Tag Archives: blues-rock

Joe Bonamassa: “Oh it sounded shit, never mind”

joe bonamassa 2016

BLUESFEST Byron Bay is almost upon us and American blues-rock maestro Joe Bonamassa is seeking redemption.

His two exclusive Australian shows at the Easter long weekend event, while hardly requiring a crossroads-like pact with the devil, will provide the hugely talented singer-guitarist with a chance for atonement.

“I played Byron Bay one time; I believe it was 2010,” he says. “I had the shittiest backline and came off the stage thinking I had ruined my entire career in the country of Australia. I thought my guitar sound was just dreadful, but sod’s law meant that I had more people, artists included, coming up to me asking me ‘Man, what were you using up there because it sounded great?’. So I go ‘What fucking show were you watching?’. This year I’m actually shipping my own gear over there, so it gives me a fighting chance; at least me personally. But probably nobody will say anything. ‘Oh it sounded shit, never mind’ [laughs].”

The garrulous and amiable New Yorker’s 12th studio album, Blues of Desperation, will be released just in time for his Australian shows, and represents somewhat of a return to his roots.

“After exploring so many avenues – I was in a hard rock band, I did two years of doing traditional blues, we did The Three Kings tour, the album with Mahalia [Barnes], the stuff I do with Beth Hart – I woke up one day and thought that what I am really good at is blues-rock,” he says. “That’s actually probably what I’m best at, and I should get back to doing what I do best. The album represents that; the urgency to get back to swinging the heavier bat and playing heavier stuff.”

Blues of Desperation sees Bonamassa once again teaming up with producer Kevin Shirley; an arrangement that is unlikely to change any time soon.

“Kevin and I came up with the title based on the song,” Bonamassa says. “It has this weathered kind of feel. It was brought to my attention it was maybe too dark of a title, and for a minute it was changed to Drive, before I finally decided that my life should not become a focus group thinking about who will be turned off by a title. Frankly, it’s not going to sell one more or less copy either way, and I’ve always done things in my career that just felt good, natural and organic. If I saw the record in a store, I would stop and look at it. But if I saw an album called Drive; it’s too vanilla for me. [Kevin and I] have been together for 11 years now. I told him that I think the reason we get on so well together is that everyone sticks to their job; I’m the travelling salesman, Kevin does the records, and Roy [Weisman, manager] runs the business. Kevin is great about putting me into situations that challenge me, and with musicians I would never think of. He has such a great vision of what I’m capable of, even when there is some resistance. I come in with the songs and we hash out the arrangements and we’re pretty much always on the same page. I’ve also learned to appreciate the inspiration of a single take, rather than grind the inspiration out of it, if you know what I mean?”

At only 38, Bonamassa has already been a working musician for 26 years, having opened for B.B. King when he was 12. The idea that a true bluesman never really retires might not apply here, however.

“I reckon I have another 24 years left before I can officially retire after 50 years in,” he laughs. “I’m not a run-of-the-mill blues guy. I tell you, I’m not going to be a lifer. The problem is to do this at a high level and to keep the quality up, it takes a lot of preparation. I’m not one of those cats who just walks on stage and it all just comes out of me. I think there’s more to life; I don’t want to look down the line when I’m too old to pursue something else and think I squandered the opportunity [to do something else]. Not that having a career in music is a bad thing; it’s an honour to do this for a living, but there’s more to life than plugging a Gibson guitar into a Fender amp, you know? There’s a big world out there. I get to travel it, but I never see it. I go to all these great places, and I see the hotel and the gig. I could get up super-early and see some museum but I don’t feel like doing that after singing the night before. I’d like to be a tourist once in a while, you know?”

On top of his abundant playing and writing skills, Bonamassa has been a student of the blues since childhood, starting with the ’60s British blues guitarists who brought the form to the masses.

