Joe Bonamassa has joked that he apologizes to Eric Johnson for stealing his style every time he meets him.
It won’t be news to Bonamassa fans that he has long been a huge fan of Eric Johnson’s guitar style. Now, in a new piece for GuitarWorld.com, in which Bonamassa discusses the guitarists who shaped his sound, he tells us he likes to say sorry to Johnson whenever he sees him.
“Eric was another one that I learned a ton from and whom I'm still learning from,” reveals Bonamassa. “Every time that I see him, I always apologize to him. I'm like, ‘Man, I'm sorry for stealing your style.’”
Bonamassa has of course enjoyed success in his own right and his name has become a shorthand for contemporary blues rock in the 21st century. Being the biggest makes you an easy target, though, and JoBo has suffered his share of musical slings and arrows over the years. Not least when it comes to comparisons between his and Johnson's playing styles.
As such, we suspect the statement is also a wry nod to some of the trolling he’s endured in recent years, but, as ever, Bonamassa is nothing less than open and gracious about the influence of his hero.
“His tone is distinct,” expands the blues giant. “And I don't have to remind people of all the amazing music he's made over the last 30 years. He’s easily one of the best out there and has been for a long time. He can cover any style or whatever he needs to. He's a joy to watch and listen to.”
Elsewhere in the piece, Bonamassa nods to another guitar legend who is often the subject of lazy critiques: Jimmy Page.
“A lot of people like to call Page sloppy, and that's fine,” observes Bonamassa. “You can call him sloppy all day long, but can you play it? ...Try to play The Rain Song as well as he played it. You won't be able to. Not a chance.
“The thing about Jimmy Page that most people don't realize is he was a very in-demand session guy before the Yardbirds and Zeppelin. He did boatloads of amazing things before he even was in those bands... Call him sloppy, but he was a once-in-a-generation talent.”
No-one’s calling Bonamassa’s technique sloppy. Indeed, he has more than a few tricks up his sleeves (check out his run of informative GW technique columns), but he does have a similar knack for attracting armchair critics.
“I’m a polarizing figure in the guitar business. I understand. I’m very aware of that,” acknowledged Bonamassa, back in a 2021 video with the Musicians Hall Of Fame. “It doesn’t change what I do – because somebody likes it... [Why does it happen?] I think some of it is the marketing, I think some of it is judging a book by its cover...
“So I guess I’m slightly misunderstood. I’m slightly socially awkward and I’m very opinionated... I went through a media training course and I was like, ‘Well, I can I can be just vanilla and a puppy dog my whole life, or I can just be honest.’ And if being honest means being polarizing then I would choose being honest...
“At the end of the day, we’re not in a business that has to adhere to these guidelines. We’re in the people pleasing business and if somebody likes you, more power to you.”
The full interview with Bonamassa, in which he names the guitarists who informed his blockbuster take on blues-rock, will be published next week.