Unlike other successful blues-rock guitarists, Bonamassa's influences are British and Irish blues acts, rather than American artists. Comparing the music in the United States to the "European" versions of the blues, Bonamassa found the English blues - fostered by the Jeff Beck Group, Eric Clapton and Irish blues player Rory Gallagher - to be far more interesting to him than the original Delta blues players. In an interview in Guitarist magazine (issue 265), he cited the three albums that had the biggest influence on his playing: John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton (the Beano album), Rory Gallagher's Irish Tour and Goodbye by Cream. He also stated Stevie Ray Vaughan's Texas Flood was a big influence at a young age. He also listed the early blues playing of Jethro Tull as one of his influences, putting both Martin Barre and Mick Abrahams as important musicians to him. His first solo album was named after and includes a cover version of Jethro Tull's "A New Day Yesterday" from their album Stand Up.
I keep hearing about Joe Bonamassa as the leader of the current pack of young blues rock musicians and seeing his albums, without actually being interested enoug to buy any of it. Without hearing a note of what he played I already had the idea, from the sources of praise and his looks, that he would be playing a kind of blues that would be like Aerosmith playing bues, with more of a hard rock edge to it than actual blues. The music could technically be classified as blues for reason of the chord progressions and scales on which it is based, but would otherwise have little in common with the kind of blues I prefer listening to. The bottom line was that I strongly suspected that I would not care for the music of Joe Bonamassa.
This doubting preconception was confirmed when I watched some YouTube clips of Bonamassa performances. There is also a documentary about a series of shows he played in London with the astonishing concept of playing with different bands in different contexts, from trio to horndriven big band to solo performances, over a relativley short period to showcase his influences and ability to take on various aspects of blues rock.
Bonamassa was a child prodigy who met B B King when he was a boy and has been a hard worker in the genre ever since. That is the key for me to what Joe Bonamassa is doing today. He is a true journeyman musician who is technically probably gifted and certainly works hard, but has no spark of brillliance or real innovation. Hard work and dedication to the craft, and possibly being a nice guy, are the bases of his success and not any kind of genius. Bonamassa is likely to have a long and commercially successful career yet one day fade from the scnee without a legacy of classic songs that will remain in the blues canon for centuries. He is the kind of guy who plays the standards, and perhaps reinterprets them; he is not the guy to write standards.
The worst part is that Bonamasa even looks like an accountant who’s learnt to play the guitar, met some heavy friends along the way and likes jamming with them in his musician’s man cave on a weekend. The triumph of the technocrat: interminable, musically complex guitar solos without a spark of emotion or soul. This is not the mark of a genius, just of someone who has applied himself to his craft. This devotion to proficincy may give the man a long career and lead to peer approval and music industry honours as he gets older and yet Joe Bonamassa’s legacy will not includea single essentiak, classic record or performance. His legacey will be simply more proficient guitarists like himself.