Thirty years into his distinguished career as one of the world's great guitar players, Joe Bonamassa is still finding new ways to showcase his skills, explore new sounds and stretch his artistic horizons.
This time, he's doing all that through a new project called the Sleep Eazys. Unveiled earlier this month, the project pairs Bonamassa with acclaimed multi-instrumentalist John Jorgenson and a killer band for a genre-hopping tribute to musical giants, including Danny Gatton, the jazz-rock guitarist who mentored Bonamassa when the latter was a teenager.
Bonamassa already has a jazz-funk band (Rock Candy Funk Party), a hard-rock band (Black Country Communion) and a soulful duo project (with Beth Hart) to go with his juggernaut of a solo gig as a blues-rock icon. Now, you can add the Sleep Eazys to that list, specifically to tickle a different kind of itch.
"This provides an opportunity to put out an instrumental guitar record," Bonamassa tells the Inlander matter-of-factly. "If I put it out as a Joe Bonamassa record, people would be going, 'Well, why is Joe doing instrumentals?' It's that simple. Plus it's just a real fun collaboration between some really awesome musicians."
On April 10, the group will release its first album, Easy to Buy, Hard to Sell, and given Bonamassa's command of his career — he has famously worked as his own record label, manager, booking agent and promoter for years — there will no doubt be some kind of promotional push around it. But that hasn't stopped the New York native from thinking about what's next: His 14th full-length studio effort, recorded in January at the legendary Abbey Road Studios in London, is slated to come out later this year.
Bonamassa wrote songs for the record with British blues-rock guitarist Bernie Marsden and recorded at Abbey Road with a clear vision of the sound he wanted.
"It did exactly what I was hoping it would do. It made it sound English," he says. "I wanted to make a British blues record in England, so I went there, wrote it there and recorded it there, and it did its job."
Bonamassa is modest in conversation, but it doesn't take long to recognize that he brims with confidence about his art and his approach to making music. When asked if he felt intimidated in any way at Abbey Road, Bonamassa answers plainly and with purpose.
"I'm way past the point of being intimidated by anyone or anything, musically or otherwise," he says. "Here's the thing about Abbey Road. It's a beautiful studio with a rich, illustrious history, going back to the Beatles and you can just keep going and going and going. But at the end of the day, that gear, those rooms, that building, those microphones — they didn't write those songs. So the Beatles could've recorded the Abbey Road album in a garage, because the songs were that good."
That's an attitude Bonamassa has held for a long time, even as the venues he plays have gotten bigger and bigger. In the past five years alone, he has released live albums recorded in major venues like the Sydney Opera House, Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, Red Rocks Amphitheatre and Royal Albert Hall.
"You have to go into those kinds of situations asking yourself, 'Am I gonna play this venue or is it gonna play me?'" Bonamassa says. "You have to drop it and play your gig or else you'll just get eaten alive by the situation."
If that sounds like the wisdom of a man who has been playing in bands and for audiences since he was 12 years old, well... it is. It stems not only from Bonamassa's experience and his myriad hours spent practicing the guitar, but also the perspective he carries with him onto each and every stage he plays.
"I'm a history buff and I'm also a fan, so I have reverence for the history, obviously," Bonamassa says. "But when I walk out there, I'm going, 'I'm here today. We're here today. The crowd's here today.' To me, I owe that time to the audience. I owe them my best show. It's not about me at that point. It's about them." ♦
Joe Bonamassa • Thu, March 19 at 8 pm • $69-$199 • All ages • First Interstate Center for the Arts • 334 W. Spokane Falls Blvd. • 279-7000