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My Prog Hero: Joe Bonamassa

Inspiring the wider music world

The blues-rock guitar maestro on the harmonic convergence of Yes’s Chris Squire.

“My prog-rock hero comes from my dad. The first guy that my father singled out and said, ‘Listen to this guy play,’ was Chris Squire. We listened to Yessongs over and over again, which was a live recording. 

“I’m a big Steve Howe fan, but I always found myself more drawn to the bassline. It was the first time I’d ever really noticed the power of a bass guitar to do things such as switch up the harmonic content of the music by dropping the root of third. 

“You have to listen to Heart Of The Sunrise on Yessongs because of how he cascades down against the ascending sound of that riff. You have to listen to the 10-minute version of Starship Trooper on Yessongs when they go into that piece of music called Würm. Chris takes three simple chords and makes it almost symphonic. He’s creating so much tension and release within these simple chords while Rick Wakeman or Steve Howe are soloing. 

“That’s really the definition of progressive; you’re not just playing roots and fifths. Steve Howe is a hybrid of jazz and Chet Atkins and he plays with a clean sound, so the heaviness of those riffs is done by that crunchy Rickenbacker bass.

“A couple of years ago, my bass player Carmine Rojas and I went to see Yes at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles. I found myself once again fixated on Chris Squire. I was saying, ‘I can’t believe how he’s making different chords underneath all this music with this fantastic bass sound – and singing a middle harmony at the same time that’s different from the bass harmony!’

“I’ve met Chris several times. The first time was when I played Shepherd’s Bush Empire a couple of years ago. I was backstage, and all of a sudden the big guy shows up with a guy who’s not so big. I’m introduced to Chris Squire and Steve Hackett. I went, ‘Holy shit! I used to do Würm and I used to do Los Endos.’

“At that point, we were playing some of Starship Trooper and Chris couldn’t believe it. I rang my father and said, ‘Dad, you’d never believe who came to my show!’” 

Joe Bonamassa’s 11th studio album, Different Shades Of Blue, is released on September 22.

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