Why did you switch from playing guitar to bass When you were first starting out, and who were your bass influences during your early days? —Bernie Esser
I switched to bass because I got to play with Mel Galley in a band called Finders Keepers in 1966. I was 15 and he was 19, and he needed a bass player. A few years later we formed Trapeze in 1969. I looked up to Mel because I was very young. To me, he was in the same league as George Harrison and Eric Clapton.
My early bass influences were Paul McCartney, Jack Bruce and James Jamerson, who has probably played on more Motown hits than anyone else in history.
What qualities do you require from your co-musicians? —Kalevi Heino
I like to work with people who are super-talented, grounded, loving and nurturing. I’ve got to have an eye-to-eye relationship with them. I’m in a different place now, spiritually, than I was 30 years ago.
Do you think your talent as a bassist gets overlooked since you are such a great vocalist? —Eddie Simon
Many people are not aware that I’m a bassist because my voice overshadows everything else. What I really am is a singing bassist. I became a bass player by happenstance in the Sixties. I was originally a guitarist.
What are your fondest memories of playing with Ritchie Blackmore in Deep Purple? —Chuck Brady
When I joined Purple in June 1973, Ritchie and I went to Hamburg, Germany, one weekend and sat on a barstool for two days and chatted about music, my playing and what my role would be in the band, among other things. That was a beautiful experience for me. When I joined Purple, they were one of the biggest bands in the world and Blackmore was one of rock’s biggest guitarists. I was just 21 years old, and he gave me the time to develop a relationship with him and the band.
Ritchie and I always got along well, even though everyone knows he can be difficult to work with. My first year in Purple was easier than the second year, because then Ritchie went into his own world and shortly thereafter quit the band and formed Rainbow. He became distant and stopped talking to the members of the band. Blackmore’s playing was extraordinary on the second album I did with Purple, Stormbringer, but he didn’t come up with a lot of music, so David [Coverdale], Jon [Lord] and I had the beautiful burden to write the majority of that album.
Is there anything distinctive about Joe Bonamassa’s guitar work in Black Country Communion compared to the other guitarists you’ve played with over the years? —Ben Gilbert
Joe will tell you himself that you’ve probably heard aspects of his playing in the styles of other guitarists, and that he’s not an originator of any particular style. Joe is a massive guitar fan. He started playing at age four. He was already meeting and playing with his heroes by the time he was a teenager. He’s been playing nonstop for the past 36 years and has not taken a day off. Joe is a huge admirer of Paul Kossoff. On Black Country Communion’s new album, BBCIV, he channels Kossoff brilliantly. Joe and I wrote the album from scratch. We got together in a room, facing each other toe to toe, holding our guitars, and started jamming; that’s how all the songs came together. His playing is at the peak of his game now; he has one of the greatest vibratos of any guitarist.
Your autobiography, From Deep Purple to Black Country Communion, is a cautionary tale of the thrills and perils of the rock-and-roll lifestyle. The amount of drugs that you ingested would’ve killed most people. What advice would you give those struggling with substance-abuse issues? —Kevin Miller
When you’re young and find yourself in situations when you go out drinking where people want to give you things, just be careful because there’s no good side to substance abuse—it’s a silent killer. Your disease tells you you don’t have anything wrong and to continue using. But once you become addicted, it’s difficult to quit.
Never did I think I would become a full-blown cocaine addict in the Seventies. I was playing with Deep Purple at the Houston Astrodome in 1974. This guy cavorting around backstage put a packet of coke in my pocket. He told me to check it out later, but I told him I didn’t want any. Nobody in Purple did drugs. One faithful night a week or so later I was alone in my hotel room in San Antonio, so I decided to give it a go, and I liked it. Before long, I became hooked and it chased me all over the world. Thank God, it’s a long-gone thing for me. That drug is demonic. Whatever energy you gain from it, you’ll lose even more, and possibly even your life. My dear friend Kevin DuBrow [of Quiet Riot] fatally overdosed from it in 2007, and other friends of mine died from it as well.
Of your studio albums with Deep Purple—Burn, Stormbringer and Come Taste the Band—which do you like most? —Bob Florsheim
Burn was a hugely successful album, but Stormbringer is my favorite; it had more groove and a lot more melodies. We couldn’t make Burn “part two” because Blackmore was pretty much absent on Stormbringer, so the rest of the band had to pick up the slack.
After capturing such an incredibly awesome sound with a Rickenbacker bass on Burn, why did you switch to Fender Precision and Fender Jazz basses on your many subsequent albums? —Carl Fragnito
When I joined Purple, I replaced Roger Glover, who played a Rickenbacker. So I decided to get one for myself because it represented the band’s sound. But when I started to play onstage with Purple, the Rickenbacker didn’t fulfill the groove-oriented sound I wanted, so I switched to the Fender basses. My playing comes from a James Jamerson place, and the Rickenbacker wasn’t the right bass to achieve that sound. I wound up foolishly giving the Rickenbacker to Geezer Butler. When I saw him at Ronnie James Dio’s funeral in 2010, I asked him if I could have it back. He told me flat out, “No,” but that he would let me look at it. I should have never given it to him in the first place, but everyone makes mistakes.
You were born and raised in Britain but have lived the majority of your life in Los Angeles. Do you love L.A.? —Sean Duff
I do. When I first came to California in 1970, Trapeze was the opening act for the Moody Blues. It was my first time in the U.S., and I landed in L.A. I fell in love with it and I’ve been living in Los Angeles since 1973. Like any city, L.A. can be a dangerous place if you’re an alcoholic/drug addict, because every street corner can trigger your addiction, as it did to me in the Seventies.
Most bands that toured in the Seventies did so on a tour bus. Deep Purple chartered its own jet. What was that like? —Steve Flannery
It was simply amazing—everything that you can imagine, and more. We were flying high. There were no seatbelts, no rules and no baggage claim. The plane had a bed, a video library, a shower and a long bar with an organ built into it. When you have your own jet, you can do pretty much what you want, but we kept things pretty controlled, for the most part. I’m not saying we didn’t do anything stupid, because we did. I mean, it was the Seventies!
You have a knack for combining technical proficiency and rock-solid musicianship with impassioned vocals. What do you strive to achieve as a songwriter? —Joseph Luigi
I strive for emotional groove and lyrical content. I’m quite passionate about playing, and my music provides suggestions for messages. My message is very simple: be good and kind to one another. We’re living in a dark period of time. Yeah, I’m an old hippie, but so what. The fact of the matter is that I’ve survived so many horrible, adverse conditions that I’ve become a humble, caring person. I have a wonderful life now, and I’m grateful to still be alive.
What mentoring message do you have in regards to being a musician and developing your chops? —Sid Rosenthal
A lot of people don’t recognize that they’ve been blessed with the ability to play an instrument. I didn’t realize that I’ve been given a gift to play guitar, then learned how to play bass. Then one day I started singing, and I thought it was pretty cool. The next thing I know I’m singing in Trapeze, and a few years later I’m singing with David Coverdale in Deep Purple. I was never really thinking about how good my voice was—I just enjoyed being in the moment. You have to be able to dream and tell yourself that you can do whatever you want. Whatever you put in your mind, you can achieve, as long as you stay positive.