammy Awards this year, I was again amazed how artists and producers combined so many genres of music into one massive montage of art and sound? But for me, nothing stopped the show like the recognition and respect paid, toward a select group of originators; an extremely talented pool of musicians, singers and performers who set the creative standard for following generations, in blues, jazz, country and popular music.

Today, just when you think you've got a grip on life, the world rotates a little faster, fads return before you know they're gone, and technology blows by us at the speed of sound. You can say exactly the same about contemporary, popular music. So congratulations to the Trustees of the Recording Academy, for presenting the Special Merit Awards, and honoring the Lifetime Achievement of those who paved the way.

One of the recipients this year was a spry, 94-year old bluesman by the name of David 'Honeyboy' Edwards. According to this living legend, "the blues is a feeling." And if anyone should know, Honeyboy would. He used to run with Tommy McClennan, Big Joe Williams, Robert Petway and even worked a number of 'good time' houses around Greenwood, Mississippi in the 1930's with blues icon, Robert Johnson. You can't get better, or more authentic blues credentials than that. Edwards says, "You can start playing blues and the feeling comes down on you, sometime. It's from the heart, the mind."

I found Honeyboy's words to be incredibly prophetic, especially when I sat down with one of the best and the brightest blues guitarists playing today. He's a 33-year old, upstate New Yorker by the name of Joe Bonamassa and the 'feeling came down' on him at a very early age.

"I met B.B.King when I was 12. I was doing shows with him and still in school, obviously. It's been a great experience knowing him and he's the reason why I have a career in music. There are several people that are really responsible for it, but B.B. King is right up there. I've been very, very lucky to have been associated with musicians that have influenced me, but I've gotten to know them. I did a gig with Eric Clapton at the Royal Albert Hall. Clapton, fundamentally influenced my playing and I found out the trend line is pretty interesting. The more well-know and respected people are, generally the nicer they get. And that's so true with B.B. King and so true with Eric Clapton and it's really awesome."

Bonamassa's DVD of the 2009 Royal Albert Hall concert captures a very special moment for Joe; on stage and trading guitar licks with 'Slowhand' himself on the track, 'Further on up the Road.' Bonamassa told me that particular tune was the very first song he learned to play on the electric guitar. And performing at the Royal Albert Hall; well, that too had special significance.

"The Albert Hall was very, very, important to me because all my heroes have played there, from Led Zeppelin to Eric Clapton; you know Clapton's made that place his home for many, many years. It is a very, very special room and it was a very special place for me, as far as being an American kid who really dug the English blues."

Bonamassa says he doesn't listen to a lot of music, when he's not working. "I tend not to fix pipes. Plumbers tend not to fix pipes when they're off. I tour so much." But he adds, "I DO listen to different kinds of music, I don't listen to blues rock all the time. I listen to a lot of jazz, country and bluegrass, and roots Americana. Just different stuff, you know."

Joe Bonamassa performing at the Royal Albert Hall
Joe Bonamassa live from The Royal Albert Hall. Photo courtesy of J & R Adventures

Our conversation turned to the loss of the inventive and exceedingly gifted guitarist, Les Paul. "I did meet Les Paul a couple of times," he told me, but regretfully adds, "never played with him. But he was an icon. A fantastically, well-respected guy whose guitar playing was so genius and his innovations on the guitar were so profoundly influential on a lot of people. Not a lot of people in my generation really realized he was a guy! They just know him from the guitar and all that."

For the past eight years, Bonamassa has been actively involved with a non-profit organization called, 'Blues in the Schools.' He broke it down mathematically for me.

"Sixty percent labor of love and forty percent self-preservation. You've got to have a new generation of fans. Where do you go out to find that new generation of fans? Your local high school. Now we get them to come to the venues, like a little field trip. We just have a really great time with it."

And would he recommend it to other players and musicians?

