Review by Paul Monkhouse for MPM
The King of Modern Blues and one of the most successful and lauded guitarists of all time, Joe Bonamassa pulls back the curtain and lets us into his world in this new film.
Following his path from when he first picked up his initial axe to the present, this is a revealing and absorbing document that charts his rise from school halls through to some of the biggest venues in the world.
It would be a mistake to think this is a ‘warts and all’ exposé because it isn’t. We’re certainly allowed a lot of access to those who know and have worked with Bonamassa, along with the man himself, but it holds back from really diving deeply into his personal life and well it should.
The draw here is the man and the music, what has shaped his life is laid out and, barring any hitherto untold secrets to what has made him the man he is, the usually private artist is on display.
Tellingly, near the beginning of the film we see him talking about stepping into the ‘character’ of Joe Bonamassa, changing from the jeans, t-shirt and baseball cap and into the sharp suit and expensive shades.
Like so many great entertainers before him, he dons the persona to keep the stage Joe and the ‘real’ Joe separate, deftly moving between the two.
Peppered with great performances from throughout his career, we’re transported from Radio City Music Hall in New York, Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado and through to various venues in London with a few stops in between.
We see Bonamassa invited to open for one of THE blues legends at the unbelievable age of eleven, have a feature on television at age thirteen and form his first band, Bloodline, just a short while after.
It seems though that talent most definitely attracts talent as the list of people that the guitarist has worked with is equally stellar; from fellow musicians like Stevie Van Zant and John Hiatt through to legendary producers like Tom Dowd and longtime friend Kevin Shirley and onwards to his hugely successful partnership with manager Roy Weisman.
When the father of the man who handles your career used to be Frank Sinatra’s manager you know you’re dealing with the cream of the crop.
Seeing the development of the artist is a fascinating trip as blues, world music and rock are explored and stretched by a man seemingly never happy to rest on his laurels.
Astounding footage of a live show with cellist Tina Guo as the duo play ‘Woke Up Dreaming’ is jaw dropping and seeing Bonamassa joined by Paul Rodgers on Free’s ‘Fire and Water’ and Jimmy Barnes on Deep Purple’s ‘Lazy’ is worth the ticket price alone. His work with Beth Hart is sadly omitted but we do we get an all too brief taste of his time with heavyweight supergroup Black Country Communion.
We get to glimpse inside his house in the Hollywood hills, join a road trip to the spiritual cradle of the blues in Rosedale, Mississippi and hear all about the work of the Keeping The Blues Alive Foundation, each revealing new layers to the man behind the fretboard.
Whilst this is no hagiography, there is a respectful distance to proceedings and those expecting a car crash like Metallica’s ‘Some Kind of Monster’ or the combative Ginger Baker biopic ‘Beware of Mr Baker’ will be disappointed.
Whilst the film doesn’t go too deep into things, there’s still a lot to enjoy here and it certainly does the main thing that all good biographies do: it gets you fired up to check out their back catalogue and look forward to the next chapter.
You never need any excuse to check out Joe Bonamassa though, his work talks loud and proud for itself. Here’s a man for whom the music is king and when he says in the film that it’s all about ‘’leaving all your passion and soul on that stage’’ you know he means every word.