Carrying the torch

Joe Bonamassa performs tribute to blues kings

By Tim Anderl

Photo: Blues musician Joe Bonamassa will perform on Aug. 15 at Fraze Pavilion; photo: Christie Goodwin

Although 38-year-old bluesman Joe Bonamassa has 13 albums and a mountain of accolades under his belt, he’s surprisingly honest about his self-doubt and personal uncertainty when it comes to the future blues craft that he’s dedicated his life and career to. When the world lost B.B. King in May, Bonamassa acknowledges that the blues lost a great ambassador whose continued participation in the craft provided a litmus test for the genres strength and health. He, like many others, asks, “Who will carry that torch forward?”

Though this question has no simple answer, Bonamassa is putting a considerable foot forward, recently having wrapped recording on his latest LP, and launching the Three Kings Tribute show, which celebrates the music of his former tour mate B.B. King, as well as Freddie and Albert King.

Dayton City Paper recently caught up with Bonamassa to discuss his career, the future of the blues and his plans for an early retirement.

You began performing at a young age and I imagine you’ve discovered some keys to your own success. How much of that is the result of perseverance and hard work?

Joe Bonamassa: I think the second half is absolutely the key to my success; perseverance and hard work. I didn’t get here on my talent or good looks. Talent has something to do with it, but not a lot in 2015. There are so many talented people. You can go to Guitar Center somewhere in Dayton and find talented people. It’s less a question of talent and more whether you can figure out the minefield that is the music business and survive long enough to make a real riot.

Over the years you’ve had some key collaborators in some pretty incredible musicians. Which of those was the most special for you?

JB: Eric Clapton at the Royal Albert Hall was pretty good. Paul Rodgers and John Hiatt at the Beacon Theatre was pretty good. Anytime Warren Haynes and I get together is pretty special. Being on the stage at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with ZZ Top was pretty special. There have been a bunch of moments that have been very cool.

Do you experience a sense of euphoria when you are in those moments? 

JB: I’m so riddled with self-doubt and concentrating on trying to make it good that I never enjoy it in the moment. It always looks way more fun than it is.

It’s incredible to hear that someone with so many accolades has self-doubt…

JB: That’s how you get better.

Earlier this year the world lost B.B. King, who was someone you’d played and toured with. Was that a devastating experience for you?

JB: I knew that he was ill, so it wasn’t shocking. It was a devastating loss for the blues because he was the great ambassador, the great olive branch of the blues that people would look to for support. People would say, “As long as B.B. King is still playing the blues is in good shape.” Now who is going to take up that torch? Buddy Guy is the last musician from that era and he’s in his 80s, so at the end of the day it boils down to the question, “Does this thing live or die?”

I’m not really sure. I’m not sure what’s going to happen. It is going to get to the point where it is up to this generation to keep it going; Gary Clark Jr., Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Jonny Lang, and everyone else in our age group who has been slugging it out. We’re it now; we’re the next ambassadors.

Do you attribute some of that torch carrying to some of those musicians who may be considered more rock, like The Black Keys or Jack White?

JB: I think The Black Keys play some of the most exciting and revolutionary music to be made in 35 years. I can say the same about Jack White. I just heard some of his stuff in Nashville from his solo records. College kids think it is rock, but it is Book of White playbook 101. Same with The Black Keys. They just package it in a different way, but it is certainly blues music to me. I have the utmost respect for all three of those guys, especially Dan Auerbach. Dan has a real funky way of writing that is uniquely his own, he’s a great singer, and as a producer, those records he did for Dr. John were some of the best Dr. John records to come out in decades.

Will you perform any of that material when you visit the Fraze?

JB: Nope. It’s as it is advertised. Three Kings only. B.B., Freddie, Albert.

Joe Bonamassa performs a tribute to the Three Kings on Saturday, Aug. 15 at Fraze Pavilion, 659 Lincoln Park Blvd. in Kettering. Show starts at 8 p.m.  Tickets are $99 for lawn and terrace seating and $125 for orchestra section seating. For more information, please visit

Tim Anderl is the web editor and a contributing writer at Ghettoblaster Magazine and maintains his own music blog at Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Anderl at

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