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Guitar legend Joe Bonamassa keeps blues, guitar torches blazing; performing at the Paramount Theatre Thursday

Marty Moffatt

Guitar god Joe Bonamassa is returning to the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids on Aug. 8.
Marty Moffatt Guitar god Joe Bonamassa is returning to the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids on Aug. 8.

It’s terribly uncommon for contemporary recording artists to release a studio album nearly every year. But a Joe Bonamassa album is almost an annual event.

The charismatic blues guitar hero has crafted 13 studio album since 2001.

Bonamassa, 42, is touring behind “Redemption,” which dropped in September. The prolific songwriter is already working on his next project.

“I’m only in the writing phase,” Bonamassa said by phone from Boston. “I haven’t gotten to the studio yet since I’m on the road, but we’re going to record it at Abbey Road (Studios).”

Bonamassa doesn’t need to preview songs when he performs Aug. 8 at the Paramount Theatre, since he has as much catalog as work ethic.

“I have no problem putting in the time,” Bonamassa said. “I’ve never had an issue pulling the guitar out to create and play.”

Bonamassa watches as fewer millennials embrace blues and fewer appear to be playing the guitar.

“I feel for the musical instrument manufacturers,” Bonamassa said as he strummed his guitar. “It’s not an easy sell for a kid who wants to play music. One option is to work on mastering an instrument — that will kill your social life. I know what it’s like to play alone in a room and practice over and over again.

“I don’t think that’s so appealing for kids today. All they have to do is grab an iPad and all of a sudden they can make noises that sound cool. They can make money as a DJ. Do you go with an instrument that it takes years to learn or do you go with an instrument in which you can learn it in no time? I understand why (fewer) younger people are playing the guitar, but they’re missing out.”

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Bonamassa is as passionate about his instrument as the music he makes. The multi-instrumentalist, who also plays the mandolin and banjo, has an impressive collection of vintage guitars.

“Guitars are what I’m into,” he said. “They give me great joy. The reason to own all of these guitars is because I like the sound and feel of the guitars. I love the Les Pauls. They make a great guitar. I love Fenders. They also manufacture a great guitar. There’s something about an old guitar, but the reality is that they don’t sound any better than a new guitar. They just feel different. I love the old guitars because I’m preserving history.”

Bonamassa has made some history as a blues player. Much like his guitar slinging peers, Derek Trucks and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Bonamassa was performing in clubs as a prepubescent and was mentored by an esteemed blues guitarist, the late Danny Gatton.

“I was fortunate to be encouraged at such a young age,” Bonamassa said. “Danny taught me how to play the Telecaster and I was able to go on the road during the weekends, and I just fell in love with playing the guitar and writing songs. It was apparent from an early age what I wanted to do.”

The laid-back Utica, N.Y., native, now based in Los Angeles, has sold millions of albums on his terms.

“I’ve been an independent recording artist for years,” he said. “I was always best in an independent situation.”

“Redemption,” like most of Bonamassa’s albums, has been released by his own label, J&R Records. The album is steeped in Chicago blues and once again features the work of longtime producer Kevin Shirley. But Bonamassa experiments with some new blues sounds. A few of the songs feature Southern soul with horns. He delivers some muscular blues cuts, which pull from the power and mysticism of Led Zeppelin.

The common denominator throughout the album is regret.

“This album feels like the logical follow-up to what we made with ‘Blues of Desperation,’” Bonamassa explained. “Much of the album is autobiographical, but it’s not too personal. It’s not my style to get to be too personal.”

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Bonamassa has done most of the heavy lifting throughout his career, but this time, he had a few stellar guitarists in the studio.

“Doing that really helped what we were doing,” Bonamassa said. “Rob McNelly, Doug Lancio and Kenny Greenberg can all play. It was great to have these different textures on an album.”

Since Bonamassa emerged on the scene as a kid, he’s always been known as young guitarist. However, with the passing of older blues icons like B.B. King, with whom he toured at age 12, and rare sightings of legendary players like Eric Clapton, Bonamassa has almost reached elder statesman status.

“Kenny Wayne Shepherd and I were recently talking about this subject,” Bonamassa said. “I asked him this question, ‘When did we become the spokesman for blues guitar players?’ But the guys we hung out with when we were in our teens, like B.B. King, are gone. Guys like Kenny and Derek Trucks and I are all in our 40s. We’re keeping it all going and there will be some blues guitarists after us. If I’m wrong, we’ll still be all right.

“If no one records another song after today, July 26, 2019, there will be more than enough blues and rock ’n’ roll to sustain everyone forever.”

 

Get Out!

 

WHAT: Joe Bonamassa

WHERE: Paramount Theatre, 123 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids

WHEN: 8 p.m. Aug. 8

TICKETS: $102 to $202; Paramount Ticket Office, (319) 366-8203 or Paramounttheatrecr.com

ARTIST’S WEBSITE: Jbonamassa.com

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