Joe Bonamassa Takes Communion

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Originally published in Guitar World, November 2010

The bluesman rocks out in the all-star Black Country Communion.

Witnessing the birth of an all-star band is like seeing Godzilla loom over Mt. Fuji—it doesn’t happen as often as it used to. But Black Country Communion, which features amped-up blues kingpin Joe Bonamassa in shred-devil mode, has just erupted on the hard rock scene like a four-headed King Ghidorah, with a new album bearing their name and the audacious notion of cutting another before their debut 2011 tour.

“I’ve always been a heavy-handed picker,” Bonamassa says. “I’m a bull in a china shop and I’ve always wanted to do a proper rock band. Now that I have, I’m really glad, and we want to keep the momentum flowing.”

Just last November, the usually florid plectrist first invited ex–Deep Purple and Black Sabbath singer-bassist Glenn Hughes—his longtime hero—to join him onstage for a one-off at the House of Blues in Los Angeles. By the time the night was over, Bonamassa, his producer Kevin Shirley and Hughes were plotting a band, specifically with über-drummer Jason Bonham and [former] Dream Theater keyboardist Derek Sherinian. By January they were all writing and cutting Black Country Communion on the fly at Shangri La Studios in Malibu.

“The whole album was done fast,” Bonamassa recounts. “It was, ‘Trust your instincts and play.’ And since it’s a different band, it’s a different headspace. I didn’t want to use my normal go-to gear.” So he augmented his signature Les Pauls with a Music Man Steve Morse Model, a Les Paul Custom and a custom Telecaster, and cranked it all through vintage Marshalls.

The group’s name, chosen after the disc was nailed, is an homage to England’s Black Country, the industrial midlands that spawned Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and a slew of other heavyweights.

For now, personal touring schedules prevent anything more than another marathon recording session until next summer. But the teaser live video for the debut album’s grinding thunderclap “One Last Soul” is seismic, and features Bonamassa splicing his genes with Jimmy Page’s, Joe Satriani’s and Steve Hackett’s.

“My dad has a huge record collection so I stole bits from everybody,” he says. “I’m the Line 6 Pod of guitarists. Set me to ‘prog’ and I’ll give you Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Set me to ‘blues’ and I’ll give you B.B. King.”