When you look at the last 15 months in your mind’s eye, what has moved and driven you the most?
I learned two things since we were kind of put into semi-retirement 15 months ago. As a musician I’ve learned that I’m not a guitar player, I’m not a singer, I’m not a songwriter, I’m an entertainer! Because what I do requires an audience. I don’t sit at home and play all day. I don’t sit a home and make videos for social media. To me: I require a live audience and I feel like I’m best if I have a live audience! You take the live audience away, my whole world kinda topples down like a housecards. What I’ve learned, what’s moved me and driven me the most in the last year is the fact we been able to raise over 600.000 dollars for bands and musicians that had been really affected by the shutdown. And we’ve given away, you know, all of that money and we’re still raisin money. And that’s really driven me. The philantropy is really driven me and it gave me a new passion. And so far, you know, “Keeping The Blues Alive Foundation“ raised over 1.5 million dollars for music and schools and now are fueling musicians programme, which both are very, very worthwile causes
Last year you released the very successful album “Royal Tea”. It made it into the top 5 of the album charts. What was it about the reactions to “Royal Tea” that amazed you the most and perhaps also pleased you a little?
I was very happy that people understood the concept of “Royal Tea“. I was very happy the fact that we went to London, recorded at Abbey Road, may as sound like it was recorded in the UK made it very English sounding record and people got it. It would have dissapointed me if like, you know, went over there and we did it twice and people was go: Ooh, it sounds like a Americana record. No, no, it was really Made In England for that reason is to kind of like have all that culture and history of the studio. And livin in the town kinda just permeate into the music
Now you are back with the brandnew album “Time Clocks”, an extremely multi-layered work that on the one hand points back to your past, but on the other hand also points towards the future. Please tell us a little bit more about the idea, the concept and the content of “Time Clocks”!
“Time Clocks” is form e a record that is an extension of “Royal Tea“ in the sense that the song “Time Clocks” was written for “Royal Tea“, but I forgot about it, because we attempted “Royal Tea“ twice! Once in july of 2019 and than again in january 2020, because our drummer Anton Fig broke his ankle. And all the songs I’d written in july got put into a play-list, except for one, which was “Time Clocks“. And than when I saw that that I missed that song I re-summited it and it became the titel-track. And it was actually the right track for this record, not for our previous album. So, you know, the whole thing about “Time Clocks“: It really is the passage of time, personified, because I’m here doin this interview at 44 years old. I can blink and eye remember my 40th birthday, I can also blink and eye and I’ll be 45. So, half a decade is passed and it doesn’t seem like a long stretch of time. So, I guess that happens to everybody as you get older. But I wanna do adress that in terms of my own life and my own career and my own music
On “Time Clocks” you talk a lot about your life on the road in all that time. Surely this view of it, in the eye of the pandemic, is different than it was two years ago. What used to be completely normal is now a rarity. How difficult was it for you to come to terms with this and accept it?
That’s a good question! And it’s not just me! The thing about havíng something so familiar, been taken away! It’s not playin shows, it’s not playin guitar, it’s not writin songs, not makin music, it’s not posting stupid pictures on instagram … it’s travel! The fact that you couldn’t travel! And one of the things I like about my job the most is that I’m paid to travel. And I have friends all over the world. And it’s not the same thru a lens! It’s not the same on “facetime“, it’s not the same on a “zoom“-call. The interactions of people what I miss the most, the camaraderie, the conversations they dome being in a room with a bunch of excentric characters, you know, in some bar, in Amsterdam. That to me is worth living! You can’t recreate that. You can’t substitute that for something else. So it havin an finality and now it’s so rare that people do get together, but it’s startin to come back. You know, now the fact that it’s comin back in a certain way, you know, well that feels kinda weird, because we took it for granted for our whole lives. So, we’ll see what happens
“Time Clocks” has become an extremely dynamic, equally reflective album. The ten songs are characterised by a high degree of urgency, departure, confidence, but also a look back, a sense of proportion and a certain caution. The signs of the times?
The thing about this record is it could best be described as a midlife crisis musically. What you see is someone who’s done a lot of stuff in his past, I know it works, I know it doesn’t work and you’re askin the question to yourself – and a lot of people ask the same question to themselves – what’s next? Is this save for me, is my best days behind me? Am I gonna be the “John Henry“-guy for the rest of my life? Is there better? And one of the cool things about the last two records, as we start to scale the tour and go back out on the road, the new songs of the last two albums, when we play them live, they come across bigger and better and the audience responds more to the stuff than to stuff we done in the past. That tells me that the writing’s gotten stronger, that tells me that the message and the view of the album and how people are consuming it, is working. So, that I’m excited about and excited to get back playin. And now we have two full albums that we never toured and we spoil for choice for material, which will be good
Joe Bonamassa // photo by Eleanor Jane
“Time Clocks” is also characterised by a high degree of experience, self-confidence and yet a tremendous urge for newness and adventure can be felt here between the notes. Is that also your nature in life in general?
