HE has memories of that first visit to Nottingham. Just a few. But it was in 2005 that Joe Bonamassa and his band made that short leap on to the small stage at the Running Horse pub in Alfreton Road.
Few outside blues circles had heard of him. Those that had, knew of a twentysomething New Yorker with a reputation for stunning guitar playing ability. So good that by the age of 12 he has joined blues legend BB King on stage.
“The stage was the size of dining room table,” says the 34-year-old.
“We did it though. It was like 125 people and about 4000 degrees in there.”
Since then he’s steadily worked his way through Nottingham venues, on each visit increasing in size, from the Rescue Rooms to Rock City, the Royal Concert Hall and now the Capital FM Arena.
It’s unusual for a blues man to play arenas.
“Well, BB King plays them. And Clapton plays them. He’s kind of a blues guy.”
He adds: “But to describe my music as strictly the blues is a bit of a stretch. It’s a blues rock hybrid that crosses over with some different styles, you know.
“And that’s the beauty of being a solo artist. You can do anything you want. And my fans dig it. That’s all I care about.”
The original date for his debut at the Capital FM Arena was pulled at the last minute in October due to an illness.
“I had a like a virus infection that killed me,” he explains.
“I know there’s the old showbiz adage ‘the show must go on’ but there is a certain point where you go ‘I cannot take people’s money when I’m this poorly’.
“I think I know my fans well enough to know that they’d rather I reschedule and get a real show as opposed to watching me die a slow death up there.”
Bonamassa was playing the guitar at the age of four. His dad ran a guitar shop in New Hartford, New York and still deals in Gibson guitars.
The shop is the only place Bonamassa has worked.
“To define it as work would mean I would have had to have gotten paid for that. Which I didn’t. Dad would always use the barter system: ‘How about all this heat and light that I provide?’”
He adds: “I never had a regular job. That feels really strange to say.”
He’s from a long line of musicians. Both his dad and grandfather were guitarists.
“My great-grandfather had pretty good success as a trumpet player. They all made a living out of it. None of them travelled internationally but they had success locally.”
Inevitably it was the family record collection of blues, rock and folk, that would inspire him.
By the age of seven he had mastered Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn licks and was a professional guitarist from the age of 11.
When he opened a show for BB King a year later, the blues legend described him as “one of a kind”.
Bonamassa, whose hobbies outside of music include watching Formula 1 and collecting watches, is still gorging on classic music.
“The last great record I bought was John Hiatt’s. I thought that was great all the way through. And I like the Black Keys. I think their take on the blues thing is awesome. But that was the last stuff that really blew me away.
“But my iPod, which I have on shuffle all the time, has Free, old Clapton, The Meters, Robert Cray, Miles Davis... anything that moves me.”
It’s an hour before showtime when we catch up. He’s on stage at 8pm with no support and plays a two and hour and 20 minute set, with an interval.
“I get my game face on as soon as the intro music starts. We run Two Minutes To Midnight by Iron Maiden. That’s been my tradition for the past few years. And as soon as the guitar solo comes on, I shut off. It’s time to go to work. We can be talking about collective bargaining agreements before then and I’ll be unphased.”
EG teamed up with the Capital FM Arena to run a competition for one person to win tickets to see his show, meet him backstage and get one of his guitars signed by him.
“I think we need to define what my guitar means,” he says wryly.
“Sometimes people think they will be able to walk up to my rack of guitars and take any one of them. That isn’t necessarily true.
“I’ve a few Les Paul ‘59s in that rack and I’m sure they’d want to take those.”
The winner was to be drawn and notified today through Twitter. If you entered check out @EG_Nottingham and @CapitalFMArena to see if you’ve been drawn from the hundreds of entries.
He adds: “It may say Epiphone on it and it may come in a cardboard box but it’ll definitely be signed.”
The three Les Paul guitars are his favourites. But why is that? Gibson must have improved on their guitars since 1959.
“You would think,” he says.
“They have and they haven’t. There’s something magical about the ‘59. It’s like if you were a Ferrari fan and you were driving an old Spider. It may leak , it may splutter, it may cost you a million dollars in maintenance to keep it running but the sound of the engine and the smell of the oil... there’s nothing better.
“The guitars now are arguably easier to play and they’re more conducive to wear and tear... every now and then, I’ll be on stage with my ‘59 and the knob with fall off. But when it’ s dialled in there’s nothing better.”
Joe Bonamassa plays the Capital FM Arena on Monday April 2 starting at 8pm. Tickets are £30 to £50 from the venue, call 08444 124624 or go to www.capitalfmarena.com
WHAT THEY SAY
“Joe Bonamassa is the new messiah for guitar music lovers.”
“Bonamassa's guitar playing and singing are still on a strong upward curve. Forget derivative – this couldn't be anyone but Joe.”
“Bonamassa's precision guitar playing is
something of a revelation.”
“In the beginning ‘God' aka Eric Clapton created British blues. Like some Les Paul-toting Jesus, Joe Bonamassa is continuing his hero's legacy.”– Total Guitar