A Chat with Joanne Shaw Taylor
From time to time I get to interview and review musicians as part of my regular job. This past week it was Joanne Shaw Taylor, the 27-year old Detroit-based Englishwoman who is rising up the ladder as a contemporary great of blues rock. You can read my article here, but for No Depression I thought I would expand on it.
First of all, Joanne is a very nice, down to earth person. Talking to journalists can be a royal pain (trust me I work with them) and musicians must end up answering the same questions over and over again. Joanne was more than courteous; she actually gave the impression that she was happy to meet me and my buddy who tagged along.
She talked about how she got started – at 6. She wasn’t exactly sure but she might have been sent away to another room for doing something naughty. There she found guitars belonging to her dad and brother. Her dad liked heavy rockers such as Deep Purple and Thin Lizzy, so that’s what started to influence her.
A bit later, she heard Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Texan cult guitarist who died in a 1990 helicopter crash. She was smitten with his frenetic electric riffs and runs and that was it – a guitar queen/goddess/heroine was born.
Today, when she hits the the stage, you see this young blonde woman whom you might assume would come out with some Adele-type ballad. Instead, you get audacious blues rock, with thumping chords and wailing guitar runs that easily stand alongside some of the early rock masters.
Add to that a gravelly blues voice that occasional sounds like Janis Joplin. And then there is the flailing blonde hair. It was beyond me how it did not get stuck in the strings.
Normally when I sit at a concert, I just sit back and listen. But when Joanne began a long version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression”, I found myself leaning on my arms on the seat in front absolutely mesmerised by her skill. It was astonishing.
One of the main reasons why Joanne stands out – other than her sheer mastery of the guitar – is that female blues-rock guitarists are so few and far between. Most of the women in the genre are singers. I asked her why and found her reasoning interesting:.
“Along with the drums, it (the guitar) is an aggressive, masculine instrument.”
When I also asked her for other women guitarists of roughly the same genre she could only come up with a short list – Suzie Quatro (who was a bassist), Joanne Jett, Bonnie Rait and Susan Tedeschi. Quatro and Rait are in their 60s, Jett in her 50s and Tedeschi over 40 – so not exactly contemporaries.
Interestingly, Joanne reckons things are changing a bit. She says she gets a lot of fathers bringing their young daughters to see her. Wonder if that means there is a generation of women blues rockers in the works?
Joanne has just released her third album – “Almost Always Never”. It is more of a rock album than its two bluesier ancestors, “Diamonds In The Dirt” and “White Sugar”. (Alan Harrison has reviewed it here) I am not sure I like it as much as the other (although I do like it) but it is a sign that she is not planning on sitting still.
We also talked about her biggest performance to date – at least as far as audience is concerned.
Annie Lennox, whom she had not seen for about a decade when Joanne worked with Lennox’s ex-Eurythmics partner Dave Stewart (remember how old she was then!), rang her on short notice to back her up on the globally televised jubilee concert for Queen Elizabeth outside Buckingham Palace.
Lennox sang “There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart)” wearing a large pair of angel wings. Joanne did too when she did a solo. You can see it here (she comes on around 3:14), but the clip below gives a better idea of her guitar work: