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Joe Bonamassa on Black Country Communion’s Future: ‘Never Say Never’

Joe Bonamassa
J&R Adventures

It’s been an unusually rocky road to the completion of Black Country Communion’s third album ‘Afterglow.’ The album’s release has been almost overshadowed by a public war of words between guitarist Joe Bonamassa and singer Glenn Hughes, who has publicly said it may be the group’s last recording.

The singer has taken Bonamassa to task in several recent interviews, complaining that his busy solo career and touring schedule have overshadowed his work with Black Country Communion and limited their touring, which Hughes wants to pursue more aggressively. The pair even took to Twitter to vent their frustrations after a one-off gig was announced, then abruptly canceled, with producer Kevin Shirley also weighing in.

‘Afterglow’ drops this week (Oct. 30), offering fans another hearty serving of heavy rhythm tracks, high-octane vocals, and the blues-rock sensibilities of Bonamassa, who also works a day job as one of the most important contemporary blues guitarists in the world.

Bonamassa spoke to Ultimate Classic Rock about the album, his public feud with Hughes, BCC’s recent canceled gig, and whether the band will ever work together again, saying, “Never say never.”

What was your goal musically going into the third album?

I didn’t really have a whole lot of time to participate on the creative side, the front side of it. I think the first record, you’re writing a book from scratch, or you’re watching a movie and you have no idea how the movie’s gonna end. The second one, you kinda get a glimpse of the ending, but it could be a surprise plot twist. This one, I kinda knew. We’d kind of established a sound.

Glenn came in with some good stems of tunes, some rough sketches of stuff, and when you have an impetus of a song and you throw the five of us in a room, it’s like piranha. We all have a very unique approach to all of the tunes, and it’s very much a collective creative process. Between Kevin Shirley, Glenn, Derek and Jason and me, all of a sudden three hours later you have a track.

I think the record came out great. It’s definitely something to be proud of.

What is Kevin Shirley’s role as producer? He’s been involved with the band since its inception, obviously.

He’s definitely like a fifth member. He sees the whole record before we even walk into the studio. He knows what he wants to accomplish, knows what he wants to say, knows where he wants to see the band go. There’s that trust between the musicians and production. At least in my world. I know that if he says, “Let’s do this in half time, let’s play it like this,” fine. Because I know the best interest and the long term vision is sound.

You have some very cool guitar tones on this record. Did you go in with an agenda, like, “I want to make sure I get this in?”

Not really. I used the 335 on this record, I used the Ls Paul — a couple of different Les Pauls — and I used a Strat, and I used a Tele. It wasn’t rocket science. Who’s to say a blues man can’t play rock and roll? (Laughs).

The band has been offering ‘Confessor’ as a free download. Is that going to go to radio, or is that not even viable anymore?

Is there a radio? (Laughs). It’s like saying, “Are you guys gonna do an in-store?” The question is, are there any CD stores left? To me, you spend years of your life dealing with radio stations, and for a short period of time — especially in America — they were the Svengalis. You had to kiss the ring and do the dance.

But with the advent of internet radio — Spotify, and people like Planet Rock in the U.K., who defy logic and are willing to put their money where their mouth is and go up against the giants — you don’t really need it. You can get your music out there. What are we gonna do, try to work rock radio in L.A. and go up against the new Incubus single? That’s a young man’s game. I’m not sure how many records it sells.

It’s harder in this day and age to keep people from accessing your music for free than it is to get it out there in front of them.

Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if people take the music for free, because you can’t illegally download a ticket to a concert. Everything now is a bundle in the business. It’s not like before, where there were bands that would just make records. That doesn’t really occur anymore, because everything’s a bundle. There’s not enough record sales to justify it. That’s why you see an absolute deluge of touring bands right now, people saying, “Well, this is the only way we can actually go out there and earn a living.” If you sell a CD, or you sell a t-shirt, or you sell a concert ticket — you have to look at it from those points of view.

Speaking of touring, Glenn has been talking about wanting to do a lot more touring with this band. Is there going to be a more aggressive touring plan?

Probably not. At least, not with me. You know, the deal was, three years ago when this thing started, everybody had day jobs. Everybody has a good day job. I tour the Spring and the Fall, religiously. And I’m not gonna be bullied into doing something. Whether Glenn wants to do more touring or not, that’s for him to decide. But it’s not for him to decide for me.

He has said this might be the last Black Country Communion record if that doesn’t happen. Do you believe this is the last album?

You know what, never say never, ’cause I’ve seen s— in this business that defies logic, and you have, too. (Laughs). Every day, stuff that defies logic. And I think a lot of it was just unneeded windup and bullying, to be honest with you.

This band has always engaged in a fair amount of using Twitter to communicate its inner workings. Do you actually go to one another and talk when there are issues, or do you just go straight to Twitter and vent?

You know, I wish he would have called me. My number has been the same since 2001. Anyway, it is what it is at this point in time. There’s an agenda above and beyond things, sometimes. And that’s not for me to participate in.

A similar Twitter war happened prior to the release of the first record, and now it’s happened again. Does Glenn have it in his head that this type of public drama sells records?

If that’s his theory on it, then I’m not sure if I agree with it. I think great music sells records, and I also think, do you want to be a reality star, or someone that actually has credibility? Because you can’t have both.

There was a one-off gig that was announced recently, then suddenly canceled. What was the story behind that?

Basically, I wasn’t gonna put myself in the position where people thought it was gonna be the last gig, and then — quite frankly, at this point in time, given the fact that he’s been so active in the press, and naming names — I didn’t trust the process at that point in time. I felt that the whole thing was just a fleecing of the fans. And I don’t do gigs like that, to fleece the fans, and to have him at the end make some stupid bulls— comment, and create egg on everyone’s face. Which, quite frankly, given the situation, would’ve been what went down.

I was fine with everything until the Classic Rock article, and then it became real personal digs at my solo records, and basically six paragraphs about me holding up the band from becoming the next coming of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. And then it went from slightly annoying to supremely uncool. And I just chose not to participate in the event. So that’s what happened to the gig.

What will happen, then, to promote the new record? Will there be some limited touring?

No. Not with me. I start next week on my own in Dallas, and then I’m out until the end of the year. As far as I’m concerned, he’s done enough to promote this thing in the wrong way, and what are you gonna do? I didn’t do the press tour.

So you’ll be touring, and then what’s next for you after that?

Beth Hart and I are going back in the studio in January to do another album in that series, which is always a lot of fun. She’s just world class. And then we rehearse for a month with my solo band, and what we’re gonna do is record all four shows in London, at every venue I’ve ever played in London, and we’re gonna have four DVDs and four CDs come out. And she and I are going to do a couple of weeks worth of solo gigs next summer and record a DVD in Amsterdam. So next year is like DVD year, the Year of the Film.

Is there anything else you want to say about the new record?

I think it’s a good record that’s unfortunately been tainted by all this amateur hour type of interview skills. I just think it’s a good record that’s been tainted. But I think people will enjoy it, and I’m not saying it’s the last one. I think Glenn will come to . . .  he needs to have a little reality check, and that’s fine. We all love him, and we’ll forgive him. And it doesn’t diminish the fact that he’s a world class singer, a world class writer and a world class bass player.

Next: Ugly Band Breakups

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