British blues-rock inspires Joe Bonamassa

Photo provided by RYAN ROMENESKO --Joe Bonamassa
Photo provided by RYAN ROMENESKO --Joe Bonamassa

At 36, blues-rock singer-guitarist Joe Bonamassa has nearly 25 years of professional music-making behind him. He performs some 200 shows a year all over the world, and he constantly releases new work.

From Utica, N.Y., Bonamassa found early success in Europe and the United Kingdon. Among his inspirations are guitar players from the British Isles — Eric Clapton, Gary Moore, Rory Gallagher and Fleetwood Mac founder Peter Green.

“Oddly enough,” Bonamassa said shortly before a show in Fayetteville, N.C., “I’m an American repatriating the music back to the U.K. and Europe.”

For his current tour, which includes a Tuesday night show at the Saenger Theatre, Bonamassa is performing a 45-minute acoustic set followed by a 75-minute electric set. The enthusiastic response to the acoustic-electric show he performed last March at the Royal Albert Hall in London encouraged Bonamassa to take the concept on the road.

“We cover all the bases and everybody seems happy,” he said.

“Generally, I’ve been an electric player,” he added. “I always looked at acoustic guitars as kryptonite.”

That changed with Bonamassa’s first all-acoustic concert, an experiment documented in the DVD/Blu-ray “An Acoustic Evening at the Vienna Opera House.”

“It basically was stripping away the big guitar solos and seeing if the songs still held up,” he said. “I’m glad they did.”

Bonamassa’s likewise ambitious DVD/Blu-ray release, “Tour De Force: Live In London,” chronicles four unique concerts at four London music venues.

In addition to the different sets Bonamassa and his band members performed at the Royal Albert Hall, Hammersmith Apollo, Shepherd’s Bush Empire and the Borderline, he played vintage guitars that had belonged to guitar heroes Gallagher, Green, Moore and Whitesnake’s Bernie Marsden.

“It was great that the guitars were played again,” Bonamassa said. “You want to take care of them, preserve them for other generations, but you shouldn’t just shove them in a glass case. It’s nice that I’ve got some cool friends who loaned me priceless guitars for a night.”

Gallagher’s 1961 Fender Stratocaster, especially, has personality, Bonamassa said.

“Rory Gallagher’s DNA’s in that thing,” he said. “He played that guitar his whole career. He played it into the ground.”

Bonamassa’s acoustic concert in Vienna and four-concert series in London, potentially risky ventures though they were, are examples of him raising the bar for himself.

“Fortune favors the bold,” he said. “I’d rather take a risk and fail than not take the risk. It keeps you honest. It keeps everything fresh in everybody’s mind. Playing it safe is just boring, for your audience and for you.

“And the blues genre can get very stale, like a leaderless army playing covers of ‘Mustang Sally.’ There’s a reason why 10 people are in the audience.

“But with Derek Trucks, Sonny Landreth, Warren Haynes, Robert Randolph, Gary Clark Jr., Jonny Lang, there’s a reason why they’ve found bigger audiences,” he said. “They cross-pollinate the genre and make it more popular.”