Joe Bonamassa, born 8 May 1977, famously started playing guitar at four and opened for BB King at the age of 12. Since then he’s racked up more number 1 hits than any other blues artist in history, and become a respected producer, but he has also collaborated with a staggering amount of musicians on stage. The result is a ‘burning man’ bonfire of great guitar solos.
Here are Guitars Exchange’s pick of his top collaborations:
10) With Jethro Tull on Locomotive Breath
We kick off with a journey down memory lane as the guitar prodigy teams up with Jethro Tull at a High Voltage festival stage in Victoria Park, London, in 2011. It is great to see frontman Ian Anderson doing his stuff, but specifically this is worth watching for the guitar duel between Martin Barre and Bonamassa that starts at around 6’ 30”. The solo on this song ranks up there with Aqualung and Cross-eyed Mary; guitar playing that Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler once described as ‘magical’. Barre looks like he’s opted for his PRS while Bonamassa is brandishing his Les Paul on a classic track that oozes mutual respect, breathtaking talent and unbridled fun.
9) With Sam Moore on Crossfire
On the accompanying video Bonamassa debuts Crossfire with legendary American vocalist Sam Moore at South Florida’s Broward Centre in 2019. Moore is a member of the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame and was a member ofthe R&B group Sam & Dave, known for songs like Hold On, I’m Comin’ and Soul Man. Here however the duo team up to play Reese Wynans’ (who played with Dickey Betts, and Stevie Ray Vaughan) song Crossfire. An iconic moment.
8) With Paul Rodgers on Walk In My Shadow and Fire and Water
Singer Paul Rodgers gained fame with Free and English rock supergroup Bad Company in the 1970s, but here he joins Bonamassa on stage to at New York’s Beacon Theatre in 2012. The guitarist walks respectfully in the shadow of the great Paul Kossoff, and his collaboration here with the man who has one of the greatest voices in rock is outstanding.
7) With Eric Johnson on Crossroads
American multi-instrumentalist Eric Johnson is an incredibly talented lap steel and acoustic guitarist who plays across a broad range of genres. Here Bonamassa joins with ‘one of the most respected guitarists on the planet’ – according to Guitar Player magazine – to play Crossroads at Los Angeles’ House of Blues on 19 January 2012. The sound quality could be better but the pair’s performance is definitely worth a watch.
6) With Joe & Paul Shaffer, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Samantha Fish, Walter Trout, Jimmy Hall and Reese Wynans on Going Down
Again the sound quality is disappointing given the grandeur of the event but this performance from the Keeping The Blues Alive Cruise in 2019 is a luxurious smorgasbord of guitar genius. One commentator aptly described the show as “Samantha with killer tone and feel, Kenny Wayne channeling his inner Stevie Ray Vaughan and Walter Trout possessed by the sprit of Buddy Guy”. Bonamassa on the other hand is described as … ‘as smooth as ever’…
5) With Eric Clapton on Further On Up The Road
In Bonamassa’s recent bio-documentary Guitar Man the prodigy describes the moment he plays with his hero Eric Clapton at the Royal Albert Hall in May 2009 as pivotal in his life. “This performance was 20 years in the making,” he says. “Imagine ... coming from a kid watching Eric Clapton and Cream on a vhs cassette in your dad’s home... to actually playing Further on up the Road with Clapton... himself!” On stage Clapton cradles his Fender Strat while Bonamassa is back with his beloved Gibson Les Paul. The organization of the whole concert was an event in itself but this sharing of the stage with ‘Slowhand’ changed Bonamassa’s life.
4) With Tina Guo on Woke Up Dreaming
Here is a curveball for anyone who has yet to explore the depth of Bonamassa’s collaborative work. Guo is a leading celloist and her match up with the guitarist at Carnegie Hall in 2015 to play Woke Up Dreaming would be unimaginable to many; but this is simply extraordinary. Smokin’ Joe ‘unplugged’ contributes to a standing ovation with his acoustic playing. It makes the mind boggle and in some ways it shouldn’t work…but it does!
3) With Billy Gibbons, Derek Trucks and Dusty Hill on Going Down
Here is another version of this classic song live, played at the Rock Hall Of Fame induction of Freddie King in 2012. The song showcases a mix of guitar styles and it is difficult to choose who comes out the winner; luckily we don’t have to, we can simply enjoy them all! Definitely worth a watch.
2) With Eric Gales on John Henry
“In a moment of reflection as I stood in front of a mirror in the shower fully clothed I said to myself what would the fans really want to hear…[and the answer was] this gentleman and I […] shredding the crap out of our guitars…” says Bonamassa in his introductory speech. This ‘guitar duel’ is breathtaking as the duo feed off each other to take things to a whole other level. It’s ‘shredding with soul’ and it sends shivers up the spine to watch it.
1) With Beth Hart on I'd Rather Go Blind and Close To My Fire
Bonamassa is an incredible guitarist and not a bad singer either, but for his music to really shine he is best paired with an outstanding vocalist - and for my money his pairing with Beth Hart ticks all the boxes. On I’d Rather Go Blind the duo sublimely combine blues, soul and power in a performance at Amsterdam’s Koninklijk Theater in 2013. Bonamassa’s guitar solo reflects the pain in Hart’s voice and in unison they offer something that is really special. Close To My Fire, on the other hand, is different to anything either do on their own but together they create something that simply sizzles, as Hart sings: “Strike a match and set me on fire, Watch it burn and flames getting higher, You light me up, sweet old desire, So won’t you come close to my fire?”
© Photo Credit: Kit Wood