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Archive for April 28th, 2010

The Road to Joe

You never know where those roads will take you.

When I decided, in my mid-thirties, that I wanted to learn how to play guitar, I hoped/expected to develop a new skill, learn a new mode of creative expression, and unlock the great mystery (or so it seemed to me then) of music theory. But I never expected what happened to me in March of 2003.

By that time, I had been taking guitar lessons for nearly a year, and progressing well. My teacher was a guy named Phil, who played in a band on weekends, and by day handled bookings and publicity for a local music venue. One day, he walked into my lesson and handed me two tickets to an upcoming show.

The name on the tickets was Joe Bonamassa.

I had never heard of the guy. "Blues rock," Phil said. "You should go."

So I went.  The wife wasn’t too interested; I brought my nephew-in-law instead.

The show started off rockin’, with Joe performing some sizzling slide work.  The nephew-in-law and I fell instantly into the groove, bobbing our heads in time and generally enjoying ourselves.  But as the show went on, as Joe continued to dazzle with his frenetic fretwork, enjoyment gradually turned to amazement, and finally–as we realized what we were witnessing–to outright awe. 

No, that’s not too strong a word.  My jaw was hanging near the level of my chest by that time.  What I saw that night was something I had never before experienced.  This guy was well beyond great; his passion, fluidity, tone, and utter mastery of his instrument left me exhilarated.  And I got a distinct sense that I was, at that moment, exactly where the universe wanted me to be.  That this is where I belonged.  I was home.

After the show, I informed my wife that I’d found a new guitar hero.  I’ve had a few in my life:  Ace Frehley, Rik Emmett, Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Stevie Ray Vaughan.  And as of that fateful night, Joe Bonamassa, whom I have since dubbed The Greatest Guitarist Alive (TM).

Joe at the Music Box, Omaha, 2003 (Photo by the wife)

The wife has since joined me in Joe fandom.  We’ve seen him perform 19 times.  We’ve traveled to Denver, Kansas City, Rochester, and even Atlanta.  I own every CD and every DVD.  I can tell you anything you need to know about him–his tour with B.B. King at age 12, his stint with the band Bloodline during his teenage years, his sold-out gig at the Royal Albert Hall in 2009, the works.  I’ve bombarded friends, family, coworkers, and this blog with my fervor for Joe.  I dragged my sister and brother-in-law to a show just last year.  My brother-in-law called it "breathtaking."

Yeah.  Couldn’t have said it better.

May 8th, a week from Saturday, will mark my 20th Joe show, right here in Omaha.  You’ll find the wife and I in the front row.  And now you know why.

Joe’s latest CD is called Black Rock.  Go here to get a free download of the single "Blue and Evil."  The promo code is BNE2010.  You’re welcome. 

Learning the guitar has rewarded me many times over, in many different ways–but I never could have guessed that it would lead me down this particular road.  Feel free to join me.

Post script:  My joy at Joe’s return is tinged with sadness.  If you think I’m a big fan, you should have met Garth Close,  whose enthusiasm for Joe predated mine by several years.  Garth was at that show in March 2003, and at every other Joe appearance in Omaha.  I always looked forward to seeing him; Joe was the bond that made us friends.  Cancer took him late last year.  His passing was a horrible shock to me.  On May 8th at the Orpheum Theater, there will be a giant hole where Garth should be.  We will miss you terribly, my friend.  Rest in peace, brother.

Garth, me, and Joe after the Whiskey Roadhouse show in 2008.  This was the last time I saw Garth.  (Photo courtesy of Patty Patrick)