Joe Bonamassa

If Heartaches Were NickelsBeacon Theatre: Live From New York
I Don't BelieveYou & Me
The Ballad Of John HenryThe Ballad Of John Henry
Quarryman's LamentBlack Rock
Colour And ShapeA New Day Yesterday
Miss You, Hate YouA New Day Yesterday
Asking Around For YouYou & Me
Woke Up DreamingLive From The Royal Albert Hall
Sloe GinAn Acoustic Evening At Vienna Opera House
Mountain TimeMr Kyps (unofficial live album 2005)



Contributor: Ian Ashleigh

My introduction to Joe Bonamassa was via his 2010 release Black Rock although I quickly sought out The Ballad Of John Henry from the previous year. When compiling this ten, there was a temptation to take a track from each of Bonamassa’s 10 studio albums to represent the catalogue but that would ignore the live albums, both official and unofficial. I have, however, deliberately excluded the albums he has made with Beth Hart and as a member of the Black Country Communion. These warrant posts of their own.

Born in New Hartford, NY in May 1977, Joe Bonamassa is one of the premier American blues guitarists around. His influences are British and Irish rather than from his native America. He cites Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Rory Gallagher and, although usually associated with playing a Gibson Les Paul, Bonamassa was allowed the privilege of playing Rory Gallagher’s 1961 Fender Stratocaster at the Hammersmith Apollo in October 2011, an instrument that had been ‘retired’ on Gallagher’s death. Other influences were the early blues based albums by Jethro Tull and therefore Martin Barre and Mick Abrahams are cited as important musicians. As well as recording with Beth Hart and as part of the Black Country Communion, Bonamassa has been joined on stage by Eric Clapton and John Hiatt whose songs he has covered.

Interestingly, all the above influences can be found in the Toppermost pantheon.

In a live broadcast for the BBC at their Maida Vale studios Bonamassa performed with host Paul Jones and took part in a Q&A session with good humour and banter with the audience. He has created some of the best blues rock of his generation as well as producing some stunning covers of songs by his influences and contemporaries.

Joe Bonamassa’s first album, A New Day Yesterday (2000), is named after the track of the same name by Jethro Tull and the album includes a cover of the song. Hidden within that first album is a cover of Warren Haynes’ If Heartaches Were Nickels which is one of the most heart-rending blues songs I have ever heard and a great way to introduce Bonamassa’s vocal and guitar styles. However, as with three other selections, I have chosen a live alternative, this one from Beacon Theatre: Live From New York (2012).

With an immediate change of tempo, my second selection is another cover; I Don’t Believe was written by Don Robey and Manuel Charles and is a shuffle from You & Me. A good time song sung with a smile as an antidote to the despair of the opener.

The Ballad Of John Henry is the title track of the 2009 release and is the first of my Bonamassa self-penned selections. Here we have a heavy blues song in the best traditions of the genre given a contemporary twist. You are left wondering who John Henry was and why he was beaten to death with a hammer and what the narrator’s involvement was – there is a hint in the last line of the song. This is probably Bonamassa’s heaviest album.

The album Black Rock (2010) was recorded at the Black Rock Studios on the Greek island of Santorini and has a lighter feel to it. The album features Greek musicians and Greek instruments. A good example is Quarryman’s Lament although the musical shapes are very similar to those used in The Ballad Of John Henry.

We go back to the beginning and Joe Bonamassa’s debut album New Day Yesterday for Colour And Shape which starts and ends as a light acoustic tune that could have been written by Ian Anderson (of Jethro Tull) but explores the full range of blues rock in between. Miss You, Hate You is a song about the dichotomies of love’s emotion; it appears on the album as both a full length version and a radio edit. A contemporary blues in the best traditions, only the full length version will do.

Asking Around For You from You & Me is a heartfelt blues love song of loss and is Joe Bonamassa tilting his hat at B.B. King in the best way possible way.

And so to our live finale …

Woke Up Dreaming first appeared on Blues Deluxe in 2003 and has been in the live set ever since. Here we are with Joe Bonamassa at the Royal Albert Hall in 2009. Renowned for virtuosity with his Gibson Les Paul, here is a showcase for his prowess with an acoustic guitar and vocals in the live environment. Sloe Gin is the title track of the 2007 offering and we join Joe on stage at the Vienna Opera House in 2013 holding his audience in the palm of his hand with just an acoustic guitar. These live songs illustrate how Bonamassa’s stagecraft has matured.

Joe Bonamassa’s first British show is said to have been on Wednesday 18th May 2005 at Mr Kyps in Poole, Dorset. A recording of this became available as a double CD bootleg in 2013 and we end this toppermost with a live staple, Mountain Time, from this unofficial release which was first recorded for his second album So, It’s Like That (2002). Another cover on Mr Kyps is a near 18 minute rendition of Jimi Hendrix’ Are You Experienced.

Joe Bonamassa official website

Joe Bonamassa biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #352

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