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Bonamassa’s long-haul career comes full circle

In the last 20 years, bluesman Joe Bonamassa has played many of the world’s most prestigious venues — New York’s Carnegie Hall, Nashville’s The Ryman, London’s Royal Albert Hall, Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl.

It’s quite a step up from the beginning of his career, when The Cellar in Struthers was a regular tour stop.

These days the Covelli Centre is his go-to venue in the Mahoning Valley, and he returns to the arena for a Feb. 21 concert.

Bonamassa’s latest studio album hearkens back to those early days with “Blues Deluxe Vol. 2,” which came out 20 years after his 2003 breakthrough album “Blues Deluxe.” But it’s less of a look back than a way for Bonamassa to show his evolution over the last two decades.

And he’s already looking ahead. That Hollywood Bowl concert (with a 40-piece orchestra) will be released later this year, and Bonamassa finished work on his next studio release the day before this telephone interview.

“I always say, ‘I’m nine times platinum. It just took 45 tries to get there,'” he said. “With a major label, they want to sell 9 million with one record. It took me 45, but it doesn’t matter how you get there. It’s the long play vs. the short play. I’m in it for the long haul.”

The following conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

TICKET: Are you one of those people who likes to go back and listen to your earlier work and did you go back and study the first “Blues Deluxe” album before you started recording volume two?

BONAMASSA: I hate listening to stuff from the past. Hate it. Hate it and didn’t do it. I look forward, not back. With every record I make, I try to sing better, put better songs together, play better. And I think we accomplished that with the second volume.

TICKET: In the news release for “Blues Deluxe Vol. 2,” you’re quoted as saying, “The contrast between a cocky 26-year-old and an established 46-year-old is considerable.” What’s an example of a song on volume two that 26-year-old you wouldn’t have approached or would have approached in a radically different way?

BONAMASSA: Easy. “Twenty-Four Hour Blues.” I couldn’t even get on that 20 years ago.

TICKET: Why not?

BONAMASSA: I just wasn’t that kind of singer. A lot of that stuff — “It’s Hard But It’s Fair,” “Shout About It,” well, maybe I could have done “Shout About It,” but I certainly couldn’t have done it in the key of A — that was part of the experiment of doing a 20th-anniversary record. “Blues Deluxe” was my breakout record. During that time, I would play a place in Youngstown called The Cellar. I’m a different musician, a different artist now. I’ve really worked hard over the last 20 years developing the skill set and the voice. I’m known as a guitar player, but I sing more than I play, believe it or not.

TICKET: How did you pick the two new songs, “Hope You Realize It” and “Is It Safe to Go Home” (written by the album’s producer, Josh Smith) that are on volume two?

BONAMASSA: It’s the same kind of ratio we did on the first one. I think on the first one we did three originals; on this one there is two. It was one of those things. Those songs worked for the record. We open up (the live show) with “Hope You Realize It.”

TICKET: How much of the new record are you playing live?

BONAMASSA: Pretty much all of it. It’s been going over really good.

TICKET: You’ve certainly come far in the 20 years since you made “Blues Deluxe.” How do you think the blues have fared during that time?

BONAMASSA: It’s still going strong. People tried to write it off since the ’50s, and it just keeps coming back. Someone always comes up with something new or a little twist to it. Just when pop music gets too overproduced, it comes in and, “Oh, wow, something organic and binary,” and for a while there are actual musicians and this is actually sung all the way through and not parted out and edited. There’s still a demand for that for sure.

TICKET: How did your new single, “Four Day Creep,” a collaboration with Peter Frampton come about?

BONAMASSA: I love Peter. Peter was one of those guys who gave me my start on the road, opening up for him, and his audience loved me, and a lot of those fans have come along with me for the last 24 years now. Humble Pie was my jam, the fact that he wanted to do “Four Day Creep” was just so killer. And he sounds just like he always has, and that’s inspiring to me, because he hasn’t lost the fire and the passion for the music. And God bless him. I just spoke to him yesterday about it (and told him) “Thanks so much. What a great collaboration.”

TICKET: Will that be on your next album?

BONAMASSA: No, that’s just a single. The new album, we just finished yesterday (Jan. 31). That will be out sometime this year, I don’t know when. We don’t even have a title for it yet. We have 17 songs recorded for the album, so we’re going to have to whittle it down to 10. No need to put more than 10 on an album. It’s a different business than 20 years ago.

TICKET: Does the fact that vinyl has re-emerged as the dominant physical media format have an impact on album length today?

BONAMASSA: The thing about vinyl, it’s definitely come back, but does it replace what a CD used to be? Absolutely not. It’s a singles business almost like it was in the ’50s when everybody would put out 45s. You don’t have to make a 13-, 14-song record anymore. CDs got bloated because you could get 70 min of music on a CD. Most of my records, when we converted them to vinyl, were double records. Even now we have a hard time making a record that fits onto one vinyl.

It’s a different business, almost to the point where I don’t recognize it. Think about when “Blues Deluxe ” volume one came out. No one had an iPhone. There was no Instagram or Tik Tok. People’s attention spans are much shorter than they were. Long-form DVDs are antiquated because who has a DVD player? It’s just a different time, and that’s fine. Nothing stays the same.

TICKET: Your next live release will be a 2023 performance at the Hollywood Bowl with an orchestra. How, if at all, did playing with an orchestra alter your approach?

BONAMASSA: Not that you can print this, but it’s challenging as … (Editor’s note: Bonamassa is correct. We can’t print it). It’s hard to marry a loud blues rock seven-piece with a 40-piece orchestra. To amplify the orchestra and not have the guitar up in everyone’s business, it was a real challenge.

Not only that, but you have to be very mindful of how many bars of music. There’s no improv. If it’s not written on the chart, they’re not going with you. It’s very exacting work, very labor intensive, and it took a lot of concentration.

TICKET: The last time we talked was in 2021, when you were touring in support of “Time Clocks.” In that interview, you talked about the logistical challenges of making a record during the pandemic. Are there any of the tools that you were forced to use during the pandemic that you’ve continued to rely on in your recording?

BONAMASSA: I liked nothing about that process. I liked nothing about the pandemic. Those were the lost years. I wish I’d never heard of a Zoom call. Things in 2D are much different than things in 3D. I liked nothing about it.

If you go …

WHO: Joe Bonamassa

WHEN: 8 p.m. Feb. 21

WHERE: Covelli Centre, 229 E. Front St., Youngstown

HOW MUCH: Tickets range from $72 to $202 and are available at the arena’s Southwood Health box office and through Ticketmaster.

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