Joe Bonamassa, Guitar Man, Paramount Home Entertainment
If you’re a fan of rock music or blues music, this is a must watch. Joe Bonamassa is world-class guitarist – scratch that, his guitar chops are legendary, and Guitar Man tells his story.
In just under two hours, the film not only takes you through Bonamassa’s life from a precocious child to teenage band-leader to the major stages of the world, like the Royal Albert Hall and the Vienna Opera House, but it is jam-packed with clips of Joe’s jaw-dropping guitar playing and interviews with him that give an insight into the way in which he goes about making music.
You can’t help but be impressed with the man’s incredible work ethic. He is the consummate professional, from the way he dresses sharply with his cool shades for his performances to the absolute dedication to his craft. That has been evident from the very beginning, from the moment he picked up the guitar at four years old. You don’t get good enough to play with B. B. King in front of 5,000 people by the time you’re twelve without a serious amount of practice.
(It’s not in the film, but I love Bonamassa’s reminiscence of that summer playing around 20 shows with King, and saying that when he got back to school, “the teacher asked what we’d done on our vacation and I wrote a detailed account of touring with B.B. King. The teacher’s reply was, ‘Please stop making stuff up in your gumdrop house on Lollipop Lane in the Land of Make Believe.’”)
And his first band, Bloodline, which was signed to EMI, releasing its first album in 1994 when Joe was a teenager, broke up because the other, older members of the band didn’t want to work nearly as hard as him at their craft. All Bonamassa wanted to do was to make music and do it as well as he possibly could. According to Joe, he was “an old man in a kid’s body.”
The story unfolds through commentary by Bonamassa himself, Roy Weisman, who has worked with Joe since 1991 and is the founder of J&R Adventures, Joe’s record label, and legendary music producer Kevin Shirley (Led Zeppelin, Black Crowes, Aerosmith) who began working with Joe around 2007. Shirley was able to introduce Bonamassa to other top-class musicians and his career began to take off. It was Shirley who brought Bonamassa the song Sloe Gin, which appeared on the 2007 album of the same name, and has become something of Bonamassa’s signature tune.
Bonamassa’s first visit to the Royal Albert Hall in London in 2009 is a highlight of the film. Bonamassa had been hugely taken, as a child, watching Eric Clapton and Cream play their farewell concert in the Royal Albert Hall and the venue was pretty much sacred ground for him. Despite the financial commitment and the uncertainty about whether he could fill the Hall with an audience, Bonamassa went ahead, played to a full capacity and, wonder of wonders, managed to persuade Eric Clapton to grace the stage with him.
Most people associate Joe Bonamassa with the blues, but along the way we hear him say, “I’ve always had an affinity for the blues, I always default to the blues, I love the blues – but I’m not a blues musician, in that I’m too musically adventurous.” To be fair, he has branched out beyond the blues considerably and Guitar Man covers his albums and tour with Black Country Communion, which Bonamassa said, “allowed me to be unapologetically a rock’n’roll guitar player.”
That said, there’s a great segment towards the end of the film where Bonamassa and Shirley drive down to Mississippi on a kind of pilgrimage, with some cool clips of Joe playing Robert Johnson, which leads on to footage of Bonamassa’s big blues concert at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado where he played the music of Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf.
Despite his comments about not really being a blues musician, Bonamassa is doing more than most to keep the blues alive, not only through his music, but through his not-for-profit organization Keeping the Blues Alive Foundation, which funds programs and scholarships for students and teachers to help people get going in the music industry.
This is the story of what Kevin Shirley, rightly, calls a “true genius,” a man who clearly loves what he does, but who has shown the sort of dedication to what he does that few people could ever dream of doing. Only a few people in life – whether it’s in sport, music, art, whatever – have the sort of laser focus that we see in someone like Joe Bonamassa.
His is a fascinating story, brilliantly and entertainingly told in the Guitar Man. If you’re a music fan, it’s available on Amazon to view for a few dollars – don’t miss it!