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Joe Bonamassa and the Evolution of the Blues in Nashville

by Rich and Laura Lynch

"We really appreciate you coming out," said Joe Bonamassa from the stage during the second night of his two-show stand at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee on Saturday, October 9, 2021. "Especially with that little bit of competition just up the road."


Joe Bonamassa brings the blues back to Nashville.

Bonamassa was, of course, referring to The Rolling Stones who were making an appearance at Nissan Stadium during the same time slot that Joe was entertaining his own diehard audience on 5th Avenue. And, while Mick and company might have had a few more bodies in the seats at the cavernous football facility there are a number of similarities between the two acts.

Founded in 1962, the Stones looked for much of their early inspiration from the Chicago Blues sound before ultimately abandoning that style for rock, pop and even disco success as their fame and fortune grew. A young "Smokin" Joe Bonamassa adopted the blues form early on as his main outlet and would soon be getting tutelage from one of the last giants in the genre - the one and only Mr. B.B. King. Through the years Joe has stayed true to the blues with just a few detours along the way. Another similarity between the legendary Englishmen and the quick study upstart from upstate New York is their tendency to release a prolific amount of material.


Scenes from the Joe Bonamassa concert at the Ryman Auditorium.

We jumped on the "Joe train" just as Bonamassa was really picking up speed with the release of the critically acclaimed The Ballad of John Henry in 2009. Many award winning records would soon follow in quick succession including Black Rock, Dust Bowl, Driving Towards the Daylight, Different Shades of Blue, Blues of Desperation and Redemption.

What that means for a Joe Bonamassa concert is that over the years his setlists have dramatically changed, or evolved, as new songs are featured and older ones are dropped. That is the natural order of the world - and it is as true for rock shows as it is for biology. Still, the more things change - the more they stay the same.

Joe's fantastic traveling crew currently contains a trio of Nashvillians including SRV and Double Trouble legend Reese Wynans on keyboards, the very sought after Michael Rhodes on bass and Greg Morrow keeping a solid beat on drums. Bonamassa's band is ever-evolving and never stays static. For this outing he has brought along Josh Smith on second guitar. Having an additional axe man in the band was a bit unusual for Joe who usually is the singular six stringer in the spotlight.


Joe Bonamassa played two nights in Nashville.

But, there is a long tradition of blues greats hiring help to assist with the numerous notes that can take place during a performance. One needs to look no further than Buddy Guy or Eric Clapton to see this theory in action. Joe called Josh "the best musician that I know" and they are friends and work together in production. Maybe it's just a matter of having a companion on the road to talk shop with as the miles roll by. Smith's presence created a fuller sound on stage with numerous songs featuring guitar lead doubling and the trading off of lightning speed licks.

Joe talked a bit about his decision to move to Nashville four years ago. In his 48 months here things have really started to click. He recently officially appeared at the Grand Ole Opry for the first time as a solo artist and this summer he shared the spotlight as Brad Paisley's guest during a Fourth of July concert in front of over 300,000 on Broadway downtown. The only downside? Bonamassa said that himself and other locals are now less welcoming to potential newcomers as the traffic in Music City has really become grist for the blues.


Bonamassa and the Batman Building - perfect for a blues guitar super hero.

Bonamassa mentioned that the show on Saturday was the tenth time that he had the privilege of headlining at the Mother Church of Country Music. Of course, the last time he was here in 2020 he played for a bunch of stiffs as all the seats were filled with cardboard cutouts of fans and celebrities since no observers were allowed in the audience due to Covid restrictions. That concert is now documented on Now Serving: Royal Tea Live from the Ryman released in July on Joe's J&R Adventures label.

After opening with a pair of songs from 2014's Different Shade of Blues this night leaned heavily on Joe's newer blues offerings from Royal Tea along with the lead single "Notches" from his forthcoming Time Clocks collection. The first encore featured the always alarming acoustic assault of "Woke Up Dreaming" before Bonamassa acknowledged that the set was weighted with recent tracks and rarities saying "we figured we'd play one some of you might recognize" as they proceeded to pour out the satisfying show closer "Sloe Gin".

"We hope to get in 30 shows between now and the end December," Joe announced as the band readied to depart on their Fall Tour with their fingers crossed for no pandemic related surprises. For an artist who has lived by the motto of "always on the road" this past year and half of not playing live concerts has had to have been hard. Because, getting the Bonamassa emblazoned trucks on the road is the only sure way to keep the moss at bay.


Joe Bonamassa and band delivered the blues once again in Music City.

Related Links: For more information on JOE BONAMASSA and the other organizations mentioned please visit the following links - Joe Bonamassa | Ryman Auditorium | Live From Nerdville | Ryman - 2019 | Ryman - 2018 | Ryman - 2015 | Joe at Gibson Garage Opening | In Music City There's Even a Gig at the Taco Bell

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