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23 Oct 2017

Blues Booster: Joe Bonamassa, Coming to Agua Caliente, Says the Blues Have a Future, Even in Our Instant-Gratification World

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Joe Bonamassa. Joe Bonamassa.

Joe Bonamassa was opening shows for B.B. King when he was 12 years old. It’s therefore no surprise that Bonamassa is today a budding blues legend in his own right.

In fact, Joe Bonamassa is now one of the biggest names in blues. He’s put out 12 studio albums, along with 15 live records—and he’ll be performing at The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa this Thursday, Oct. 26.

Bonamassa is well-known for his love of the 1959 Gibson Les Paul guitar.

“All the iconic music that was played—that’s the sound,” Bonamassa said. “All those blues records that I loved and the music I grew up listening to: the Les Paul is the Stradivarius of electric guitars. They’re the perfect combination of craftsmanship, materials and design. They weren’t popular in 1959, and it was a failing brand. Les Paul didn’t even like them in 1959, and in 1964, the English rockers started playing them—like Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Jimmy Page.”

When Bonamassa was 12, he had the opportunity to open for blues legend B.B. King. Thus, it’s no surprise to hear what blues song speaks to Bonamassa the most.

“My desert island song is ‘The Thrill Is Gone’ by B.B. King,” Bonamassa said. “It was a perfectly written blues song, which was also a big hit, and that’s rare. I think it was the last blues song to be a hit besides Tracy Chapman’s ‘Give Me One Reason.’”

Bonamassa is one of the musicians who is making a concerted effort to keep blues music alive, including a nonprofit foundation for music education called, appropriately enough, Keeping the Blues Alive, which provides scholarships and music resources to schools in need.

“Children have been brought up in such an instant-gratification society that the thought of putting 35 years into an instrument is something they’re not going to do,” he said. “Everyone wants to be quick—they want to be a legend, and instead of reaching for a guitar or drums, or anything that requires a 10-year learning period, they’re going to reach for an iPad or a DJ app and go, ‘Look at me!’ I was online the other day, and … there’s a kid from Germany who sells out arenas basically standing there dancing and pushing play, and I’m sitting there going, ‘What the fuck is this?’

“My band doesn’t use in-ear monitors, so it’s a live event—and a live event is supposed to be musicians playing in a room. Truth be told, it’s troubling to see the trend line where it’s cyborgs and computers versus people actually playing. My foundation is set up to encourage kids to pick up a guitar and play music.”

Some say the blues might be completely dead soon, but Bonamassa doesn’t believe that.

“Let’s talk about who is left,” he said. “Buddy Guy is still touring. Otis Rush is also still alive. … Eric Clapton can still sell out Madison Square Garden—and I defy you to show me a 20-something shoegazing indie rock band to do that. Blues is one of those kinds of music where it’s never really been popular to be a blues musician, and it’s a cult music. The people who love it, they love it forever. If you don’t like it, and you don’t get it, you never will. It’s not like one of those things that’s a fad, and it just is. It’s like saying: ‘What’s the basis of your lobster-infused truffle-oil mashed potatoes?’ It’s the fucking potato of that: You can dress it up however you want, but the bottom line is it’s the building block and the DNA of everything we listen to, including most of the crap that’s on the radio today.”

As far as what you can expect from Bonamassa’s show on Thursday, he said he and the band try to change up the show each night.

“You have to make your own work and make your own event,” he said. “How did P.T. Barnum figure out if you bring a bunch of elephants, a juggler and a guy who could swallow swords that it would make people want to come? He bet against himself and said, ‘I’m going to make this thing an event that people will talk about.’ If you just show up to the blues club, and it’s empty, there’s some responsibility of the artist and the people putting on the show. You have to make it an event where people are going to come out of their houses on a Thursday night.”

Joe Bonamassa will perform at 9 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 26, at The Show at the Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, in Rancho Mirage. Tickets are $89 to $149. For tickets or more information, call 888-999-1995, or visit www.hotwatercasino.com.

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