Modern blues rock guitar master Joe Bonamassa discussed one legendary band who should be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, calling this omission “criminal.” Appearing on The Weekly Show with David J. Maloney in an interview, Joe reflected on how Paul Rodgers helped him make a bigger breakthrough by appearing for one of his live shows. And, to him, both Paul and his old band Free — particularly guitar player Paul Kossoff — have been major influences.
“Paul has been a hero of mine since day one when I heard Free,” Bonamassa explained (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs). “‘Tons of Sobs’ was the record for me. And him, and Andy Fraser, and Simon Kirke, and Paul Kossoff — the fact that they’re not in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is criminal.”
Although the band didn’t last more than five years, Free managed to make a huge impact on the world of rock music. Unfortunately, Kossoff passed away in 1976, three years after the group’s disbandment, aged only 25 at the time.
“That band has influenced so many rock bands,” Joe added, “and still to this day, to me, is the perfect four-piece. There’s just not a better four-piece in my book.”
“And Paul’s voice is just insane — I mean, to this day, he’s in the same keys. He’s just an absolute champion and one of the nicest people in the world.”
Famously, Paul Rodgers joined Bonamassa back in late 2011 for performances of some of Free’s songs. This was later released as a DVD and a CD release in 2012.
During the chat, Bonamassa was also asked, “did anything ever compete with the blues” as far as his musical taste goes. He replied:
“Absolutely. I like all kinds — I like prog rock, I like Bruce Hornsby, I like all this kind of stuff. I like some Americana, not all of it.”
“I like classical music,” he also added, “I like some opera. The blues was always kind of the mainstay, but not to the point where it prevented me from listening to other music.”
But funnily enough, Joe admits that he initially got into blues through artists from across the ocean. Although an American himself, he still feels more of a connection to British blues musicians who did their own twist to the genre and turned it into something else.
“I got to Mississippi and Chicago through London,” Bonamassa recalled, “because my father loved Rory Gallagher. He’s Irish, and Gary Moore is also Irish. But he loved all that Clapton, Beck, Page, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, Alexis Korner. Even Jethro Tull and all those bands, Cream — they’re all covering blues songs.”
“And that was a lot of suburban white kids in the ’70s and ’80s — they got their start listening to that kind of music.”
But it was only a matter of time until he’d get into the American side of things:
“And then you go like, ‘Well, I don’t even know what a Muddy Waters is’, and then you’re like, ‘Oh, okay. NOW I’m starting to see the lights coming on… slowly.'”
“But it’s just the truth. A lot of people will lie to you and say they immersed themselves in the deep stuff first, but most of us 40-somethings heard Stevie Ray [Vaughan] before we got into the deeper stuff.”
Elsewhere in the interview, Joe was also asked to share one song that he particularly enjoys playing and that “gives back to you emotionally.” Joe was quick to answer, saying:
“I enjoy playing ‘Self-inflicted Wounds.’ I think that song was a couple albums ago, in ‘Redemption.’ I thought that was really good. We still play it to this day and it’s still pretty cool. It’s a showstopper. People love it.”
Although technically proficient and versatile, Bonamassa is always open about giving his own twist to the songs and not necessarily learning music note-for-note. Of course, this is incredibly important for a blues musician, and that’s exactly what he advised everyone to do in his interview with Ultimate Guitar earlier this year.
“Learn it, but don’t learn it to the point where it sounds exactly the same,” said Joe when asked to share a piece of advice for young beginner guitar players. “Always put your own spin on it. I never learned anything note for note. I didn’t see the reason why, and I still don’t.”
But there are some exceptions to the rule:
“I mean, yeah, if I was tasked to play the solo from ‘Hotel California’ with Don Felder, you bet your ass I’m going to learn it correctly because it’s a very specific thing.”
“But if you’re just learning licks off of records from your favorite players, okay, learn the gist of it, maybe learn the whole thing, but then don’t just go and play it verbatim, always try to put a spin on it because all your favorite players that have their own styles generally did this exact same thing, but then put their own spin on it, and next thing you know, they have their own style and people are learning from them.”
“So that’s a good way to look at it. And the other thing about guitar… and I know this is a controversial statement… Have fun. It’s supposed to be fun. All this arguing and nitpicking other people and competition, people go, ‘Oh, so-and-so’s better than you’, or ‘You’re better than that.’ None of it. It’s supposed to be fun. Just play and enjoy it and say to yourself, hey listen, I am who I am, nothing better, nothing worse.”
At the moment, Bonamassa is promoting his latest studio album “Blues Deluxe Vol. 2,” released in early October, 2023.