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Bonamassa mixes blues and bouzouki

Birmingham | Entertainment | Published:

It's just over a year since rising blues rock superstar Joe Bonamassa played the concert of his life at the Royal Albert Hall in London . . . and he barely remembers a moment of it. Bonamassa returns to the Midlands to play Birmingham NIA Academy on May 31.

By Ian Harvey

It's just over a year since rising blues rock superstar Joe Bonamassa played the concert of his life at the Royal Albert Hall in London . . . and he barely remembers a moment of it.

Bonamassa, who returns to the Midlands to play Birmingham NIA Academy on May 31, admits: "I remember little snippets of it but I was so focused on not screwing up, for want of a better term, and it was such a big moment. My nerves, on a scale of one-10 were on12."

Luckily the show, which included guest appearance from blues alumni Eric Clapton and Paul Jones, was preserved for posterity on the DVD Live From The Royal Albert Hall.

"When I actually sat down and watched the DVD I went, 'My God, I was actually having a lot of fun'!" laughs the guitarist-singer.

"I knew it was something special but I didn't know it was going to come out good as it did and I was really thrilled. Paul Jones and Eric Clapton were great. Those two guys really meant the world to me that they came and played."

Since then Bonamassa has found time to front his Planet Rock radio show, continue touring the world – he reputedly plays 200 gigs a year – and record his third album in three years, Black Rock, named after the studios on the Greek archipelago of Santorini where it was recorded.

"It was great one of the best recordings of my whole life," says Joe.

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"Just being there can change your whole outlook on music and the world. You're just on this island and it's cool and it's one of those things that was really special. And the music kind of came out that way, in the sense that we were influenced by the particular place that we were in."

Three guest musicians leave their mark on the album, two of them being Greek musicians who bring their own ethnic touch amid the smouldering blues rock on a number of songs, playing the bouzouki, nei and clarion.

"Those are the two best guys in Athens and they were tearing it up," says Bonamassa. "You get a world music flavour but it doesn't kinda tread on what Peter Gabriel does. They're just flavours that kind of add to the songs."

The other guest musician is one BB King, who sings and plays on the song Night Life and whose history with Bonamassa stretches back 20 years when, as 12-year-old guitar prodigy, the young Joe opened for the blues legend at a festival in Rochester, New York State.

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Bonamassa explains: "He didn't know who I was. I was 12 years old and it was just one of those things. He saw me playing and he took an interest in my career and here we are 20 years later, friends.

"I finally plucked up the courage to ask him to play on my record. I went up to him in Holland and asked 'Would you mind playing on my album?' and he was like 'Yeah, I'm sure we could sort that out, son' in his beautiful BB King way.

"It was such an honour of a lifetime. Not many people get to say they had BB King play on their album. You can never repay him for something like that."

Of course, Bonamassa is no stranger to musical collaborations. Hard rock fans the world over are on tenterhooks waiting to hear the results of his latest project which sees him team up with Cannock-born, ex-Deep Purple bassist Glenn Hughes, drummer Jason Bonham – son of Led Zeppelin legend John - and renowned keyboard player Derek Sherinian.

The group had been planning to call themselves Black Country after Hughes' and Bonham's Midlands roots but have hit legal hitches after another group apparently claimed ownership of the name.

Hughes, in particular, has been enthusing about the forthcoming album on his website and Twitter feed.

Bonamassa says: "Well the record is done and we're just sorting through all the legal stuff about the name and getting the album released and getting the touring sorted for next year – when, where, how and if."

But he remains coy about what name the new supergroup will take.

"I can't tell you the name. There is a name but I can't tell you until the website and all that is sorted out."

So how did the new group come about?

"I met Glenn about three years ago. We've been friends for about three years and we always said we'd do something.

"I think as a band it came out great and I'm really proud of it, more so than anything. I'm really excited."

Bonamassa concentrates on rocking out on guitar on the new project, leaving "voice of rock" Hughes to lay down his trademark, powerhouse vocals.

"Oh Glenn did all the singing," says Joe "When you have a Ferrari parked in your garage why would you want to drive a Volvo?!"

* Joe Bonamassa plays Birmingham NIA Academy on Bank Holiday Monday, May 31. Tickets for the concert are on sale now, priced £27.50 and £35, plus booking and transaction fees.

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