Topic: Joe's Blues in the Schools Talk 10/19/07
Joe gave his Blues in the Schools presentation to a group at Montgomery College, Rockville Maryland, the afternoon of October 19th. It was a wonderful glimpse inside the hectic world of Joe Bonamassa. This free lecture was open to all, and in addition to the Montgomery College guitar students who hung on his every word, some of his ordinary fans got to attend and soak up an hour of Joe talking about his life. The group zeroed in on Joe, asking questions and laughing at his many funny anecdotes.
Joe pulled up a chair to a single microphone on the Parilla Arts Auditorium stage, played two songs, then loads of riffs on his acoustic guitar and talked about life on the road. He was relaxed and covered a lot of ground, answering every question posed. Here are some of his comments, paraphrased as best as I can recall, my apologies to Joe if I didn't get them precisely right.
"My dad collected and sold guitars. I was three when I started banging around on a Martin guitar - my parents realized that I wanted to play and got me my own guitar so I wouldn't wreck the good ones they had."
"I was 11 when I got to play for BB King. I played for him, and BB said he would get in touch, and I believed him. I didn't realize that when most people say that, especially in Los Angeles, they really mean 'I'll never talk to you again.' His manager did call to ask about having me open for him on a tour. I spent a summer touring with BB King."
"When I got back to middle school, I had to write the usual 'What I Did Over My Summer Vacation' paper and I was nervous because I knew it would be graded on punctuation and spelling. I wrote mine about touring with BB King and turned it in. My teacher handed back all the papers and I could see that other kids got A's and B's on theirs. Mine had a note: "See me." The teacher said, 'Mr. Bonamassa, I thought you understood that this was to be a real paper and not a fantasy about a summer vacation.' I explained that it was true, and I brought in my stage photo ID, and copies of the playbills, and a photo of me with BB, but I still only got a C on that paper, because of punctuation."
"When I traveled with BB King, he had two vans, and I thought it was so cool, he had two whole vans to carry around all our gear, and they really weren't big vans, more like Aerostar's, but to me, it seemed like they were such big rigs for all our equipment. Now I have the bus, and a trailer, but those two vans seemed like I had really hit the big time when I was 11."
A student in the audience asked where Joe went to high school. He explained that he was tutored in NYC, "with all the kids who were stars in Broadway shows and in soap operas and then there was me."
Joe played an acoustic version of Ball Peen Hammer. He demonstrated the way he warms up by playing chords, and responded to a question about how to improve speed by playing slow at first and practicing getting faster and faster. He made it look so easy... the students were in awe - we all were. He stressed how important articulation is, “Make sure you're playing every note, it's easy to get sloppy when you're playing fast.”
He talked about learning to sing, taking voice lessons over the years, and how important voice lessons have been in preserving his voice for constant touring. He mentioned many of the guitarists who have influenced him, and taking lessons from Danny Gatton.
Joe talked about how constant touring can be tough, but that they're getting to play in some exciting places. "Last week we were in Paris, and Amsterdam, and Moscow." He said that he was nervous about how many seats had been sold for the Moscow show, because "how many people could possibly know me over there?" The theater had 1,800 seats, and he was hoping that they had sold at least 50 tickets, that 300 would have been really fortunate and would have made it worthwhile, so he held his breath when he asked about the ticket sales. The manager told them that the theater was sold out and they were shocked and thrilled. It was a great concert in a beautiful setting.
I can’t tell you how exciting it was to be a Joe fanatic and to hear him talk. My son's 16-year-old girlfriend sat behind me and said "He's so CUTE!!!!!" I was smug - "I told you so!" I wonder, is it scary to Joe that he has this effect on women who are in their 50's all the way down to teenage girls? He did say that part of why he chose the blues when he was young was because the girls at blues concerts seemed better looking than the girls at classical concerts – much laughter!
While Joe was talking to us, the crew was setting up the stage for the evening performance. When they brought his rolling guitar case with 10 guitars out, he got up and demonstrated all of his equipment for the students, all the different pedals, how he has his amplifiers set up, and how some of his equipment was made for him with a JB label. This part was technical and both Joe and the students were very into it.
It was fun to see him talking about volume - he moved two clear plexiglass screens in front of his speakers, and said that you have to be careful not to be too loud, "You don't want the audience sitting there with a 'You're hurting me!' look on their faces."
It seemed like he was going to wrap up, mentioning that it was lunch time (around 3 pm) - but as the students stood near the stage, he took out every one of his guitars and talked about each one, the differences in sound and how he got them, from his beautiful flaming red and gold Gigliotti to the gleaming black Lucille, signed by BB of course on the back. He laughed about how he's finally broken his "nasty little habit" of buying 2 - 3 guitars a week, that he ran out of room in his apartment and he realizes that they should be played and not just sitting around in a collection. He let a student play two of his guitars, and later in the lobby as we were walking out, the student said that his life was complete now that he had played two of Joe's guitars. They were floating home having been so close to Joe.
We were ALL walking out grinning, and we couldn't get over our good fortune to see Joe in such a personal way. It was the dream conversation that you want to have with him when you see him after a concert and all you can manage to blurt out is a starstruck "Joe, you were terrific!"
The concert in Rockville that night was superb. My friend Ann, my husband Lee, my son Dean and I saw Joe in June twice this summer, in Harrisburg in late August, and this October 19th concert was several notches above the other performances. The crowd erupted when he walked out on stage and gave standing ovations to many of the songs prior to the encores. The audience was so focused on Joe, and I have to wonder if he wasn’t giving a continuation of guitar lessons to the Montgomery College students. It was a magic performance. Many, many kudos to Bogie, Carmine and Rick who give Joe a platform, but are stars in their own right. A fantastic evening topping a terrific day.