SALT LAKE CITY — During his last visit to Utah, blues-rock guitar virtuoso Joe Bonamassa filled the USANA Amphitheatre stage with a tribute to the “Three Kings” of blues: B.B. King, Albert King and Freddie King.
That performance three years ago was a natural fit for a couple of reasons. Bonamassa, who started playing guitar when he was 4 years old, loved the blues from Day One.
“I enjoy all forms of the blues and all this tertiary style of music that the blues has influenced,” Bonamassa told the Deseret News. “I love heavy metal, I love hard rock, I love blues rock, I love straight blues … (and) in all of it, (the) DNA is rooted in the blues — it’s not mutually exclusive.”
Bonamassa had the opportunity to share the stage with his musical hero and blues legend B.B. King — at age 12. That 1989 summer saw the blossoming guitarist playing about 20 shows as King’s opening act, a feat Bonamassa was more than eager to share with his classmates and teachers upon returning to school.
“The teacher asked what we'd done on our vacation and I wrote a detailed account of touring with B.B. King,” the guitarist wrote on jbonamassa.com. The teacher's reply was, 'Please stop making stuff up in your gumdrop house on Lollipop Lane in the Land of Make Believe.' But I had the backstage pass.”
Bonamassa is bringing his guitar prowess to Utah once again, this time to the more intimate Eccles Theater, Friday, Aug. 3. The concert was originally going to be a tribute show like his last performance in Utah — a bluesy take on the classic country tunes of singer-songwriters such as Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, George Jones and Hank Williams. It would also be an extension of Bonamassa’s belief that elements of the blues can be found in most all music genres. But Bonamassa said there’s been a last-minute change of plans this summer.
The limited run of 11 summer shows, which kicked off in San Diego July 26 and ends Aug. 11 in the heart of Nashville, has been advertised as Bonamassa’s blues-rock tribute to the country greats. But after one show, Bonamassa said he opted to go another route.
“We put the country thing on hiatus and we’re going to revisit that at a different time at a different type of venue,” Bonamassa said from San Jose, California. “We only did one country show (and) figured out that nobody was really in on the joke. We found out that there was some confusion on what kind of show we were going to play, so we’ve now been doing our blues-rock show. So that’s what we’re doing when we come to Salt Lake. This is a Joe Bonamassa show.”
So what does a Joe Bonamassa show entail, aside from a lot of guitar shredding? Bonamassa said the upcoming Utah concert will be about 70 percent original music and 30 percent covers, and will also feature music from his upcoming album, “Redemption,” due out September.
“We’re also doing some stuff that we’ve done before and some stuff we haven’t pulled out in three or four years,” he said. “The show has come together actually really nicely in the last couple days.”
Although the switch in shows is a last-minute change, based on crowd reception — especially toward the new music — the last few days in California, Bonamassa is certain the Utah show won’t disappoint.
“Salt Lake City is a good city to explore, and I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “We’re playing songs off the (new) record now that not many people have heard — that only maybe 10 people have heard. The fact that people are responding to it so positively … that’s when you know you have a good record on your hands.”
If you go …
What: Joe Bonamassa
When: Friday, Aug. 3, 8 p.m.
Where: Eccles Theater, 131 S. Main
How much: $79-$129