by Sean Humphreys, photo by Austin Richardson
The very first concert I can remember going to as a kid was George Clinton at City Stages. I couldn’t have been more than seven years old and by the time I was nine I had seen Stevie Wonder, Bela Fleck and the Fleckstones, and Topper Price multiple times. My father took my older brother and I to see all of these amazing groups as they passed through Birmingham and they have undoubtedly influenced our tastes as we’ve grown older. We both began playing music at a young age and I think our dad made it a point to introduce us to musicians who were especially skilled in hopes that it may inspire us.
Joe Bonamassa is one of those especially skilled, rare breed of musicians from a different era (or maybe a different dimension) of music where talent is recognized over persona.
In an age when any one with a laptop and the sense to use it can record a song, the music industry has become over saturated with mediocre musicians and live shows that are more spectacle than performance. In this respect, the Bonamassa concert was a breath of fresh air and for a couple hours it felt like maybe the music landscape was not so polluted.
For those of you who aren’t familiar, bonnamassa is a blues-rock guitar prodigy who has played with such legends as Buddy Guy, Joe Cocker, Ted Nugent and Eric Clapton just to name a few. He first picked up a guitar at age four and it quickly became apparent that he was a wunderkind. As a teenager he released his first album with the band ‘Bloodline’ which produced two chart singles: “Stone Cold Hearted” and “Dixie Peach”. His solo debut came in 2000 and he has since released seventeen live and studio albums.
Though he’s only 34, when he performs he has an old school heir about him that is undeniable. I’m not just saying that because a majority of the audience was twice my age, I’m truly convinced that the man’s soul lived 20 years before he was born. On stage, confidence resonates through his guitar and the band feeds off of the energy and enthusiasm that he brings. It was a pure rock and roll celebration and the audience didn’t need a thousand pounds of confetti or a hydraulic stage to be wowed. A group of tremendously talented musicians playing the music that they love was enough. The solos were absolutely mind melting, the cover riffs were spot on tributes to the bands that inspired a rock and roll revolution, and the show itself was a clinic on how to put on a great rock concert. Though it may not exactly be topping the charts these days, it’s easy to see that Bonamassa is playing the music genre he loves and he’s doing it as well as any of his predecessors. Speaking of predecessors, the legendary local Henry Gipson (from Gip’s place in Bessemer) surprised everyone at a meet and greet before the show and it was great to see two blues legends from different generations and backgrounds bond over a mutual passion. Joe actually promised that the next time he was in Birmingham he would be playing a set at Gip’s, which is sure to be a blues explosion of epic proportion.
If he were alive today I have no doubt that my dad would have taken my brother and I to see John Bonamassa, to be inspired by the musicianship, but even more important to have a good time at a great rock and roll show.