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Bonamassa punches ‘Time Clock’ in Youngstown

Joe Bonamassa has played enough shows in the Mahoning Valley to almost qualify as a local hero.

The Cellar in Struthers was a regular stop for the New York guitar player in the early 2000s when JAC Management President Eric Ryan owned the bar / club. These days Bonamassa plays theaters and arenas, and Ryan’s company manages venues that size. Bonamassa returns Saturday for a show at the Covelli Centre.

“Ohio’s always been good to me,” Bonamassa said during a phone interview from Springfield, Mass., before the opening date of his current tour. “It was one of the first markets in America to embrace me.”

That embrace extends just about everywhere today. Bonamassa released his latest album, “Time Clocks,” in October, and it became his 25th release to top Billboard magazine’s Blues Album Chart, something no other artist has accomplished.

Not bad for a guy who said, “I didn’t imagine we’d have two releases” after his first album came out in 2000.

But “Time Clocks” was unlike any other record Bonamassa’s made. He recorded the album in New York during the COVID-19 pandemic, but producer Kevin Shirley worked with him via Zoom from Australia.

“Everything about 2020, 2021 has been weird and devoid of a lot of common sense,” Bonamassa said. “Why would this be any different? … I wouldn’t do a lot of the things I’ve done since March 2020 again by choice, but at the end of the day you have to adapt to the cards that are being dealt, and that’s OK. ‘This doesn’t seem logical to me, but let’s see how it works out,’ and it generally works out fine.”

One thing the pandemic did was give the workaholic musician — between studio albums, live albums and side projects with Beth Hart and his bands Black Country Communion and Rock Candy Funk Party, Bonamassa has released more than 40 albums since his 2000 debut — a vacation, even if it wasn’t by choice.

Bonamassa said he got a bicycle, lost some weight and, with no gigs to prepare for, went long stretches without picking up a guitar.

He enjoyed the break, but it won’t slow him down now that he’s able to work again. When asked if the experience of the last 18 months might alter his work / life balance in the future, Bonamassa said, “I don’t like the term work / life balance. In order to be good at my job, I have to dedicate my life to it. If I had said, ‘Well, my work / life balance is a little off,’ we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

“In the blues, we have a saying, ‘You reap what you sow,’ and the thing is, at the end of the day, if you don’t dedicate yourself and go in 1,000 percent, then it’s going to be an uphill battle. I’m going to be in this thing as fast and furious as I can until I decide not to be. And when I decide not to be, it will be like turning off a faucet.”

In addition to his own music, Bonamassa also started KTBA (Keeping the Blues Alive) Records, which has released records by Dion DiMucci, Joanne Shaw Taylor and Joanna Connor, many of those with Bonamassa as a producer.

He doesn’t plan to follow the example of the 82-year-old DiMucci, who released a new album in September.

“I’ll be out way before then. But I still love it, and that’s the litmus test. Do you still love it can you do it at a high level? And if you can do it on a high level — great. Am I going to drive it into the ground? It’s not as great as it used to be and hasn’t been for the last 10 years? I can’t do that. That’s not who I am.”

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