Bonamassa's new "5-Speed" Epiphone Les Paul and honoring the 3 Kings of the Blues
The release of the new Epiphone Ltd. Ed. "2015" Joe Bonamassa Les Paul Standard w/ Bigsby® Outfit is cause for celebration here at Epiphone.com. Joe's long friendship with Epiphone has now resulted in three signature Les Pauls and his enthusiasm for the House of Stathopoulo ("everything Epiphone has sent me is just great") has made him seem like our own hometown hero.
For fans who have ever wondered what Joe is like in person, he is every bit the warm and gracious person that he seems on stage in between songs. When the band strikes up however, it's all business--serious business. His work ethic is relentless. But he's also having a great time. And why shouldn't he? We spoke with Joe in Salt Lake City in the middle of his 3 Kings tour which celebrates the music and legacy of Albert King, Freddie King, and Joe's good friend, the late B.B. King, who passed away around the time that Joe announced the tour earlier this year. Joe's latest release, Different Shades of Blue, features many of the same band members that he's brought on tour. If you can't make the tour, look for a DVD of their sold out performance at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles in 2016.
Congratulations on your new Epiphone Signature model, Joe. What influenced the new direction?
Jim Rosenberg (Epiphone President) and I talked about doing something different for our third signature guitar. I'm a fan of the 5-speed transmission. I love a Bigsby®. So we talked about doing a different color this time-- more of a British racing green or an Inverness Green. And the way it came out sort of reminds me of a Jaguar green. We've had such a great success with these Epiphone guitars and I thought it would be good to have something with a Bigsby, not just the standard "Joe B Les Paul" model in a different color. I wanted something that played great and could add to the value without too much of an added expense and you know... make it cooler!
Have you had used it on the tour?
Yeah I've been using it on the road. It's really, really good. It sounds great. All the Epiphones I've received have been really, really consistent. What I see of the Epiphones based on the ones in my own collection and what I see at the "meet & greets" after the shows is that the weight is pretty much right-on. Obviously you can't control the trees (laughs). The neck shape is happening, too. They sound great. It's been a great partnership.
How do you approach taking on the styles of Freddie, Albert, and B.B. on stage?
The tour is broken up into three sets. We start with Freddie, then we do Albert, and then we do B.B. And then we do a little of all of them. Each of the Kings is different. Freddie was a monster--as a guitarist, as a vocalist. His tone was a little more consistent than the other two. B.B. and Albert would almost plug into anything. You get these recordings where B.B. sounds like he's plugged straight into the recording console or Albert King sounds like he's running through a Roland Jazz Chorus. With Freddie, he always seemed to stick with that Fender Quad so the tone is defiantly more consistent. The way we've been rolling with it is: I know I'm not Freddie King. I'm not B.B. King. It is a tribute to these artists but at the end of the day, it's my take on these songs. We're not just trying to do straight up doppelgängers of these songs.
When you were rehearsing the set on your own, did anything about them stand out that you hadn't noticed before?
I'm more familiar with B.B.'s stuff than anything having my association with him for 25 years. At the end of the day, I found really the Freddie stuff has been the most challenging.
Was that a surprise?
Not really. I knew it was going to be tough. You know with Freddie, his voice went from low to super high. Albert was more of a soul singer. And B.B. was more of a shouting singer. It switches gears pretty quickly.
My biggest regret about the tour so far is the fact that B.B. wasn't around to see it. We've had this thing in the works--the concept--for almost a year. And to me it's a real drag that he's not here. I was hoping he would at least see it. But it's been a real labor of love this tour and it's a great band. I think people will really enjoy the DVD shoot at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. It's going to be great. So the tour is a tribute to the greats and hopefully people will respond to it.
We've talked before about your admiration for various Les Paul players. Some of them moved on to other guitars, some stuck with it. Is the Les Paul still your main voice?
Well, I've been playing on this tour a lot of 335s, 345s and stuff like that. I play a bunch of different guitars. Whatever mood suits me. But I've made the Les Paul my home for a long time. It's shaped the sound of my records. But this time it just happens to be a tour where the Les Paul is not a central sound.
You're still collecting I presume...
Oh man--I have 9 'Bursts!
Any interesting features you've found that have surprised you?
They're all 1,000 percent different. Which is no surprise as they were a hand-built guitar. And they're not all great. You can get a 335 that will take the head off a 'Burst. They're not all the "Holy Grail." They all vary in neck shape and size. There's no definitive parameter on any of them. They really are hand-built guitars. No two are the same.
We look forward to seeing you in Nashville later this fall.
Thanks. We'll see you at the Ryman for two nights. After the 3 Kings tour, we're going to Israel and then a tour of Europe and then we come back and tour the States and then close up for the year. It's been an amazing year. But I'm really excited to see the new Epiphone Les Paul coming out. I hope people enjoy it.