Joe Bonamassa Explains Why He’s Not Really a Blues Guitarist but a ’Blues-Based’ Guitarist

Although one of the most prominent guitar players associated with the blues genre, Joe Bonamassa claims that he’s not a “traditional blues player” but rather just a “blues-based” one. What’s more, as he explained in a recent interview with the Guitar Interactive magazine, he was initially influenced by the guys across the pond rather than those at home in the US.

“So I’m a blues-based guitarist,” pointed out Bonamassa while discussing his repertoire and how he adapts his setlist depending on the audience he’s performing for. He added (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs):

“I mean, I’m not a traditional blues player by any standard — my avenue, my gateway to the blues was through London, not Mississippi or Chicago.”

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“And I got to the original masters through people like Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Alexis Korner, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers — [who] should be in the Hall of Fame, anyway — Rory Gallagher, Gary Morris, all those people that I first listened to when I was 11 and 12 going, ‘This is what I want to do.'”

Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong in being influenced by the British blues rock musicians if you’re an American. But eventually, as he built his career, Bonamassa ended up exploring the old legends, all thanks to one guy.

“Then I met B.B. King,” Joe continued, “and then I heard Son House, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and all of that.

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Nonetheless, his point still stands that he’s “blues-based” rather than a “traditional blues player.” He added:

“But my introduction to the blues was almost like a kid from the 1960s listening to Led Zeppelin and going, ‘What’s this ‘Whole Lotta Love’ thing about?’ And then you go, ‘Oh, it’s awesome.'”

“I’m kind of a product of my musical influences, my upbringing, my geographical location, just like anybody else. You only listen to what’s around you. My dad would play Jethro Tull, just as religiously as he would play Guitar Slim.”

Elsewhere during the chat, Bonamassa also answered a question about what inspires him these days, explaining:

“I think the thing that inspires me the most nowadays, more than anything, is there’s so much great young, new talent in the guitar business. I don’t know if it’s just because of something in the water or access to the information via the internet or tutorials.”

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This is in complete contrast to what it was like back in his days while he was making his first steps as a musician:

“Because in the ’80s, when I was learning, you had to either drop the needle on the right spot, rewound the tape, step, repeat, step, repeat… And just use your ears trying to figure out these riffs.”

The advantages that any guitar player has these days are something that’s difficult to fully grasp. For almost any musical piece that comes to mind, you’ll find guitar tabs, video tutorials, or sheet music. As far as guitar players go, you can even capture the essence of someone’s tone from the comfort of your bedroom. So Bonamassa pointed out how, in this day and age, you can easily figure things out:

“Now, you can go online, and somebody has figured it out and accurately can teach you. So you’re seeing kids around the globe, both male and female, that can play their asses off — young, way better than I was, or anybody.”

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This is, in no way, a bad thing. Sure, it’s always highly recommended that you know how to figure out stuff by ear since it will make you a better musician. But having all of this knowledge easily accessible through a pocket-sized device can only be useful in the bigger picture. Joe concluded by saying:

“The knowledge is so far ahead and so much deeper. And I’m a philosophical man. If nothing, I’m just like, ‘Well, why is this?’, and you go, ‘It’s because you have the entire Encyclopedia Britannica on your phone. And you can search out anything you want. You’re only limited to your imagination.'”

With that being said — Joe isn’t the kind of guy who’s keen on learning someone else’s music in great detail. In this year’s interview with Ultimate Guitar, the “blues-based” guitar legend pointed out that you should always strive to learn music on your own but never play it exactly the same. Asked to share a piece of advice to young players, he said:

“Learn it, but don’t learn it to the point where it sounds exactly the same. 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.”

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Of course, 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.”

He added:

“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.”

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Photo: Dmileson (Joe Bonamassa – Radio City Music Hall Jan 2014)


  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.