It is amazing to think that it took three bored art-school dropouts — suburban middle-class white boys from Surrey — to rekindle the flames of desire for the introverted music we know as the demon-ridden Delta blues.
That was back in the mid 1960s and their reinterpretations have lived on. Inspiring a whole new and exciting genre. The sound we call Blues Rock.
It is even more extraordinary to think that it takes a relatively young native of New York — born the same year that Elvis died and the Pistols created Anarchy — to reminds us of the astonishing legacy we inherited from that Surrey Delta trio.
Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page provided us with a rock heritage that reverberates still. In fact, Blues Rock is not only living & breathing, but the sound also crosses boundaries and genres and has influenced the worlds of heavy metal, folk, grunge-rock and even prog.
JOE BONAMASSA’S father exposed the young guitar prodigy to those British Blues Invasion sounds from a very early age; In particular, the young guitar-man recalls being shown a video of Cream’s Farewell Concert recorded at the Royal Albert Hall. He says that this show made quite an impression on him and survives as a major inspiration.
“If it wasn’t for certain British musicians of the early 1960s, the Blues may well never have exploded into Rock music as we know it today, and indeed may have passed into history.” Said Bonamassa.
The inventive and evocative English interpretation of the blues has constantly inspired the Grammy nominated guitarist, singer and composer.
So much so that he decided to take a new show on the road: A SALUTE TO THE BRITISH BLUES EXPLOSION. Played at some superb locations in Britain it is designed to demonstrate that there is still a lot to love and to learn from the British blues movement of the 1960s.
We saw Joe Bonamassa’s show at the LONDON GREENWICH MUSIC TIME FESTIVAL on 7th JULY 2016.
The open-air concert in front of almost 5,000 began with quick castanet rhythms and military quickstep beats laid down by Anton Fig [known as David Letterman’s drummer] before the seductive charm of the inter-twisting guitar-notes became prominent fibres on the “Bolero”.
Jeff Beck’s Latin-laced influences radiated out across the tidy gardens of the Old Royal Naval College as Joe used his bottleneck almost immediately. The Mediterranean temperament was soon drowned out by the characteristically heavy chops of “Rice Pudding” and the first of several exciting riff-variants which were to be enjoyed during the evening.
“Mainline Florida” had dulcet harmonies and some super-slippery organ notes. This is actually a ‘newer’ song from Clapton’s 461 Ocean Boulevard songbook. At Greenwich we could hear the evocatively captured sea-spray and the golden richesse evoked by this George Terry number.
Bonamassa took center stage at Greenwich, with four of “the greatest musicians in the world…” As well as Fig on drums we were also blessed with some exemplary bass-play from Nashville’s Michael Rhodes, astonishing musicality from multi-instrumentalist [keys and guitars] Russ Irwin [introduced as Joe’s next-door neighbour]. Plus superior organ and grand piano from the notable rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame inductee and Double-Trouble keyboards player Reese Wynans.
Wynans played a trill and tingling woogie on “Boogie With Stu” – the Physical Graffiti Led Zeppelin number that probably originated long before the original recording was laid-down in 1971. This song was a curious choice for the set, exhibiting proud percussion and clever keys, but was not an obvious guitar number.
The JBG cover “Let Me Love You” was a far better choice. “Jeff Beck’s Truth [1968 ] was the first record I had as a kid...” Bonamassa told us. And his interpretation of this Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart number was lanky and spry. Much like the much desired limber-lady of obvious attention “Baby, when you walk / You shake just like a willow tree…”
“This has been a tough show for us to learn and play ...” Bonamassa admitted.
And it’s easy to see why. For example, who but Joe would dare to cover the 1967 Cream number “SWLABR” based on Pete Brown’s psychedelic & eccentric poetry.
But the show wasn’t full of art and fartery … There was also some authentic twelve-bar blues numbers to make our mouth’s water. Such as Willie Dixon’s “I Can’t Quit You Baby” magnificently relaunched by Led Zeppelin and illuminated by Page, in 1969.
So the Yardbird heroes were properly saluted: “If it wasn’t for those three guitar heroes, Beck, Clapton and Page, I would probably have become as vacuum cleaner salesman...” Bonamassa told the chuckling crowd.
In this regard, one could argue that Bonamassa ignored the contributions of the “founding fathers” of British Blues — luminaries like Alexis Korner, Peter Green and John Mayall. [though Double Crossing Time and Little Girl were covered.]
But Beck, Page and Clapton were his guys … we have to acknowledge that. His superior interpretations of their works wasn’t just about commending and honouring their contribution either … No, it was also about making the sounds pass on to new cohorts — to the Millennials and beyond — because the blue devils still breathe. The poetry and the pain still motivates.
Bonamassa holds the keys to the past, present and future of the Blues. He allows the music to live on through his fingers …
On March 2016 Bonamassa released his newest studio album, Blues of Desperation. We reviewed the album here