Guitarist Joe Bonamassa is a charismatic blues-rock star and singer-songwriter of stylistic depth and emotional resonance. A child prodigy, Bonamassa caught B.B. King’s ear at the age of 10. After hearing him play for the first time, King said: “This kid's potential is unbelievable. He hasn't even begun to scratch the surface. He's one of a kind.” By age 12, Bonamassa was opening shows for the blues icon and went on to tour with artists such as Buddy Guy, Foreigner, Robert Cray, Stephen Stills, Joe Cocker and Gregg Allman. Bonamassa’s recording career began in the early ’90s with Bloodline, a hard-charging blues-rock group also featuring Robby Krieger’s son, Waylon, and Miles Davis’ son Erin. His 2000 solo debut, A New Day Yesterday, was produced by 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Tom Dowd.
He was named Billboard’s Number One Blues Artist in 2010 based on the charting success of Black Rock, the Number Two Billboard Blues Album of 2010, and 2009’s Ballad of John Henry, which was Number Nine. In June 2010, he played the main stage at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival in Chicago and in October of the same year he released Joe Bonamassa: Live At The Royal Albert Hall, a live CD of his 2009 performance at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Bonamassa’s style has breathed new life and excitement back into the guitar as legions of fans embrace guitar-based rock music. [Photo by Christine Goodwin]
In this interview with the Rock Hall, Bonamassa shares his impressions of 2012 American Music Masters honoree Chuck Berry. Bonamassa will perform live at the 2012 American Music Masters tribute concert honoring Chuck Berry in Cleveland on Saturday, October 27.
Rock Hall: When did you first hear Chuck Berry's music and did it immediately resonate with you?
Joe Bonamassa: I first heard Chuck Berry – or of Chuck Berry – by watching Back to the Future as a 6-year-old kid. My dad explained that the person they were referencing was Chuck Berry. Shortly after that, I saw Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll, and I was hooked. I think Chuck Berry is a master songwriter, especially lyrically.
RH: What about Berry's music first captivated you: lyrics, guitar, rhythm – all of the above?
JB: D – all of the above. He is a master lyricist and the way he amped up all those T-Bone Walker riffs, made it his own and created a style is something quite extraordinary.
RH: Do you have a favorite Berry song?
JB: I love his bluesier material. "Wee Wee Hours" – that’s my personal favorite.
RH: How has Berry influenced you as a performer? As a guitarist? As a songwriter?
JB: Every guitarist who decides to get serious about playing has to go through the Chuck Berry school to get where they want to be eventually. Chuck is a showman and entertainer as well as being a master musician. Nobody who steps onstage with a guitar can say that they haven't borrowed something from Chuck Berry.
RH: How would you describe Berry's music to somebody who'd never heard it?
JB: I would describe it as deceptively simple until you try to learn it. That’s when the work really begins, and you realize how deep and complex it really is.
RH: Where would rock and roll be without Chuck Berry?
JB: What would popular music be without Chuck Berry? It’s like saying what would a car be without an engine. Someone should teach Justin Bieber the duckwalk... Then he'll really be going places.