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By photojournalist Jeffrey Moellering

Tireless road warrior Joe Bonamassa pulled into the beautiful new outdoor BayCare Sound arena, at waterside in downtown Clearwater, Sunday, March 24th, to serve up a generous helping of his homecooked blues boogie buffet. The show was scheduled for March 16th, but Joe came down with a bout of laryngitis which left him unable to sing. Thankfully, he stayed in the area and was able to re-schedule only 8 days later. Bonamassa has worked diligently on his vocal abilities over the years, which have grown more soulful and assured, and while he always features fantastic vocalists in his band, he didn’t want to disappoint his faithful fans.

While Joe is still only 46, if it seems he’s been a fixture on the blues scene for decades, it’s because he has, getting his professional start at only 12 years old after picking up the guitar at the tender age of four, playing alongside BB King and other legendary blues greats.  Pretty heady stuff for a white boy from a suburban upstate New York neighborhood. It’s proof positive, that to understand and interpret the blues comes from inside, and not necessarily from the firsthand, hard worn pain and suffering in life.  Joe had the good fortune of growing up with a father who was a big music aficionado, introducing him to the greats from an early age, which sparked Joe’s interest and set his life trajectory.

Bonamassa is unsurprisingly, a serious student of the blues, with a classic collection of dozens of guitars. His favorites are the Gibson ES 335, which was the primary instrument played by BB King and many blues greats, along with the Stratocaster and Les Paul. This trio allows Joe to achieve a spectrum of sounds from clean and pure, to crunching and rough.

Joe’s Sunday concert at The Sound featured a broad showcase of styles, moods, and musical genres, but they all had one thing in common – SOUL. He started off his set with classics from Bobby Bland and Guitar Slim, then wound his way into several of his own compositions, notably a heartfelt vocal performance during “Self-Inflicted Wounds”, and the always arresting “Last Matador of Bayonne”, which is a song that contemplates the life of the last matador to perform at the Arènes de Bayonne amphitheater in France.

Mid-way through the set, Joe introduced his impressive backing band, featuring Lemar Carter on drums, Calvin Turner on bass, Reese Wynans on keyboards, Josh Smith on guitar, Jade MacRae on vocals, and Danni DeAndrea on vocals. All are consummate and capable pros with their own successful careers, and a perfect complement to Joe’s style. Wynans originally hails from Sarasota, and grew up playing with future Allman Brothers members Dickey Betts and Berry Oakley. Most famously, he played with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, and is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with that band.

For the second half of the show, Joe covered some more contemporary blues numbers, with a nod to early Fleetwood Mac on “Lazy Poker Blues”, and the Texas boogie of ZZ Top with “Just Got Paid”. Drummer Lemar Carter provided an explosive and thunderous solo segment that reverberated throughout the entire venue on a breezy night, bringing the full house to their feet in appreciation. Bonamassa wound his way through a remarkable instrumental segment culminating with a searing psychedelic trip on Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused”. Joe made sure to show his fans that he can play notes like the metal players when he wants to go there.

The evening concluded with Joe’s own Sloe Gin, as the scorching sound wafted through the streets of downtown Clearwater. Joe is a humble guy who says he’s lucky to do what he does for a living, always giving credit to his band and the many greats before him who paved the way for his journey.

Because Bonamassa has played his entire life, he often says that he can’t imagine doing it into his 60s and 70s, like Buddy Guy who is now 87, because of the incredible dedication required and the toll touring takes on the body. But the Rolling Stones said they’d never play “Satisfaction” in their 40s, and they’re playing it into their 80s! The deep emotional connection that is the blues requires a huge commitment from a musician, but as with many legendary artists, they ultimately conclude that they simply don’t know how to do anything else. Joe’s faithful fans who follow him around the country are certain that the kid from upstate Utica, New York, and not New Orleans, was indeed born with the spirit of the blues planted inside him.