The two-time GRAMMY-nominated blues rock guitar icon JOE BONAMASSA releases his “British Blues Explosion Live” this Friday 18th May on CD/DVD/Blu-Ray & 3LP (Black / Red, White & Blue) via Mascot Label Group in Europe and J&R Adventures in North America.
The celebrated blues-rock guitarist and singer-songwriter also announced he will return to the UK to perform at the Hampton Court Palace Festival on Tuesday 12th June 2018.
We had an early listen to Joe’s tribute to those three Surrey art-school dropouts who, between them, created the phenomena we now call blues-rock: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page.
Bonamassa starts the show (and this recording) with the sour-fizz and muted melodrama of “Beck’s Bolero” with those shimmering pinpoints… and it’s a cordial start with enough energy to hit — probably why it’s used by Beck himself in his concert openings.
Clapton’s interpretation of “Mainline Florida” — a song written by George Terry — is full of expressive rhythm and gurgling riff-work. When we saw this number played live at the Greenwich Royal Naval College in 2016, the legendary keyboardist Reese Wynans honkatonked the Hammond and the Nord and squeezed every last drop out of the keys. This number is one of our favorites from Clapton’s 1974 solo album, 461 Ocean Boulevard and is highlighted by Joe with icy-sharp stings of sound that track their way across the centre portion and remind the listener that this number was written when Clapton was overcoming his heroin addiction.
“Boogie with Stu” is a free-form jam from the 1975 album Physical Graffiti [Led Zeppelin] and the Stu mentioned in the title (as every devotee knows) refers to Ian “Stu” Stewart, the Scottish keyboardist and co-founder of the Rolling Stones, who appeared at the Headley Grange studios one day, and ended up improvising the song with Zeppelin. There’s a story that Plant played guitar on the first recording, and its also true that Page played mandolin as well as electric guitar. Bonamassa’s interpretation retains that uneven boogieness and light-headed rhythm (percussion by Anton Fig on this recording.) It’s a buzz.
Cream’s “SWLABR” written by Pete Brown and Jack Bruce, is found on disc 2 of this exciting package. This has competent vocals from Joe, in amongst masterfully mellifluous mewls and many plovers on guitar.
When Jimmy Page & Robert Plant played “Tea For One” live at the Tokyo Budokan, with amazing interpretative interaction from John Bonham on drums, it was hailed as a masterpiece of song architecture and an incredible compositional masterwork, with contrasting techniques and elements that fight for attention yet synthesize with one another.
Bonamassa’s version of this incredible number contains much the same gravitas and, of course, Joe’s touch and phrase is accurate to the nearest millimeter. There is more than a suggestion of rawness in hisrendition, although the scorched pain is never off the Richter scale like on the Page original. However, Joe is able to suggest plenty of unhealed scars and threatening regrets. Then, halfway through, the guitar screams in agony. It cries in such undeniable pain that, when you close your eyes, you worry about the guitarist’s psychological state. Although when you open up again, you see Bonamassa standing motionless, in his silky suit. Not a hair out of place. He’s a sovereign musician in complete control. A zen master of playing the blues with feeling.
A high-point of the live shows was “Black Winter” — a version of “Black Mountain Side / White Summer” an early instrumental by Page (1969) based on a popular Irish folk song. Here it is technically perfect with just the right amount of mysterious Irish twist and connivance. It’s a song of Celtic mists and whiskeys, of romance and dust, with Gallagher-style string-bending and haunting shadows. There is even a touch of sitar / violin in the template. How did Joe manage that without pedals? I was there and I didn’t see him using any effects. The song transforms poetically into “Django”. Truly fabulous.
If you’re a fan of the Surrey-delta blues and you want to reimagine those damp days of vintage guitars, when they were still freshly painted, the aroma of fuggy basements where reel-to-reels tick-tocked, or smoke-filled lounges at the Marquee, rave ups down the Crawdaddy, and open-ended improvs on Eel Pie Island, this is for you…
This is music of magic. To be able to tap into what it was like growing up as a blues-fan in England during the 1950s and 1960s is an astonishing thing. And it’s even more amazing when you remember it is delivered by a lad from the City of New York who was born the same year Elvis died and that the Pistols created Anarchy. And they say the rock and roll muse is dead? Humbug!
Words: @neilmach 2018 ©
Pictures: Christie Goodwin ©