The extraordinary and tireless musician JOE BONAMASSA will release a brilliantly detailed documentary on December 8, 2020 titled “GUITAR MAN” through Paramount Home Entertainment (in time for Christmas) that opens the curtain on an incredible career in the blues .
We recently described his 2020 album Royal Tea as: “a substantial milestone in his musical journey […] with songs that see him take several steps forward, a moment of revelation…” and in many ways this new documentary is a companion piece to that music.
The film brings us discoveries about the visceral (as well as cerebral) genius who became Billboard’s number one blues artist of all time and who even had a painful “blues” birth…
From New Hartford New York, via Red Rocks, Morrison and even stopping by for a sneak look inside “Nerdville” Los Angeles this insight show demonstrates how the unappealing kid in jeans and baseball cap becomes the distant and standoffish stage performer (described as “a little like Howard Hughes” in the film) and who wows the huge crowd like nobody else can… yet, he’s so unobtrusive, he can walk through the crowd at the end of the evening and nobody will recognise him. Since childhood, he’s always been the lost kid who came to entertain the crowd. But he’s two people: Average Joe and Smokin’ Joe.
From a family of Italian-American musicians (big band jazz) we get information from Joe’s parents and early memories from Joe: “I just wanted to make some money so I could buy a Fender amp.” And we learn from his father that his first guitar was a Chiquita (designed for aeroplane use).
Opening for B.B. King (followed by all the other big names via the Jane Pauley TV show) who wanted a slice of the thirteen year old kid with the singing guitar, he soon became a darling of the blues set. But we all know that wunderkind sensations all suffer a fall in the end. And often they don’t recover.
After the Jane Pauley show, the Weisman family came on board to handle the wonder boy. They had a lot of experience with big names (Sinatra, Liza Minnelli) and created what they described as a “sons-of” band named “Bloodline” — a concept specifically formulated as an experimental launch pad for “Joey” — while he developed and explored his way into the blues. “The only guy who could get any kind of record out of us was Joe Hardy from Houston (ZZ Top).” Bonamassa remembers.
However, the band would always fall apart and when the crash came, as was widely predicted, this was the turning point for Joe. He knew he was “Not exactly show biz material” and had reached the age of eighteen, so, having reached adulthood, “no one cared anymore.” He realized he was just another struggling eighteen-year-old guitarist, and no longer anyone’s wonderboy. Of course, he didn’t sing at that stage either. And yet through Phil Ramone’s label he thought he was ready to do some demos with Terry Manning… but this came right as the label closed. Lost in New York, he now became the iconic lost guitar-for-hire.
Napster obliterated the industry just as Joe found his touchwood: “You have to get to the stage where you nothing to lose” before you find your mojo, he muses. A little later, the Weismans found producer & engineer Kevin Shirley, who told the guitarist (in no uncertain terms) that his power trio band “had to go.” Shirley stayed. The trio didn’t.
“I wanted to get AAA pedigree players,” says Shirley. And, at last, Joe was presented with a group of musicians who could take him beyond himself and into new horizons.
But when Joe got “very uncomfortable” with being asked to do vocal harmony, the guitarist stopped things and perhaps, for the first time, lost his nerve. After a sudden move to Georgia (where he got his fingers burnt for the first ever time, and experienced, perhaps, his earliest brokenhearted pain) this period also taught the blues performer to put his everything into his music: lifeblood, worksweat and of course, those tears of agony.
We learn how “Sloe Gin” (shared below) became the first standout Bonamassa number, and the story behind the song. And how the “Quarryman’s Lament” got its name.
And the film explores the first Albert Hall show (May 4th 2009) “We were all-in… we had to ask for a loan to put that show on.” They quite literally bet their houses on that concert. “We didn’t know what was gonna happen…” Bonamassa recalls, “at least 10,000 things could go wrong.” But the show’s success cemented his reputation as a truly outstanding performing artist.
And we join Joe and Kevin (Shirley) on a blues road trip to the “Crossroads” Dockery, Mississippi, where the blues were born. And learn why Joe wanted to take tribute shows to the stadium level. And how the “Three Kings” performances were built and why keeping the blues alive is so important to him.
“I’ve never engineered a solo” Bonamassa says. And that’s true — because blues doesn’t work like that. That’s what they mean by “different shades” of blue…
The blues are transformational, the blues are intuitive, and the blues are improvised. However, and above all, the blues are all about struggle and effort. In this movie we see why Joe is the most ingenious blues-rock innovator of all — how, as a musical alchemist he has turned blue to gold — but, perhaps most importantly, we learn how he became the most conscientious guitar man on the planet.
Words: @neilmach 2020 ©
Pre-Order link – https://paramnt.us/GuitarManSite
The feature brings behind the scenes interviews, live concert footage, and showcases some of the biggest names in music.
The documentary is to be released on Video-On-Demand and for Digital purchase December 8, 2020 via Paramount Home Entertainment.