When I heard this documentary was on the horizon I must admit I was a tad excited, I have long been a great admirer of Joe Bonamassa, but it wasn’t always the case. Many moons ago whilst standing in my hometown of Belfast, Northern Ireland whilst waiting outside one of our top live venues The Limelight I was looking up at a poster on the wall, a Mr. Joe Bonamassa had just recently played, and on this poster, there were quotes from the press praising Joe as the next guitar god, as I stood there looking at this poster I thought to myself “Who the fuck is Joe Bonamassa?”
Kevin Shirley explains it better than me, Joe’s had more No.1 Blues albums than B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Eric Clapton and still, people will ask Joe Bona-who? And that kinda sums up Joe’s journey to the top, here we have a really intriguing story about a man who is a relatively quiet person in private and an absolute animal on stage. As Kevin once again helps to explain he is almost two people in one. Picking up the guitar at 4 years of age Bonamassa set out at a very young age on a path that would not only define him but change the landscape of modern-day Blues for all who would follow him.
Blistering his way through his childhood he gained notoriety in his hometown and any six-string-slinger who would come through had this scrawny kid on their heels showing them how it was done. Gaining notoriety and press attention he was given the opportunity to open for B.B. King one day before his 12th birthday, can you even comprehend that? 8,500 people watched an 11-year-old wail on that guitar as he shot out a statement of intent of what was to come. What do you do with a child prodigy that is so ready to make his mark but realistically the industry and public just can’t fully embrace at such a young age? Find yourself the perfect management team to help shape the career of the next big thing, Roy Weisman was the man who stepped up to help guide Joe through the murky waters of the music industry after beating off stiff competition for his signature, but his family-style hands-on approach was exactly what was needed for such a young talent to help him grow and develop into a stellar musician. Weisman knew of the need to provide Joe with a healthy musical education and Bloodline was formed, a band of brothers all with one thing in common, famous musical parents, from the son of Myles Davis to the son of Robby Kreiger of the Doors and so on, in the mix was Joe a gawky teen who was taking the guitar world by storm. A deal with EMI, one record and a second on the horizon, 5 years of graft all came to nothing as the peasants started to revolt, Joe’s work ethic was Cleary at odds of other band members and alas they disbanded.
Steve Van Zant of Bruce Springsteen fame stepped in to guide Joe beyond Bloodline but it wasn’t going the direction Joe wanted and lead to a few years of frustration through the challenges of the day giving and taking away, Joe becoming a casualty of a troubled and cruel industry and it’s an ever-changing landscape and it’s open ability to keep up. Eventually, Joe and Roy worked out that the only way they could ever do things their way was to go it alone and J&R Adventures was set-up. The adventure had indeed started and the search had begun to find the producer who could take Joe to the next level. Enter Kevin Shirley, Kevin has been a stalwart in Joe’s career ever since and the two bounce off each other in such a way that is mesmerizing to see, Kevin has worked at the very top with the likes of Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, Dream Theater and Aerosmith to name but a few and Bonamassa have benefited from his guidance and mentorship together producing some of the finest Blues albums over the last two decades. The documentary takes you through the crazy highs and lows that come with such a high level of dedication from everyone involved. You follow the evolution of Joe through his recordings and the way in which Kevin pushes the boundaries each and every time getting the absolute best out of him, the risks they take through their constant need to remove themselves from their comfort zones and into unchartered waters with unknown levels of success out the other end. Blind faith if you will in each other and a level of trust that few musicians and their producers have that allow for total freedom of expression.
You follow their various approaches on each album and the level of dedication required to achieve the very best results, the journey across their now 14 year collaboration that has brought Joe to stratospheric levels and the reality of what was required to get there, the personal sacrifices and unwavering belief that it was possible. Unbelievably Joe now in his early 40’s has been working for three decades as a professional musician, it’s something that I can barely comprehend and fully understand what that takes, as an individual especially in an industry that takes so much from those who fully give themselves to it.
As an artist who started off trying to create a path he could walk himself he has dedicated his last few years paying homage to those who paved the way via his tributes to The Three Kings and so on, constantly on the move, collaborations with the likes of Beth Hart, Black Country Communion and his own personal side projects mean Bonamassa is one of the busiest and hardest working musicians in the game today. If you want to understand the how or why of the Joe Bonamassa story, Guitar Man is an absolute must-watch, it delves deep into the DNA and shines a light on one of the greatest guitarists of his generation.