"I would encourage…no, I would challenge other artists to do the same. I think they have a vested interest in their own careers and giving of their time. A lot of artists won't do anything without getting paid, and obviously you have to make a living, but you also have to support the community that supports you. If you're asking people to come out to gigs and pay money for your tickets, at least you can do is spend a half an hour or forty minutes with their kids in the afternoon. Give back."

I did mention that Joe Bonamassa is just now into his early thirties, didn't I? And people say this new generation is only in it for themselves. When we talked about some of the originators and early bluesmen, it began to feel a lot like the game show, Twenty Questions. Bonamassa was more than willing to play, especially when I mentioned Freddie King…

"I loved his passion. He died before I was born, but some of those videos that are out there. I even found (and purchased) a 1973 ES 355 just like the one he played. Loved that guy."

The King of the Delta Blues Singers, Robert Johnson…
"Robert Johnson wrote the book we all follow. The way he painted pictures with words and lyrics in the blues is a thing that modern blues artists lose sight of….to have a great story behind a song is absolutely wonderful, not that same clichéd thing that happens over and over again. You really have to pay attention to Robert Johnson for the grand lesson for that."

Johnny Winter
"Johnny Winter, I learned how to play slide from….'Highway 61 Revisited.' A true gentleman and one of my heroes."

Muddy Waters
"Muddy Waters for me… fantastic on 'Electric Mud,' my favorite Muddy Waters record. I like it a little edgier, a little more dangerous, I like it more rocking. Marshal Chess did a wonderful job on 'Electric Mud.' It's a little trippy and he got panned when it came out but it really does stand the test of time and it just, to me is the hippest Muddy Waters record out there."

I noted the Winter-Waters recording collaborations had produced four critically acclaimed and award-winning albums….

the writer with Joe Bonamassa, San Juan Capistrano, CA
Coach House, San Juan Capistrano,
CA 2009. Photo: Yachiyo Mattox

"Yeah…and the version of 'Hootchie, Cootchie Man with Johnny doing the shout-backs in the back-ground, you can hear his voice. Fantastic. And a little known fact, those records were recorded in Connecticut, not in the Mississippi delta."

We spoke briefly about Clapton earlier. "My favorite! GOD! Easy, favorite singer, songwriter and guitar player." And B.B.? "It's a tie really between B.B. and Clapton. With B.B.; it's the right note at the right time and the voice. It's coupling with the guitar. Clapton it's the songs, it's the tone. Where B.B. can tell you who he is in one note, Clapton takes two. Still, remarkable. I just think it's a lesson for us kids, to learn to work with what we've got and make it work. You know, those guys had one guitar and one amp….and ruled the world."

You also played with Clarence 'Gatemouth' Brown for a period. "Gatemouth Brown came up to me and told my parents," a huge grin cracks across Bonamassa's face, "…and gave me the ultimate compliment. He said, he's good, but he's white and he's fat. (laughing) I was like, thirteen. Shocker! It was a shocker, right? But you know, I look back on my life and go geez, I've been real lucky. A lot of them aren't with us anymore, Albert Collins and Gatemouth and Danny Gatton. I was just a lucky dude to share the stage with some very heavy players."

Speaking of generational blues….John Hammond.
"John Hammond Sr. or Junior?" Either/Both. "John Hammond Jr. is a gentlemen of gentlemen, a super nice guy. Uber-talented. He's a guy who is a direct link from the original blues to now. I can listen to John Hammond for hours. I saw him in concert in Denver, just brilliant. Here's a guy with such passion oozing out of him, that he can entertain a crowd of three or four thousand with just a dobro guitar and and a microphone. That's something you can't teach. John Hammond Sr. as well, is legendary….a producer and a musicologist."

