Joe Bonamassa / ‘Guitar Man’ a wonderful tale of one man against the music industry

It is hard to think of any other musician with a similar impact on their own genre of music as Joe Bonamassa.

Over the last 20 years, he has almost single-handedly revitalised the Blues for a new generation of musicians and fans alike.

Joe Bonamassa – ‘Guitar Man’ Documentary

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Words: Kahmel Farahani

As his long-time producer Kevin Shirley points out early on in the film, Bonamassa has had more number one Blues albums on the billboard charts than any other Blues musician in history. Now seems like as good a time as any then to look back on his rise to fame and his evolution as an artist.

His newly released movie ‘Guitar Man’ aims to do just that.

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Joe Bonamassa Live at The Sage, Gateshead 14th March 2018. Photo By Mick Burgess
Joe Bonamassa, The Sage, Gateshead 2018. Photo: Mick Burgess

A fourth generation musician himself, Bonamassa started his professional journey at the tender age of 11, with the hopes of being able to afford a Fender amplifier. After a well publicised stint supporting BB King, Bonamassa went through a selection of bands before settling as a solo artist.

Bonamassa made his first solo album with legendary producer Tom Dowd, ironically just before the entire music industry was shaken to its core by Napster. This not only signalled the beginning of the end for the classic model of record production, it also cut short any hopes for an easy, commercial hit that Bonamassa and manager Roy Weisman had harboured.

Bonamassa Glenn Hughes Electric Ballroom by Eric Duvet
Joe Bonamassa and Glenn Hughes. Photo: Eric Duvet

Bonamassa decided to make a pure Blues album, later met Iron Maiden’s producer Kevin Shirley and the rest, as they say, is history.

Bonamassa pinpoints 4 May 2009 as the date he arrived on the big stage – the day he made his debut at The Royal Albert Hall in London. This writer still has vivid memories of that night since it happened to be the first concert I ever saw as a teenager.

As Bonamassa got to play his dream venue and do it alongside one of his heroes Eric Clapton, he became the Blues superstar we all know today, sharp suit on and Les Paul in hand.

Joe Bonamassa and Bernie Marsden, Under The Bridge 2019. Eric Duvet
Joe Bonamassa and Bernie Marsden, Under The Bridge 2019. Photo: Eric Duvet

The latter half of ‘Guitar Man’ shows the evolution of Bonamassa the songwriter, album by album and song by song.

From incorporating world music with ‘Black Rock’, to bringing in the bigger bands and the horn section for his tribute gigs to Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, Bonamassa underwent an impressive evolution, both as a performer and a songwriter.

Interestingly, ‘Guitar Man’ also spends some time looking at the forming of, and Bonamassa’s eventual disillusion with, the Black County Communion super group in 2011.

Without going into too many details, Bonamassa says he felt burned out and pressured, before deciding that he really did prefer the solo artist life.

Joe Bonamassa Live at The Sage, Gateshead. 14th March 2018 Photo By Mick Burgess
Joe Bonamassa, The Sage, Gateshead. Photo: Mick Burgess

The film ends with Bonamassa giving back in the same way BB King did with him, with his ‘Keeping The Blues Alive’ foundation for young people learning music in schools.

‘Guitar Man’ is not the perfect documentary, at some points relying too heavily on available archive footage of his album recordings. It would also have been nice to hear from his contemporaries and sadly the film ends before the current predicament that the live music industry is in.

That being said, ‘Guitar Man’ is still a wonderful and watchable tale of one man against the music industry and his singular love for the Blues and his willingness to keep taking risks.

Definitely a must watch for his fans, new and old.

Sleeve Notes

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