“It was my original gateway into blues,” he says. “As a kid, to hear blues music that was basically early heavy rock was very appealing to me. As a six or seven year-old, it’s very hard to get the subtleties of Robert Johnson, as you can barely hear it on a record player. Only 20 years after the fact did I realise the true genius of those original masters, and even now I’m discovering them and realising how many of their ideas were, let’s say, borrowed by the British blues-rock scene of the ’60s. My first introduction was the Jeff Beck Group, and that was the gateway. After that it was Fresh Cream, Disraeli Gears, all the Free stuff – I was enamoured with Paul Kossoff, Rory Gallagher, Gary Moore. [Gary Moore album] Still Got The Blues was one of the most pivotal albums in my early teenage years because it taught me I could overplay and people would still like it [laughs].”

While Bonamassa is a big fan of Australia and its music, he admits he lives in a bubble when it comes to what music is most popular here, or anywhere. Luckily his Queenslander girlfriend keeps him informed.

“I have a lot of ties to Australia,” he says. “Mahalia [Barnes] and I were literally just a week ago at Carnegie Hall; she was singing with me. I kind of know what is going on. I’m wilfully ignorant about the pop music scene. I mean, sometimes I’ll run into somebody and my girlfriend knows I have that what-the-fuck look on my face. She’ll be like ‘That’s actually a really popular artist’, and I’ll be like ‘Great! Congratulations’. One guy I love is [blues slide guitarist] Dave Hole, who lives in Perth. He’s one of the best.”

JOE BONAMASSA PLAYS BLUESFEST BYRON BAY SATURDAY MARCH 26 AND MONDAY MARCH 28. BLUES OF DESPERATION IS OUT MARCH 25.

For The Brag

Live review: John Mayall – Brisbane Powerhouse – 5/4/15

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THE list of highlights and accomplishments in John Mayall’s career reads like a who’s-who guide to contemporary blues and rock music.

The 81 year-old has not only released over 60 albums, but his band the Bluesbreakers became the vehicle which introduced one or two talented folk to the public sphere for the first time: Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor, Peter Green, Jack Bruce, Mick Fleetwood and the recently-deceased Andy Fraser, to name a few. To say the Englishman has had a bit of a part to play in the many twisting paths of contemporary music is a laughable understatement: the guy is simply a living legend.

Each of Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne has benefitted from his being in the country to play the annual Byron Bay Bluesfest, and this gig would allow Mayall to put on yet another masterclass of blues and rock not often seen in such a great venue in Brisbane. With his outstanding backing band of Chicagoans Jay Davenport and Greg Rzab (drums and bass, respectively), and Texan Rocky Athas on guitar, the veteran played a range of tracks from all periods in his career, from sixties classics like Blues From Laurel Canyon to most recent effort, A Special Life, and he and his band pulled out all the stops to have an Easter holiday audience stomping and baying for more.

Looking calm and casual like the seasoned musicians they are, Mayall and band start with ‘Not at Home’, which gives the frontman the chance to take his first of many harmonica solos; each of which stun and enthral in equal measure.

Moving through ‘The Bear’ and Sonny Boy Williamson’s classic ‘Checkin’ Up On My Baby’, the gang hit their stride and calls from the audience to “turn it up” ring around the auditorium. ‘Nature’s Disappearing’ keeps up the trend of each song lasting about ten minutes and featuring extended jams and solos, before Mayall announces “We’d like to change the pace a bit for you now,” as the slower ‘Have You Heard’ allows Athas to unleash some of the finest blues licks this reviewer has had the pleasure to witness in many a moon.

‘Big Town Playboy’ and ‘A Special Life’ show that the most recently-released material stands well next to the classics, and upon completion of ‘Walking On Sunset’, Mayall asks the audience “You’re all very well behaved aren’t you?” to rapturous applause.

‘Moving On’ is followed by ‘Long Gone Midnight’; the latter gives drummer Davenport a chance to strut his stuff with some seriously sassy solos, while JB Lenoir’s ‘Mamma Talk To Your Daughter’ goes down a storm. Otis Rush’s ‘All Your Love’ would have been the closer, but after several minutes of rabid noise, the band reappear onstage to run through an excellent ‘Hide Away’ to send this audience home ecstatically happy.

For The AU Review

Russell Marsden of Band of Skulls: “It’s a tipping point now”

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ENGLISH alt-rockers Band of Skulls are probably one of the hardest working bands in the business.

