Joe Bonamassa at the Paramount Theate, by Carolyn McCoy
Joe Bonamassa (photo: Carolyn McCoy)

Words by Carolyn McCoy

Ah, the guitar. Such a fabulous instrument — so versatile and emotive. When placed in the right hands the guitar can sing, squeal, moan, groan, and wail. It can pierce your heart, your soul, and your whole being with the right combination of strings. The guitar is sexy, and can make you feel things your mom told you not to feel. When one bears witness to a true master of the guitar at work, one can experience God — and so, with that preface, I introduce to you blues-rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa.

Bonamassa is not one of those “I am gonna shred so hard and flaunt my ego through my fretboard” kind of guitarists. He’s a classy guy with decades of technical guitar and instrument experience behind him. His precise playing, his focused noodling, and his passion for the guitar places him a cut above other guitarists of his stature. He is a true aficionado and self-professed gear nerd. My understanding is that his gear, vintage guitar, and amp collection needs its own building and has been affectionately named the “Bona-seam.”

His recent two-night stint at Oakland’s Paramount Theater Of The Arts was a classic blues-rock show and Bonamassa used the art-deco backdrop of the Paramount to showcase many guitars from his collection. When I say, he’s a classy guy, I mean that in many ways: from his tailored blue suit, slicked-back hair, and constant use of sunglasses to his appreciation of his backing band that enfolded him with such a force of sound.

Bonamassa’s band is filled to the brim with incredible international talent, including Nashville recording legend Michael Rhodes (bass), Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Reese Wynans (piano/organ), Paulie Cerra (sax), Lee Thornburg (trumpet), and Jade MacRae and Juanita Tippins who delivered powerhouse vocals and synchronized dance moves for every number.

Bonamassa opened the night with a few songs from his latest release Redemption. As the first hints of the rocking “Evil Mama” started, the crowd went wild. The high energy progressed with “King Bee Shakedown,” then on to the gentle and heart-breaking beauty of “Self-inflicted Wounds,” his voice full, soulful, and deep. By the time he was finished with the searing blues groove of “Sloe Gin,” only halfway through the show, Bonamassa received his first of four standing ovations from the audience. The two hours of performance showcased more of his original music, including “Just ‘Cos You Can Don’t Mean You Should,” “This Train,” and “How Deep This River Runs,” with the only cover being a sexy and seductive version of “I Can’t Quit You Baby” that put the Led Zeppelin version to shame.

The evening’s music ended with “Woke Up Dreaming,” Bonamassa alone on stage with an acoustic guitar that his hands rode like a bucking bronco, fingers so fast and precise that it was magic to witness. The whole band then rejoined Bonamassa as they said farewell to us all with “Mountain Time,” with its lyrics that state “And she takes me somewhere / And it’s good to be there / And she pulls me into her bright golden wing.” With those lyrics in mind, I sit in wonder of how similar feelings have been created upon seeing Joe Bonamassa live. He took me somewhere, it was good to be there, and he pulled me all into his bright golden wings, all with his wondrous guitars.