Joe Bonamassa Talks 'SeeSaw,' His New Album with Beth Hart, and His Ongoing Love Affair with Gibson's Les Paul "Burst"

by Corbin Reiff
Posted Jun 21, 2013 at 11:37am

This is an excerpt from the August 2013 issue of Guitar World magazine. For the rest of this story, plus a Jeff Hanneman tribute and poster and features on Buzz Osbourne of the Melvins, Iggy and the Stooges, Steve Morse of Deep Purple, Eric Clapton's 2013 Crossroads Guitar Festival, the 25 Best Guitar & Music Apps and more, check out the August 2013 issue at the Guitar World Online Store.

On the heels of his London retrospective shows, the indefatigable Joe Bonamassa talks about his busy career, his new album with singer Beth Hart and his ongoing love affair with the ultimate blues electric guitar: the Gibson Les Paul “Burst.”

It’s six o’clock on April 12, just two hours before show time, and Joe Bonamassa is sitting in his dressing room at Seattle’s famed Paramount Theatre absent-mindedly flipping through pictures of vintage guitars on his iPad. “Check this out,” he says to his tech while holding up the tablet.

“The Black Dan Armstrong Collection, bass and guitar, just $1,500 each.” The tech, who is seated on the couch next to Bonamassa, is gently playing the guitarist’s newest acquisition, a 1960 Gibson Les Paul Standard that he purchased from a seller in South Africa. He looks up to the screen and nods approvingly while setting the instrument back in its case. The two men engage in a brief conversation about the necessity of using Gorilla Glue on a piece of equipment before the tech excuses himself from the room.

Tonight will be Bonamassa’s second show on his spring 2013 North American tour, and although he’s battling a nasty flu that he contracted a short time ago in Europe, he seems to be in good spirits. “That first show a couple days ago in Vancouver was great,” he says. “I was on fire, great crowd, band played good. It was awesome.”

His enthusiasm is commendable given not only his health but the pace of his life recently. This past March, Bonamassa released the double-CD An Acoustic Evening at the Vienna Opera House, recorded last July during a two-week unplugged tour. Around the same time that the CD was issued, he performed four shows in London that chronicled his rise from small, intimate clubs to historic venues like the Hammersmith Apollo and the Royal Albert Hall. He also recorded SeeSaw, his second album with vocalist Beth Hart.

The quartet of London shows served as the climax for his European tour and were duly filmed and recorded for eventual release.

Together, they served as a retrospective of Bonamassa’s now 13-year professional career. “They worked, but I’ll never do that again,” declares the guitarist. “I don’t think anyone has ever attempted anything like that. Now I know why. It was almost like Evel Knievel jumping the fountain [at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas]: it doesn’t make it a good f---ing idea.”

Perhaps it was the still-lingering effects of the illness, but when he speaks about the shows, there is a twinge of weariness in his voice. “It was a great career retrospective and it was great for the fans, more so than it was for me,” he notes. “I’m sure that I will watch the films later and go, ‘I enjoyed myself a lot more than I realized at the time.’ But the pressure of shooting four separate films was just massive.”

That’s not to say Bonamassa isn’t proud of what he accomplished, especially at the penultimate show at the Royal Albert Hall, a venue that holds a special place in his heart. “You know, there are some nights that you just feel it when you get down there,” he says.

“That initial roar of the crowd tells me everything I need to know about what I’m in for. If it’s tepid, that means I’m going to have to work tonight. If it’s electric, it’s just more inviting. It’s the kind of thing you want to bottle and always have. You can’t achieve it every night, but what you can do is certainly strive for it, and if I had to choose one of the venues for it to happen in, I graciously accept it happening at the Albert Hall. It’s a great sound at the Albert Hall, and the first time we played it, we missed the mark and played too loud. It’s a big room, but it’s tricky in that you can overpower it. So this time we had the sound right, the crowd was in it from the minute we stepped out, and it was just a great night.”

Photo: Jeremy Danger

For the rest of this story, plus a Jeff Hanneman tribute and poster and features on Buzz Osbourne of the Melvins, Iggy and the Stooges, Steve Morse of Deep Purple, Eric Clapton's 2013 Crossroads Guitar Festival, the 25 Best Guitar & Music Apps and more, check out the August 2013 issue at the Guitar World Online Store.

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