When considering the cities and towns that gave birth to the giants of the blues, Utica might not immediately spring to mind. Memphis, Austin, New Orleans, pretty much any city in the American South, sure. But Utica?
The thing is, the blues doesn't really care where you come from. It only cares about your level of commitment to it. Posers within this idiom -- and there have been oh so many -- might get away with it for a while. But really, it takes more than name-dropping Howlin' Wolf and professing to have studied B.B. King's legendary "Live at the Regal" album to be a legit bluesman. Joe Bonamassa was born in Utica 32 years ago, but he might as well be from the Deep South, so fully has he assimilated the vernacular of the blues into his being.
Bonamassa opened for the above-mentioned King as a precocious 12-year-old, six-string whiz kid, and the Godfather of the Blues was duly impressed. Bonamassa went on to study with virtuoso Danny Gatton, where he learned of the crossroads where blues, country, jazz and rock meet -- knowledge he put to good use on his Tom Dowd-produced debut album, and as a member of Bloodline, the band he formed with a trio of famous sons: Berry Oakley Jr., Waylon Krieger (son of Doors guitarist Robby) and Erin Davis, progeny of Miles.
Over the past 15 years, Bonamassa has been steadily building his reputation as the pre-eminent blues-rock guitarist of his generation, but it is with his brand new effort, "The Ballad of John Henry," that the guitarist's abilities as singer, songwriter and record-maker have caught up with his dazzling fretboard abilities.
When Bonamassa and his band return to Buffalo for a gig at 8 this evening inside the Performing Arts Center at Rockwell Hall, this remarkable new material will form the core of the show.
Remaining seats are available at the Rockwell Hall box office or through www.ticketguys.com.
-- Jeff Miers