Joe Bonamassa is widely regarded to be one of the best blues musicians in the business. In 2019, a Guitar Player reader poll named him the top blues guitarist in the world — ahead of Eric Clapton, Derek Trucks and Buddy Guy. That respect has translated to a heavy touring schedule and a string of successful recordings. In April, Bonamassa reached No. 1 on the Billboard Blues Chart for an astounding 26th time with Tales of Time, a live recording of his 2021 album Time Clocks recorded last year at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado.
But the upstate New York native — a former child prodigy who opened for blues great B.B. King when he was just 12 years old — speaks with humility and admiration about his bandmates.
“[They’re] better than me — all of them,” he tells Billboard‘s Behind the Setlist podcast. Keyboard player Reese Winans “gets a standing ovation every night,” says Bonamassa before a recent concert in Charlotte, N.C. “He gets the biggest ovation of the night. He’s a living legend [who has] played with Stevie Ray [Vaughan] and Delbert McClinton. He’s a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee [as a member of Vaughan’s band, Double Trouble]. Every band has to have a Hall of Famer. He’s our’s.”
Guitarist Josh Smith is a “better player than I am,” he continues. “He’s killer.” He calls both drummer Lamar Carter (Raphael Sadie, Demi Lovato) and bass player Calvin Turner (Marc Broussard, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews) “amazing” musicians. Backup singers Jade MacRae and Danni D’Andrea, who have worked with Liam Gallagher and Prince, respectively, are “saints” for tolerating his singing voice, he says self-effacingly.
The great musicians tend to attract talented musicians to their touring bands. That gives Bonamassa a superb cast to help re-create his songs and transform the studio recordings for the live setting. “We have some fun with it,” he says. “Bring it up, bring it down. Like in the case of ‘Self-Inflicted Wounds,’ our great vocalist Jade MacRae takes a vocal solo at the very end and it brings the house down.”
Still, Bonamassa knows he’s the reason people buy tickets to his shows. “You’re never gonna see me go, ‘Well, I don’t really feel like playing guitar, and I’m just gonna let Josh take all the solos, or I’ll we’ll just we’ll just cut all the guitar, so I’m just gonna sing and play acoustic guitar.’ There will be a revolt, you know? There will be 2,500 people revolting tonight, leaving. And that’s because I know the audience. They want to hear a big guitar solo. So they want to they want to hear me shred over blues changes. And it’s something I get criticized for doing. But it’s also what people want to hear. I don’t question that.”
Bonamassa is currently on tour in Europe and will perform in Germany on May 5-6, Luxembourg on May 7 and France on May 10. He will play five dates in the U.K. from May 9-14 before returning to the U.S. to perform at the Capitol Theatre in Yakima, Wash., on May 26 and the Backroad Blues Festival with Kenny Wayne Sheppard in Bend, Ore., on May 27.