Well, I never sit still! I never sat still for anyone or anything. And every two weeks I get anti and I just, to me it’s like you search for something else. Having muscial adds been a, I think a blessing and a curse for me, because I don’t know how to stick to just one thing. I don’t really dive in and stay there, I just kind of test the waters and move on and than move on to something else and than, you know, look back. I mean, if you look at all the side-projects I’ve done: From Black Country Communion to the stuff we did with Beth and Rock Candy Funk Party. And now that I’m producing records, there’s a nomadic theme that goes through all of that. And I think this record, probably is the first one in a long time, that express those views and at least my feelings about it
You are known for your unique, delicate and also very powerful guitar playing. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I had the feeling with the complete album that your guitar playing comes across a little more intense and urgent on “Time Clocks”?
Well, on this record I tried to divide by two. At this age I don’t really have a lot to prove anymore, as far as, like, I can play fast, I can jam a whole lot and I know I don’t have to be there into a short phrase. I wanna do what I play would be intense, emotional and affective. If to me the solos did not meet that mark than we redo the solos, you know, or the guitar playing, or just the song in general. So, I wanna be affective and emotional and say something. And that’s just a learning curve! I mean 10.000 hours in 10.000 records
Please tell us a little bit more about the fantastic artwork of “Time Clocks”, which was created by the famous graphic artist Hugh Syme!
I’ve been a fan of Hugh’s forever! I mean, I loved his stuff he did with Dream Theater and Rush! The whole album felt a little more proggy to me and I wanted to do it more generalised concept of the art. You know, and Kevin and I talked about it and he was the one that brought up Hugh doin the artwork. And I’m like: “That’s a geat idea!“ Because I just didn’t want that same treatment to “Time Clocks“, you know, a lot of albums that I have done: Here is me, you know, against a brickwall holdin a guitar. How many ways, different ways can you hold a fuckin guitar, you know, let’s do something different. So that was pretty much, I think that was a phone-call that I made: “How many different ways do I have to be made to hold the same fuckin guitar? Let’s try something new!“ So, that’s basicly what happened
– track by track –
“Notches”! The song I wrote with my friend Charlie Starr from a band called Blackberry Smoke. Charlie had this great line: “I got miles under my wheels, notches in my walkin’ cane“, so I kinda came in with this kind of Ali Farka Touré-12-string-riff. And it’s an odd structure of a song, but it works and it’s got that big chorus. Andi it’s just says it all: “I got miles under my wheels, notches in my walkin’ cane“, That’s what you feel when you like 44, it’ll happen to you
“The Heart That Never Waits”
This is a song I wrote with James House. I really love Robert Cray. And I wanted to write a kind of Robert Cray-song with a chorus. And I was like, I can’t sing like Robert, I can’t play like Robert, but it’s my little tip of the hat to someone who’s been super nice to me and encouraging, but also, I mean, a musical hero of mine
The title-track. I’m glad that I went thru my voice-memories and find this thing called “tc-demo“. And it turned out to be this little demo i did at the hotel in London two years ago. And I forgot to summit it for the album “Royal Tea“. It’s got a big chorus and it’s a unique song. And some people see it as „Americana“ But. I got: „Tthat’s very English to me“! But they can see it as Letvian poker for all cares, as long as they like it! I think it’s a good song. I think it’s one of the better songs I’ve written in a while
“Questions And Answers”
It’s a very classic blues. I like the ying and yang-aspect o fit. It’s like: “Why do you have to be so mean, woman?“ That’s the hard truth in a hard question. Than the answer is this kind of whimsical, you know: “Well, tells you why“! I just like the way that flows and it’s a fun-song to play. I look forward to playin that one live a lot
“Mind’s Eye”! That’s one of the big songs, the ballad that I wrote with my friend James House. And it’s about keeping things in perspective. It’s about understanding the peripheries of life. Like: What do you see on your left, what do you see on your right, when your laser focused an obsessed with something. Sometimes you don’t see the broadside in the periphery. And you could be very broadsided, like I was a few years ago. And your whole personal life could crumble and instant. And that it’s me adressing my lack of seeing that happened and seeing the warning signs oft hat happened.