Jimmy Page
"Jimmy Page is such a well-rounded musician. Brilliant. I think he's a better acoustic guitar player than he is an electric guitar player. His electric guitar playing is fantastic, but it overshadows the genius that comes behind it. The guy wrote 'Stairway to Heaven', 'Since I Been Lovin' You.' Albeit, 'Whole Lotta' Love' was somewhat borrowed from Willie (Dixon). But again, the blues in order for it to survive has to be interpreted by a new generation. He was the second generation going, 'I'm going to take this core idea and turn it into something that explodes.' You can't say enough good things about Jimmy Page."

I can honestly say the same applies when speaking about Joe Bonamassa. You really can't say enough good things about the guy. And his interpretation of the blues is nothing, if not electrifying. Check out his new CD entitled, 'The Ballad of John Henry.' Or if you like watching concerts on your big screen at home, you won't be able to take your eyes off his 'Live from the Royal Albert Hall' DVD. It's totally captivating and a glowing example of the next generation of Blues. But you better do it soon, because you just know there's another 12-year old out there, patiently waiting his turn.


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Let Tim know what you think about his traveling adventure.

I was there at the Shrine to see Bob come in riding on a baby elephant. He says in the interview it was either '68 or 69: it was both – it was New Year's Eve (See "The Bear," an article on Bob Hite),

Debbie Hollier, Nevada City, CA

* * * *

Who else played with Canned Heat and Deep Purple at the Shrine in '68?

Bill, LA

I think the Shrine show on New Years in '68, where Bob Hite rode out on the elephant, also featured Poco, Lee Michaels, Black Pearl, Love Army and Sweetwater. Don't know that Deep Purple was booked on that evening.

Bill, maybe you're thinking about the International Pop Fest in San Francisco a few months earlier that featured these fine folks... Procol Harum, Iron Butterfly, Jose Feliciano, Johnny Rivers, Eric Burdon And The Animals, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Grass Roots, The Chambers Brothers, Deep Purple, Fraternity of Man & Canned Heat or possibly the following year in Jan of 1970 when Deep Purple appeared with Canned Heat and Renaissance on a triple-bill in London at the Royal Albert Hall.

One final note: The current Johnny Otis piece didn't mention it, but it was Mr. Otis that took Canned Heat into the studio the very first time to record in 1966. Small world, ain't it?

Tim

* * * *

Thank u for posting it! Bob is still boogin' around!! (See "The Bear," an article on Bob Hite),

Stefano Di Leonardo, Fisciano (Salerno, Italy)

* * * *

Great Read! (See "The Bear," an article on Bob Hite) I will post it on Bob "THE BEAR" Hite Official Facebook Page,

Dave Tohill, Brandon, UK

* * * *

Hello Tim, thank you so much for letting a huge Canned Heat fan check out this
interview with the Bear. I really enjoyed it.

Best regards,

Rick Caldwell, Fairfield, Ohio

* * * *

I knew Bob Hite in the 60's. Canned Heat played at our high school prom 1966 Rexford High. The Family Dog, Chet Helms, Skip Taylor.

Max Kalik, Los Angeles, CA

Dear Tim,

I just discovered you from an email I received from Preston Smith disclosing his next event. I wanted to tap into his website Prestonsmithmusic but it would not link from your site for some reason. I have to say Preston really is a genius and I met him in Glendale at a jazz club about three years ago, after a fatal accident. By chance, I was invited to spend time hanging out with Preston and some friends after his gig. He is everything you say and I will never forget his amazing creativity and his positive influence in my life.

Janelle, Palm Springs, CA

Love the article! (on Lowell George) Lowell was my father.

Forrest George, Warren, Vermont

This Bob Hite interview is the most interesting thing I have read concerning Canned Heat. I have Fito's book, but I always was interested in learning more about Bob Hite. You did it here my friend...great interview!!!!!

Tony Musto - Pittston, PA

Hey Tim, Great article on Preston! I really enjoyed it and you did your homework. I'll probably catch PS this weekend.

