CLP Beacon - Business Issues and Solutions

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Putting a "Tiger in Your Tank" - A Few Things We Can Learn From a Blues Master

The arts provide us an escape from the labor of the mind and hands to the passions of the heart and soul. Sure, we have to make a living and most of us find jobs that we like. Nevertheless, work is work and no matter how sophisticated, there is always some level of monotony and mind numbing behavior involved. Fortunately, there are great artists that lift our spirits and inspire our souls through their music, writing, painting, sculpting, and other mediums.

Growing up in Chicago, I was introduced to the Blues in my 20’s visiting Blues Clubs on   the near north side. The music didn’t heat up until about midnight and it was light outside by the time you left to go home. There was something about the woeful lyrics, crying guitar and weeping harmonica that simply made you feel like dancing in the aisles. Unfortunately, most of the great blues musicians have passed on and the art form itself may be in danger.

Then there is Joe Bonamassa. Joe is 38 years old and his mission in life is “to keep the Blues alive.” Bonamassa is a guitar prodigy having backed up B.B. King when he was 12 years old. Joe Bonamassa is not a household name and never will be, as the Blues has never had universal appeal. For example, of all my friends and relatives I can only think of a few who truly like the Blues (liking the The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin does not count.)

We typical don’t think of artists as leaders. However, I will point out that Joe Bonamassa’s leadership skills have been as important as his guitar talent in giving him his strong international following. In Joe’s case, I believe the following four leadership traits are what have drawn millions of people to be evangelists for his music.

 Maximizing his unique talents

Joe Bonamassa was born to play guitar. Not only did Bonamassa back up B.B. King when he was 12, he regularly plays with rock blues greats such as Eric Clapton. Bonamassa owns hundreds of guitars and uses different ones for each song he plays on stage. He is a perfectionist seeking the right sound at the right time as he blends his guitar playing into the work of about a dozen other musicians on stage.

Joe sings and writes his own songs but there is never a question that his guitar is the star of the show. The Orange County Register wrote, “Joe is unquestionably among our greatest living guitarists, destined to be counted among the greatest of all-time.”

 Focus, focus, focus

With such skill, Joe could have chosen many musical paths. He chose to play the blues. Focusing on something you love may not make you the most money but it does enable you to become truly outstanding in your niche.  Joe’s passion for the blues goes beyond entertaining blues lovers. He founded the international foundation “Keeping the Blues Alive.” His foundation provides music scholarships to talented musicians.

Of course, Joe’s focus is combined with hard work. He plays over 200 live shows a year and averages recording more than one album each year. He also does projects with other entertainers related to his focus on blues and guitar. Joe has a fanatical dedication to his work and his audiences show their appreciation through dedication to him.

Building the Brand

If you saw Joe Bonamassa on the street you would likely look past him. He doesn’t have the natural charisma and flash of most great entertainers. He is common looking and modest. For example, he does not have the toothpick legs that look great in leather pants as we see in most rock stars. However, Joe took what he has and created a chic image. His look of wearing a suit without a tie and sunglasses has become a trademark for him. He has also effectively used social media to build and enhance his distinctive persona.

Surrounding himself with other talented artists and sharing the spotlight

Although Joe’s guitar solos are the star of the show, the show is always bigger than Joe is. He spares no expense in hiring great musicians to back him up. For example, he always has a wind section that thrusts the music to a fuller level of energy and rhythm. His keyboardist garners many ovations for his solos throughout any performance. Joe provides all of his musicians the opportunity to show off their skills and he makes a point of introducing each of them to the audience genuinely thanking them publicly for their help.

Lessons learned

Joe Bonamassa is not only a great guitar player but also a great leader and we can learn from his success. Maximizing your unique talent, focusing on your passion, building your brand, and surrounding yourself with a talented supporting team are keys to success in business as well.

Joe said once that the greatest advice he ever received from B.B. King was not about guitar playing but about business. B.B. said, “It’s about music but it’s also about business. Joe, you need to always reinvest back into what you do, back into your fan base. Fans can detect if you’re not doing that, if you’re not doing things to improve the show.”

In Joe Bonamassa’s case the show is continuously improved through his unending quest to perfect the sound of his guitar, focusing on the blues, providing his fans a consistently exciting product through strong brand management, and surrounding himself with the best musicians in the world that share his passions.

B.B.’s advice relates to any business. Just replace “music” and “show” with “product or service” and “fan base” with “customer” and you’d think it was a Peter Drucker quote. At C-Level Partners, we believe nearly every human being has achieved some level of success in a unique way. We can learn a great deal from a significant number of people if we listen and watch carefully enough!   If you have some thoughts on this topic, feel free to comment and pass along this blog to others. Also, please feel free to contact me at or call me (714-290-3892) to discuss how to apply these leadership skills to your business.

By the Way, if you are curious to hear Joe’s sound click the video below.

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