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The critically-acclaimed, fan favorite with the soulful licks and to-die-for tone isn’t just a phenom anymore. Joe Bonamassa hasn’t been for a while now. Having toured since the early ‘90s, he is what you would call road-tested. Having released seven albums, all of which reached #1 or at least the top ten in Billboard’s blues charts, he is what you call a studio veteran. Most importantly, he is what you would call a bluesman.
There are phenomenal players out there who cut the occasional blues album -- and then there are bluesmen who cut albums. To call Sloe Gin, Bonamassa’s latest, a blues album is redundant.
In fact, Sloe Gin, goes where most blues albums rarely go these days – the place where it all began: acoustic blues. At the same time, hats are tipped to rockers who advanced the blues, and boundaries are pushed. This is what’s most interesting about Bonamassa and it’s very apparent on this album. Despite his chops having won him total respect by the blues community, stores like Best Buy don’t put him in the Blues section. There’s no denying the blues cred is there but Bonamassa brings so much more to the table.
We caught up with Bonamassa and talked about his ground-breaking album, the state of the blues and of course, his killer tone.
You go back and forth between acoustic and electric on this album. If you were in a different situation I’d ask you how you convinced the powers that be to let you do that.
That’s the beauty of owning your own label. To me it’s important to move the boundaries a little, as far as what people consider blues and break down some of those preconceived notions of what it really is. You know, Led Zeppelin is just as much blues as Robert Johnson. Of course, some blues purists will take my picture and throw darts at it [for saying that]. Eleven of the same songs gets boring to anybody.
What happened to blues albums?
One- the industry is changing; people are downloading records. Two- people are not making records that drive people to the stores to buy them. For me, to have some acoustic music on there gives it a different flavor and appeals to a broader audience. It’s easy to strap on a Stratocaster and try to out-Stevie Ray the umpteenth guys who are trying to out-Stevie Ray each other. To me, its like- is there a song with a melody? Is there a song a woman would enjoy? That’s important. For a long time the blues have ignored 50% of their audience by catering to just guys.
This album really makes me stop and think about its production values. There are so many things going on. For example, the lead track’s Zeppelin-eque sonic quality hits you right in the chest.
I can’t take credit for that. That’s [engineer] Kevin Shirley. Kevin’s such a brilliant producer and such a great musical mind. He comes from a different background. He was predominantly doing more heavy records, you know – Zeppelin remixes, Black Crows, Iron Maiden – so he came to the table with a very different perspective. He was coming up with stuff I would never think of in a million years. Like the song, “Sloe Gin;” I never would have thought of that, even if I had heard it before I would have never thought, ‘Let’s see what you can do to make it not only viable but the title track, too.’
There are so many great, different flavors on this album. How did you approach that in the studio?
We did two separate sessions for the album. In January we did a full-on, all acoustic thing – all the acoustic tracks and “Ball Peen Hammer.” Then we came back and did all the electric tracks. And we didn’t really know how it would work – if we should do a side A/side B thing or if going back and forth would make it disjointed. We went through several sequences and even had to burn about 25,000 [CD] jackets when we made the last change. [laughs]
Did you get it right?
I really like the way it turned out. I wanted to make an album you could listen to all the way through and have it make sense at the end. Unfortunately, people cherry-pick songs and download them today, missing the feel that albums are designed with. If you took Thick as a Brick [Jethro Tull] and listened to those songs out of order it would be total chaos as a piece of art and that’s kind of the thinking I was going with – let’s try to make this thing so that it flows from start to finish.