Since their 2009 debut Baby Darling Doll Face Honey, the trio of Russell Marsden, Emma Richardson and Matt Hayward have consistently won fans the old-fashioned way; by touring relentlessly and improving with each album. Singer-guitarist Marsden explains how their hard work is paying off with new record Himalayan.

“It’s an exciting time,” he says. “It’s a tipping point now. The fact now that we have three albums to choose from really makes a difference. Only having one record makes playing a show for more than forty minutes quite a challenge, so now that we have all these records to choose from makes our shows much stronger. We’ve had the record finished for a while and it’s kind of a relief to be able to share it with people. I think that’s probably the emotion that’s going through our minds right now. We’ve been playing the songs live, so we’ve got a little bit of a feeling about how people feel about the new songs, but now people can get the record, take it home and live with it, then come see us play. When we’ll be down in Australia, that will definitely be the case, so that’ll be exciting.”

The band’s second album, Sweet Sour, was released in 2012 and saw their songs evolve with a cleaner, harder sound. This time around, they weren’t willing to sit still either.

“We changed producers for this record,” Marsden says. “That was kind of a big shift. Nick Launay came in to do this one, and we made it in London, so this was the first time we didn’t record in the middle of nowhere. We went into the studio every day and worked on the songs, instead of being stuck somewhere on a farm. It really changed the dynamic of the recording session, and I think that comes out in the music; it was fun to do it every day and we really relished the challenge. Previously it was more intense, but this time we were doing a week together and a week apart. This time we definitely took the work away, then reconvened and kept the best ideas and trashed the rest. We all had to learn to accept that fact that your idea might not be the best idea. We’re quite good at it; we don’t come to blows but we might disagree now and then. Musically, I think the sound has come of age. We know what our sound is, but we also feel allowed to not just be a blues-rock band or just a heavy band, and our audience will allow us to continue to experiment in a few different directions. It’s more of a challenge to be able to play the new songs; we’ve written some that are quite tricky and are just at the edge of our ability. We challenge ourselves, and the first few times we play them live are seat-of-the-pants moments, but once you get over the first couple of times the confidence grows and it becomes more natural. Once we get our teeth into them, it’s really great. The record comes out soon and the songs know it; I think the songs are onto us. But there’s a certain buzz about playing tunes for the first time in front of people, and that’s part of the thrill which we’ve enjoyed so far. There are a couple of tracks we haven’t done yet too, so we’ve still got a couple of those moments left.”

Despite the obvious benefits of having new songs to play live, Marsden admits the expectations the band put on themselves to write the best songs possible is the driving force behind the band.

“We give ourselves our own pressure,” he says. “Outside pressure doesn’t even get a look in. We’re really proud of the two records we’ve made and we loved working with [producer] Ian Davenport on those records, but we set the bar higher this time. If a song isn’t as good as something you’ve done before, then it basically isn’t good enough. Recording is an amazing experience, although it’s not easy. There are a lot of long hours, and it can be relentless and the hours are gruelling. It can wear you down and drive you insane. It’s a bit like sitting an important exam, where the result is going to affect your life in the future, but seeing ideas that you have in your head realised is a thrill. When something comes out well in the recording, you can’t help but sneak a thought about how it’s going to sound playing it to people in the future.

An upcoming June tour of Australia is something Marsden is hoping the group can repeat in the near future.

“We’ve been a couple of times now and the audiences are fantastic and really knowledgeable,” he says. “Your festivals are really good as well; you get a lot of international acts coming over. The competition is stiff, and we know it’s not going to be an easy ride, but we’ll be playing some bigger venues for the first time and that’s really exciting. I wish we could come back to Australia more often, but it’s a long way and it costs a lot of money for bands to come over. Hopefully this won’t be the last trip on this record. If it goes as good as we hope, we can maybe come back and do some more cities as we only have three stops this time. Hopefully we can return not long afterwards.”

HIMALAYAN BY BAND OF SKULLS IS OUT NOW. THE BAND TOUR AUSTRALIA IN JUNE.