A truly fascinating insight into the man himself, set up beautifully for fans of Bonamassa and the Blues alike with an incredible dive into the creative process, pull up a pew sit back and enjoy.
Joe Bonamassa’s “Guitar Man” documentary is released by Paramount Home Entertainment on video-on-demand and digital on December 8th. Pre-order: https://paramnt.us/GuitarManSite
In addition to having this exciting film release, Joe just landed his 24th #1 with his latest studio album Royal Tea which was recorded at the legendary Abbey Road Studios and shows off Joe’s fiery guitar playing and incredible songwriting in a whole new way. It is also worth mentioning that Bonamassa has done a lot for artists during COVID-19 through his Non-Profit’s Fueling Musicians program, raising $375K thus far and giving it to 225+ touring musicians whose livelihoods have been halted.
About Joe Bonamassa
As a professional musician for over 30 years, Joe Bonamassa continues to blaze a remarkably versatile artistic trail, and amass an authentic, innovative and soulful body of work. Bonamassa’s career began onstage opening for B.B. King in 1989 when he was only 12 years old. Today, he is hailed worldwide as one of the greatest guitar players of his generation and is an ever-evolving singer-songwriter with over 30 albums to date all under his own label, J&R Adventures. He founded and oversees the non-profit Keeping The Blues Alive Foundation. Bonamassa has received two GRAMMY® nominations, and recently achieved his 22nd #1 Billboard Blues Albums (more than any other artist) with the release of LIVE AT SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE in 2019. While touring is on hiatus, Bonamassa has been staying busy by releasing new singles from his upcoming studio album, starting a brand new video interview series on Facebook called “Live From Nerdville” and promoting the Fueling Musicians Program to help those in need.Jbonamassa.com
About Paramount Home Entertainment
Paramount Home Entertainment (PHE) is part of Paramount Pictures Corporation (PPC), a global producer and distributor of filmed entertainment. PPC is a unit of ViacomCBS (NASDAQ: VIAC; VIACA), a leading content company with prominent and respected film, television and digital entertainment brands. The PHE division oversees PPC’s home entertainment and transactional digital distribution activities worldwide. The division is responsible for the sales, marketing and distribution of home entertainment content on behalf of Paramount Pictures, Paramount Animation, Paramount Television Studios, Paramount Players, MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and CBS and applicable licensing and servicing of certain DreamWorks Animation titles. PHE additionally manages global licensing of studio content and transactional distribution across worldwide digital distribution platforms including online, mobile and portable devices and emerging technologies.
About Keeping the Blues Alive Foundation
Keeping the Blues Alive® Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization founded by two-time GRAMMY-nominated blues-rock artist Joe Bonamassa and his long-time manager Roy Weisman. KTBA fuels the passion for music by funding projects and scholarships to allow students and teachers the resources and tools that further music education. Since its inception in 2011, KTBA has funded music programs and initiatives affecting 70,000+ students in all 50 states. This is accomplished by making weekly donations to music projects in schools, as well as funding merit-based scholarships and extracurricular programs all over the country. Through donations totaling nearly $1,000,000 from fundraisers, sweepstakes, merchandise sales, and our biannual blues festival at sea, KTBA has been able to keep all too vital music education as well as other programs thriving. ktba.org
Due to the impact of COVID-19, Joe Bonamassa and Keeping the Blues Alive Foundation launched the Fueling Musicians Program, which has to date raised more than $295,000 to help support more than 160 musicians in need during these challenging times by providing immediate cash payments of $1,000 for essential living expenses, as well as pre-paid gas cards of $500 and $50 Guitar Center gift cards to help them stay afloat and get back on the road again when it is safe. “The more money raised means more musicians will receive funding to help them get through these challenging times and ultimately back onto the road when the time is right,” Bonamassa says. On May 31, he launched an online Stream-A-Thon benefit for the program, featuring over FIVE hours of music performances from over 50 musicians including some legendary friends and talented rising stars. The full concert event can be streamed in here. Individuals or organizations interested in helping Joe support this program should go to the Keeping the Blues Alive website, ktba.org or ktba.org/fueling-musicians.