For someone who plays the blues, Joe Bonamassa is doing his fair share of smiling these days.
Maybe it’s the Grammy nominations for his expansive albums that push the boundaries between blues and rock, the incendiary live shows that shatter those boundaries or just his good-natured demeanor – but the 38-year-old guitarist’s star continues to rise as he enters his 26th year as a professional musician.
Yes, he started making the guitar talk when he was 12, and an enthralled BB King asked Bonamassa to open up one of his shows. Ever since, through a combination of a prolific recording schedule that’s seen the release of 15 albums over the past 13 years and a tenacious touring pace of around 200 shows a year, Bonamassa is like a one-man blues heritage association in sunglasses and suit, intent on keeping the tradition alive for future generations.
Fresh off a short, highly lauded US tour called the “Three Kings” – a tribute to BB, Freddie and Albert King – Bonamassa was taking an uncharacteristic short break before heading off to Europe for dates that include a long-awaited return to Israel at the Mann Auditorium on September 26.
“The first time we played in Israel was in 2009 at the Reading 3 club, and we couldn’t believe how many people turned up. That was quite a shock to me,” said Bonamassa in phone interview with The Jerusalem Post last week.
He graduated to the Tel Aviv Opera House for a sold-out show the following year, but hasn’t been back since. However, a boycott of Israel was the farthest thing from Bonamassa’s mind.
“I always tell my friends it’s one of the most fun places to come to. Normally for an American touring act, Tel Aviv is not a regular stop, but we always have the best time and the people treat us so wonderfully,” said Bonamassa.
Before his show in 2010, he revealed his inner modesty when asked by The Jerusalem Postabout his growing following in Israel.
“When you think about it,” he said, “I’m just a kid from upstate New York, and how does the music I make in my bedroom make it to Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv? It’s pretty astounding.”
However, it’s not that surprising, considering the quality of that music, which combines rock-star swagger and homage to the blues tradition that skirts the border between reverence and innovation. Bonamassa’s most recent album, last year’s Different Shades of Blue, features all-original material and finds him collaborating on songs with Nashville songwriting pros.
“I was very proud of that album because it was all original material, and demonstrated that there are still new ways to create the blues,” said Bonamassa.
The audience at Mann Auditorium will be witness to that later this month for a show that Bonamassa said will build on his previous performances here.
The big change? A horn section.
“The band is just great, and we have some great things planned. I think we’re going to start off the show kind of spare and then work our way up to the full band with the horns,” said Bonamassa.
From there, hold on to your hats because all bets are off.
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