“Curtain Call”! Well we always gotta an obligatory tip of the hat to Zeppelin, it seems like, Kevin and I. That’s just, you know, one of the things is when you’re writing songs based on the notion that you can never, you might not be able to play them live again. You know it’s like: That’s may have been it, Milwaukee may have been it. The last time I played in front of people before this year was Milwaukee in 2020. It was a good show and one of the things that kept me sayin was: They always say, you’re as good as your last show. Well, at this point, because we were pretty good. So, that was me adressing the notion of the finality of my career, which could be still! This is not obligatory. They can kick me out and take my guitar-license away at any point
“The Loyal Kind”
“The Loyal Kind” is a song I wrote with Bernie Marsden for “Royal Tea“. And we didn’t get to it, because we had too many songs to cut for “Royal Tea“ and we decided to leave it for the follow-up. Because, again, we planed on making a two-record-set: Was “Royal Tea“ and than whatever “Time Clocks“ was gonna be. And I think “The Loyal Kind” is better on this record than it would have been on “Royal Tea“. It was a bit redundant on that record. This one it sticks out more. And I think having more experience and seeing it from a different perspective made this a lot mor conscious of making that song special
“Hanging On A Loser”
“Hanging On A Loser”, a song I wrote with my friend Tom Hambridge. It bears to ask the question, you know: If everything is so bad, than why hanging on a loser like me? I just like the way it rolls off the tongue, cause I want to say that so many times in my life, I can’t even tell you! That bad? Why do you hanging around me? Says it all. Ain*t that the Blues?
“Known Unknowns”! I borrowed that from the late Don Rumsfeld. He’s been the defense secretary among other things for this country. I just like this concept of, you know, the unknown knowns, the known unknowns, the known knowns … word play, but, you know, it’s about life! And to me it’s like all I know is what I don’t know. We all have this feeling as musicians of an uncertainty and trepidation of moving forward. Because everybody invested their whole lives into it. And it’s not like you can just say: “Well, I did music for six months and than I moved on to whatever.“ Everybody’s invested, everybody who’s been in the game for 30 years, or more, is pretty much invested and would probably have a hard time holding down at a nine-to-five-day-job. We’re just not just rensponsible people. This is why we do this, so we don’t have to get up early and have a boss. That’s why I do it. And I wrote that song with my friend Alyssa Bonagura, not Bonamassa, Bonagura! Same amount of letters, same Italian heritage, different last name
Do you have a favourite track on “Time Clocks”? Which one is it and what is so special for you personally about this song?
My favourite song on “Time Clocks“ is “Notches“. I think it says it all about where I am in my life: “Miles under my wheels, notches in my walkin’ cane“! Nobody gets out in mint condition! And I like that concept because everybody makes mistakes, everybody gets knocked around, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
Is Rhythm & Blues in general in good shape right now?
You know, I think music is in good shape right now, not just the Blues. I think you see a lot of young people who have an extraordinary ability in playin music. They’re way more advanced than people of my generation. I thought about that and I said: “Well, what’s goin on? Is this like there that is some generation of super-humanoids that naturally talented?“ I said: “There’s probably some oft hat.“ But I said: “There’s also, you know, nobody now is takin a cassette-deck and rewinding it a 100.000 times to learn, you know, “Cliffs Of Dover“ note for note, or Jimi Hendrix and than realising that the solo on “Are You Experienced“ is in reverse. There you go! That’s online now
Do you observe the current music scene and what do you notice there at the moment?
The music scene is how you make it. I look at the music business right now kinda how it was like in the 50s. Everybody’s on their own. Everybody’s makin singles, not allbums. Everybody’s soring their own label. You know, not really workin thru the major-label chains. It’s not so critical, that you’re signed to a major label now to get noticed. They’re using social media to mark it. There’s a notion where, you know, to make a video. It must go viral, or else it’s a failure. I don’t really subscribe to that. If you make a video that means something to you, but yet it doesn’t go viral it’s still a good video. You can go on any of your social media alets and see videos of people standing on milkcrates and falling on their ass and killing themselves and they got 50 million views. It doesn’t mean that that video is better than yours. Just remember that
Live things are just starting to get going again. Tell us a few details about your upcoming concerts! Especially the ones in Europe next year!
Well, we’re lookin forward to play in Europe. It will be three years since we’ve been there. Seems odd, because we always go every year. I’m excited,you know, cause a lot times people ask me: Well, what’s your favourite kind of audience? Right now: People! It doesn’t matter where they are! Europe, Ohio, Australie! People! People to come out and see us. Let’s Boogie! So I’m excited. And the shows gonna be great. We have two new albums to tour on that we haven’t been tour on before. So, there’s get a lot of new songs, you know, different formate as the band and we’re looking forward to it
Many say: We take the loudest equipment on stage and turn all the controls to “full power”! Do you feel the same way?
What? I can’t hear you!
And your further plans?
My future plans are as follows: We got a tour, we’re gonna get back out there and see what happens and, again, to see how my album ends, to quote the song: “It’s the known unknowns, my friend
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