Best,

Dave - Northridge, CA

* * * *

Hello, what a great article on Preston Smith! I actually met Preston one evening after an Acoustic set of my own at the Prestigeous Carlton Hotel here in Atascadero, Ca. We were loading up and he happened to be walking down the sidewalk and stop to say hello. I must say that he is a truly interesting and talented man that NEVER forgets to let me know when he is playing around the Central Coast where I live. It was so fun to read about who he truly is...(as if you don't know him the first time you meet him)! My adventures have only just begun as I recently returned from Nashville recording my self titled debut EP. I can only hope that my adventures down the road are as enlightening as Preston's and that I have the honor of a great writer such as yourself to share them with the world. Thank you for doing just that, sharing "Preston Smith" with the world.

Sincerely,

Amy Estrada - Atascadero, CA

Hi Tim,

My name is Bert, I'm from Italy and I'm a blues harmonica player...I read your article and it reminded me of the two trips I made in the Delta, in 2008 and 2009. I love Frank's music and I think it's a shame people don't really know his work. It's important that people like you write about him. Thank you! In the Delta I was only a "stupid" tourist, but it was a great, unique experience I consider one of the most important in my life: driving on the highways, Listening to the blues everywhere, jamming in places like Red's and ground Zero in Clarksdale or the Blues Bar in Greenville... are priceless things, something I will keep in my heart for the rest of my life. I met a beautiful, lovely woman there too (named Hope), but I behaved like a stupid kid and I lost her... Alas! I will never forget that days and the chance I had to find happiness...Well, I also wrote something about Frank on a website, but it's in Italian... I give you the link of the first part (the second will be published in the next weeks) anyway if you know some Italian or somebody who can understand it... Even if I'm thinking of making a translation ...www.bluessummit.com

Cheers,

Bert - Pavia, Italy

I wanna be Tim!

Brent, Seattle, WA

* * *

Those pictures give you an idea of what the Rockin' Pneumonia actually looks like and it looks BAD! But the man can still play! Enjoyed the article - give us more TRAVELING BLUES BOY!

Steve Thomas - NA, INDIANA

* * *

Good Stuff, Tim. Having been a Johnny Winter fan since the first time I heard Rock n Roll Hoochie Koo, it was great hearing his take on some his highlight moments that defined his blues career. His affiliation with Muddy Waters was particularly interesting. Kudos for bringing that out. Thanks to your dedication to covering the blues scene, this "one of a kind" music still lives for servicemen & women around the world. Keep it Up!

Brandon Williams, Moreno Valley, CA

* * *

Impressive! What a legend and how cool that you got so much time with him, Tim.

Don, Louisville, KY

Tim - Great article, enjoyed Little Feat/Lowell George story, really brought me back in time. Did not know he was a fishin' man! Wonder what surfaces out of the abyss of your memory next?

Steve Thomas, New Albany, IN

* * * *

Tim,

I really liked your travel back in time with Lowell and Little Feat. As a long time Feat fan (mostly the stuff with Lowell) it was cool to read. I learned several of their songs back in the day and they still stand up today when played live. Another singer I really liked from back then is TimBuckley. Thanks for the article.

Chet Hogoboom, Arroyo Grande, CA

Loved your last issue of TB, especially the Mayall piece. I want that guy's job!

Brent, Seattle, WA

Tim,

This is a great write up. Has it been printed in any magazines? It's better than a lot of things I read in my guitar magazines, so props for that.

Caejar, Moreno Valley, CA

Tim,

I can tell that you have this passion for jazz. I wonder if you yourself play any instrument. Or are you just a groupie like most of us?

I talked with a mid-aged flute jazz artist a few weeks ago and he lamented that despite his talents (and he is extremely talented) he says that the industry hasn't been kind to him. He said jobs are few and far between. He said the music industry is combating piracy and competition due to technology being readily available to private homes and that they are not as profitable as before. So they are replacing live talent for synthesized or digital instruments.

Do you see the same trend in your relationships with your music network?

Bob, Pasadena, CA



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