Band: Joe Bonamassa
Date: Wednesday, Dec. 2, at 8 p.m.
Venue: Saenger Theatre, 6 S. Joachim St., www.mobilesaenger.com
Tickets: $89-$129 available through
Ticketmaster and Saenger box office
Many consider Joe Bonamassa one of the greatest guitarists of modern times. Even at age 12, his talents on the fretboard earned him praise from blues legend B.B. King. Bonamassa is sure to treat the Azalea City masses to the furious, incomparable guitar style that has earned him a dedicated following.
Someone with his caliber of talent requires an equally talented back-up band. When Bonamassa takes the Saenger stage, he will be joined by bassist Michael Rhodes, who has lent his skills to artists ranging from Buddy Guy to Toby Keith. As a member of Double Trouble, keyboardist Reese Wynans previously backed Stevie Ray Vaughn.
Drummer Anton Fig completes the lineup. If he sounds familiar, Fig spent almost three decades as the drummer for Paul Shaffer and The CBS Orchestra, which provided music for “The Late Show with David Letterman.” While Letterman retired in May, Fig opted to keep the beat alive.
“I’ve done about eight of his [Bonamassa’s] records,” Fig told Lagniappe. “I did Royal Albert Hall with him and a bunch of the studio records. So when they heard I would be done with the show, they asked if I wanted to play with him a little bit. I figured, ‘Well, you know, I’ll give it a try and see what it’s like.’”
Fig’s work on the road with Bonamassa is quite a departure from his former gig. During his time on television, Fig lived what he describes as an “unreal life” for a musician. It was steady work with great hours, he said. He would play in front of the camera for a few hours and spend the rest of his day working on any project he pleased. He was able to work and still be home for dinner. Now Fig has had to adjust to being on the road and playing two-and-a-half-hour sets nightly. But Fig said he has no complaints.
“It’s a totally different set of chops,” Fig said. “After doing 29 years and 5,400 shows, I was sort of OK with doing something else. You know, [The CBS Orchestra] became family, and I enjoyed seeing Dave Letterman perform every night. He’s such a genius and so great. When it ended, I felt like it had run its natural course. I tended to look more to the future than behind.”
Fig’s future is promoting his album “Figments,” which enjoyed limited release in 2002. Now that his work with “The Late Show” is done, Fig is giving this pet project a wider release.
In creating “Figments,” Fig would write or co-write songs and lay down rough demo tracks in styles ranging from jazz to rock to world. After a song was complete, he began asking collaborators to lay down final tracks, with a mental Rolodex at his disposal.
Through his time on “The Late Show” and various other jobs, this drummer made many talented friends. Fig had a seemingly infinite pool of talent from which to choose and a majority of his lineup choices were not random. Fig had either worked with them or was friends with them. Ultimately he was the only core member of the band, and each track’s origin starts with him. Fig said this allowed the album to gel on a sonic level.
“If I was producing and drumming and writing it or co-writing, it would have a cohesive sound, even though it was different genres,” Fig said. “I felt like the record allowed me to show different things that I could do, as opposed to one thing.”
During this selection process, Fig was systematic in his choices, even though the artists on “Figments” range from Donald “Duck” Dunn to Ivan Neville. When a song reflected a certain style or genre, he went into the talent pool and contacted artists who specialized in that style.
Take, for example, the second track on “Figments,” “Hand on My Shoulder,” which listeners might classify as a heartfelt anthem. When Fig began selecting talent to record this track, he looked to longtime friend Blondie Chaplin. Chaplin is known for his work with The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys and even provided vocals on the latter’s hit “Sail On, Sailor.”
“I thought, ‘Wow, it would be great to get Brian Wilson to do background vocals on it,’” Fig said. “He was one person who I hadn’t worked with, but I knew someone who was close to him. He hooked us together, and Brian sang on the record. Now, Blondie is playing in Brian’s band and touring with him.”
Some of Fig’s career was spent as the drummer for KISS guitarist Ace Frehley’s band, Frehley’s Comet. While working in Frehley’s Comet, Fig became acquainted with guitarist Richie Scarlet. When Fig delved into the world of rock with the song “Know Where You Go,” he sought out Scarlet’s guitar. Scarlet laid down his legendary licks, and the two were joined by Skid Row vocalist Sebastian Bach. The resulting track is an epic, hard-rock anthem with all the power and glory of the ‘80s hair-metal scene.
“These are all people that I’ve done lots of stuff with,” Fig said. “I just tried to put the right combinations of people together. I let the sound dictate it, instead of just putting a bunch of names on an album.”
Fig is pleased with the final cut of “Figments,” admitting there might be another album in the future. Until then, he’ll remain on the road with Bonamassa. His philosophy is to take things as they come.
“I know that I’m working for the foreseeable future, so it’s all good,” Fig said. “I just want to keep going and get better and better and see where it leads me.”