Watch 12-Year-Old Joe Bonamassa Shred the Blues as He Opens for B.B. King in 1989

There are gui­tar play­ers, who can play a hand­ful of songs and pick out some pleas­ing riffs, and there are gui­tarists: play­ers who’ve mas­tered sev­er­al styles, have a back pock­et full of stan­dards, and tour and record for a liv­ing. And then there are gui­tar gods, god­dess­es, heroes, or what­ev­er… men and women like St. Vin­cent, Joe Satri­ani, Jeff Beck, Nan­cy Wil­son, Steve Vai, Ste­vie Ray Vaughn, Mer­le Travis, Jimi Hen­drix, and Joe Bona­mas­sa, elec­tric blues wun­derkind who, in a way, is a suc­ces­sor to some the past mas­ters. Many gui­tar heroes are child prodi­gies, and many of them had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to learn from genius musi­cians in their youth. Bona­mas­sa is no excep­tion in either case, as you can see in the video up top, in which a 12-year-old “Smokin’ Joe Bona­mas­sa” opens for B.B. King.

Bona­mas­sa start­ed play­ing at 4 and stud­ied under the late, great Wash­ing­ton, DC gui­tarist Dan­ny Gat­ton at 11, per­haps the most unsung, most nat­u­ral­ly gift­ed gui­tarist of all time. In 1989, he had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to tour with King, play­ing over 20 shows, after he had already made a name for him­self in “places like Buf­fa­lo and Scran­ton, PA,” writes For­got­ten Gui­tar.

In the video above, you can see Bona­mas­sa, 12 years old, destroy on Gatton’s sig­na­ture but­ter­scotch Tele­cast­er. It takes him and the band a cou­ple min­utes to get going, and the skep­ti­cal audi­ence begins to shuf­fle their feet impa­tient­ly. Then he pro­ceeds to blow their minds, just as he blew the minds of tele­vi­sion audi­ences who saw the news seg­ment below on Bona­mas­sa that same year.

At thir­teen, Bona­mas­sa attract­ed the nation­al atten­tion of a pro­gram called Real Life, host­ed by Jane Pauley. In the clip below, we have the plea­sure of see­ing the awk­ward mid­dle school­er in his oth­er ele­ment, the lock­er-lined hall­ways and the libraries at his day job. But the live footage of Bona­mas­sa removes any doubt about how extra­or­di­nary his abil­i­ties are.

An ear­ly child­hood affin­i­ty for the instru­ment and parental urg­ing has had a lot to do with Bonamassa’s phe­nom­e­nal skill, but as he often acknowl­edges, so has his tute­lage under some of the great­est gui­tar heroes to ever live. (See him pay trib­ute to B.B. King below.) And as every­one who plays gui­tar will acknowl­edge, what often dis­tin­guish­es gui­tar play­ers from gui­tarists and gui­tar heroes is an awful lot of prac­tice. Read Bonamassa’s top 5 prac­tice tips for gui­tarists here.

via For­got­ten Gui­tar

Relat­ed Con­tent:

B.B. King Plays Live at Sing Sing Prison in One of His Great­est Per­for­mances (1972)

Ste­vie Ray Vaugh­an Plays the Acoustic Gui­tar in Rare Footage, Let­ting Us See His Gui­tar Vir­tu­os­i­ty in Its Purest Form

Hear Iso­lat­ed Gui­tar Tracks From Some of Rock’s Great­est: Slash, Eddie Van Halen, Eric Clap­ton & More

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (5)
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  • simone gad says:

    made me cry-such a genius musi­cian.

  • simone gad says:

    i saw bb king per­form live in 1968 at the shrine audi­to­ri­um and got to go back-stage to meet him. he was so kind and sweet‑a real gen­tle­man. and great great musician/performer. rip. bona­mas­sa is such a genius. both so great.

  • Bruce Conforth says:

    Bona­mAS­Sa is a hack. Every­thing you need to know about him is in the title of the arti­cle : he’s a “shred­der”
    His play­ing has no soul… and he’s the worst thing that has ever hap­pened to the blues.

  • Tom gray says:

    I’m pret­ty sure that you won’t received this mes­sage because you live on a dif­fer­ent plan­et dude. Been rip­ping a gui­tar since he was 12 years old actu­al­ly since he was 4. He gets bet­ter every year. But on your plan­et Obliv­ion how would you know?

  • Dave K says:

    Hey Bruce, you sound like a guy who can’t make any mon­ey play­ing gui­tar… Let me see how many mil­lions is Joe worth these days.… Yeah you must be from anoth­er plan­et.. Joe’s been nom­i­nat­ed for 2 gram­mys so far.. How many you got? If his play­ing has no soul I guess you just don’t need any to make it to the big time.. Now go back to your bed­room and prac­tice your chords.…

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