British blues guitarist Joanne Shaw Taylor has a new album entitled “Almost Always Never” which was released this month. It’s her third album, and it improves on what the Boston Herald described of Joanne as having “an un-clichéd guitar style.”
Recently, I asked Joanne about that album, as well as her influences, her work with each of the co-founders of ’80s British pop act Eurythmics [Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox], as well as her playing for a royal occasion, and whether she’d experiment with a particular style of music that’s different from what she’s known for.
Steve: Joanne, you chose to record “Almost Always Never” in Austin, Texas, with Mike McCarthy producing it, as opposed to your previous two albums working with Jim Gaines in Nashville. How did the change in both producer and location contribute to improving on your hard-edged blues guitar style?
Joanne: I think it was hugely beneficial to mix things up on this recording. If for nothing else, I think mentally it pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me to consider new techniques, sounds, etc., and, in particular, I found myself writing a lot more diverse material. It was a little nerve racking – I’m not going to lie. Over the past three years, I’ve done two recordings with Jim in (Tennessee), so it was a little scary going to camp out in a new town (Austin) for a month and work with an entirely new set of people. But I couldn’t be happier with the result.
Steve: I also like that resonator guitar-slide sound in “Army of One” because it combines that hard edge with an unplugged change of pace. Does that particular type of guitar impress you because of its history and uniqueness, as well as its sound?
Joanne: That’s actually a semi-hollow electric played through a little 5-watt amp. A lot of people have mistaken it for a resonator. We started with that guitar, then looked for different guitar tones to complement it (i.e. having Billy [White] join in on the acoustic slide and then David [Garza] on the mandolin).
Steve: Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix were legendary guitarists, each in their own right. How did their works influence what you do?
Joanne: They were two of my earliest influences. Stevie was one of the first electric guitar players I listened to, so I credit him with inspiring me to play. As for Hendrix, I actually didn’t really start appreciating and listening to Jimi until I began writing. As a songwriter whose first instrument is guitar, he taught me a lot about melodies and rhythm playing.
Steve: What other guitarists have you been influenced by?
Joanne: Gary Moore, Eric Johnson, Lindsay Buckingham, Richie Kotzan, Paul Gilbert, Jimmie Vaughan, Albert Collins, Paul Kossoff… the list is endless and still growing.
Steve: How did Eurythmics co-founder Dave Stewart discover you when you were in your teens and what was it like performing with him?
Joanne: I performed at a charity concert in aid of breast cancer, as my mother had recently undergone a mastectomy and had completed some chemo and radiation. There was a work colleague of Dave’s there and he passed along a copy of a 3-track demo I’d recently done. I always love working with Dave. He’s just such a creative and interesting character, plus, he’s been something of a mentor to me over the years. I have a great deal of love and respect for him.
Steve: As for the other half of Eurythmics…Annie Lennox, of course, sang “There Must Be An Angel” during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert in front of half a million at Buckingham Palace last June, with you joining in for an interesting guitar solo–winged costume and all. How did you land that prime gig, and might they still be asking over in the UK, “Who was that guitar player?”
Joanne: I landed in the UK on a Sunday and first thing Monday morning, her MD called and said Annie wanted me to perform with her… It was an incredible experience, one I’ll never forget and am very thankful to Annie for giving me the opportunity.
Steve: You’re recognized just as much for your vocals as for your guitar playing and songwriting, having been named Best Female Vocalist by the British Blues Awards back-to-back in 2010 and 2011, and you were a runner up in that category at this year’s Awards held on September 9th during the Newark [UK] Blues Festival. How do you balance that recognition with your guitar work?
Joanne: I don’t really think about recognition on the whole to be honest. It is, of course, an incredible feeling and very gratifying to be recognized, but I don’t really think too much about those things. I just try to produce the best albums I can, make sure my performances are the best I can do, and hope for the best really!
Steve: Finally, Joanne, a couple of decades ago, rock singer Pat Benatar experimented with an album of blues songs. Given what I have mentioned about your guitar work having that hard-edged rock feel, would you, at some point, want to experiment with an album of rock songs?
Joanne: To be honest, I already incorporate a great deal of the rock genre into my albums to the point where I see them as rock-blues albums. I don’t really feel at this point that I’ve produced an “out-and-out” blues album, so I’d probably be more inclined to go down that route. I’d love one day to make a real kind of retro-blues album. Kind of like Jimmie Vaughan meets Little Richard!
Quite an idea, I must say, particularly when she name-drops one of rock’s pioneers and the late Stevie Ray’s older brother in the same sentence. Our thanks to Joanne for a wonderful interview, as well as for clarifying that guitar sound I heard on that “Army of One” track.
“Almost Always Never” is available online at amazon.com, iTunes and other retail websites. And for more about Joanne Shaw Taylor, you can visit her website, http://www.joanneshawtaylor.com . She can also be found on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/joanneshawtaylor and on Twitter @joshawtaylor.
Photo Credits: Shervin Lainez