Joanne Shaw Taylor, a British blues rock guitarist, singer and songwriter chats with Kevin Cooper about moving to Detroit, her friendship with Joe Bonamassa, her 2019 album Reckless Heart and her current tour of the UK.

Joanne Shaw Taylor is a British blues rock guitarist, singer and songwriter who was discovered by Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics at the age of 16.

She released her debut album, White Sugar, in 2009 and her second album, Diamonds In The Dirt, followed a year later.

In 2010 she won the Best Female Vocalist at The British Blues Awards. She won it again in 2011 together with Songwriter Of The Year for her song Same As It Never Was from her Diamonds In The Dirt album.

In June 2012 she played lead guitar in Annie Lennox’s band at the Diamond Jubilee Concert in London before an audience of in excess of 12,000 people.

In total Taylor has released six studio albums, her last being Reckless Heart which was released in 2019.

Whilst getting ready to tour the UK she took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what she had to say.

Hi Joanne, how are you today?

Hi Kevin, I’m good thank you, how are you doing?

I’m very well thank you, and before we go on let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

Likewise love, likewise.

And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

I have to say that life at this moment in time is treating me good really if you look at the big picture. If you look at the smaller picture, I am rather exhausted after a recent week long Keeping The Blues Alive At Sea cruise with Joe Bonamassa (laughter). I’m now frantically doing laundry and attempting to pack for a flight to London this afternoon. So the large picture is going really well; the small picture involves me trying to ensure that I have got everything that I need (laughter).

I know that we are going to chat about the forthcoming tour, but is it okay if we talk about your latest album, Reckless Heart, first?

Yes, sure, go for it.

I have to say that I have been playing it now for the past couple of weeks and I love it.

Thank you very much for saying that; I really do appreciate you saying that. I have to be honest with you and tell you that I am really excited at just how well the album turned out. It is almost two years now since we recorded it, so to me it feels a little bit, not old but for me it was a bit of a gamble working with a new producer together with a new label. Plus I wrote all of the songs for the album myself. I felt that I was ready to and that I needed to do that. But yes, I am really happy with the way that it turned out, and I feel that it stands well with all of the other albums in the back catalogue. I am really pleased with it so thank you.

Your fans here in the UK are saying that it is your best work to date. Would you go along with that?

I really don’t know. It is a tough one to be honest because every time that you record a new album, it is so new to you and you are so excited because you have all of these new children, which is what I call the songs (laughter). You are always thinking, ‘this one may be a bit more special’ (laughter). So, I have to say that it is nice to get that feedback, especially as this album really was a bit of a gamble. I didn’t know if the fans were going to hate it or love it; you never do. Having said all of that, I really liked it and I honestly feel that it was the right album to make at that particular moment in time. Hopefully it will stand the test of time and still sound as good in ten or twenty years.

Do you feel that as an artist you are getting stronger?

Yes, I do, I think so. I think that you have just gone and hit the nail on the head with the operative word being artist. I think that my voice is getting stronger. I think that as you get older, I am getting more comfortable within myself, and not judging myself less but I now find that I am doubting myself less as well I suppose. So I think that is all a part of it. So I think in that sense I am now getting more comfortable and I am prepared to take a few more risks and I am believing a bit more in myself I suppose.

At this moment in time I have got four go to tracks on the album…

That’s good as it’s almost half the album (laughter)…

they are The Best Thing, Bad Love, Creepin’ and All My Love. I personally think that they are fantastic.

You know what; they are pretty much my favourites too. They all worked out great particularly Bad Love because it is so much fun to play live (laughter). However, we have now decided that we are going to be playing the complete album on this UK tour. So, perhaps the ones that I haven’t played live yet could well end up being new favourites, but yes, those four tracks are some of my favourites too.

You have mentioned that the album is almost two years old now. From writing to recording how long did it take you to bring it all together?

Not too long really, although having said that it probably took a little longer than the previous one. When we were recording Wild, I went over to Nashville ahead of Kevin Shirley the producer, wrote for five days, then he flew in and we had a day off. After that, we cut the whole album in around five days. With the latest album, we opened up for Foreigner in the UK for a couple of weeks, and then I had an extended stay in London at my dad’s, where I did the bulk of the writing. So, in all, it probably took me three weeks to write this one, which in the scheme of things isn’t too long, but for me it is an eternity (laughter).

We actually took a little longer to record it as well which I think was because it was the first album that I had recorded at home in Michigan plus the World Cup was on so I was down every day in order to watch England (laughter). So, as you can see it really was quite nice and chilled out, but we did take longer. It was just nice to be chilled out about it I guess.

It’s great to see that you are putting the new album out on vinyl.

I always do because I personally will only buy vinyl and MP3’s, because travelling around as much as I do it is impossible to take your vinyl collection with you (laughter). I think that the question for me is just how long we are going to continue putting albums out on CD. I personally don’t own any; I don’t own a CD player, and even Macs have now stopped having CD drives. So, I will most definitely continue to put out my work on vinyl and CD just as long as people want it, but we will see. I find buying vinyl to be pretty easy. I accept that it is more expensive but personally I feel that it is worth it, but I don’t think that the fans mind that too much. I think that they would rather pay that little bit more, especially if it is a double limited edition for $30 that sounds really good, and it just looks better. I always feel that the artwork looks far better that size.

At least with an album you can actually read the sleeve notes without having to use a magnifying glass (laughter).

(Laughter) I know what you mean, but let me tell you, we are all of that age (laughter).

Did moving to Detroit help with the song writing?

Yes, it did, or at least I like to think so. I think that I would be a very different person if I had decided to stay in the UK. I have been here in America for most of my adult life now, so in terms of being integrated into the Blues scene here, which I wouldn’t say is stronger than over there in Europe, but it is bigger, given the size of the country. Plus all of the experiences that I have had which have been different to those that I would have experienced had I stayed in the UK. So yes, I think that it all kind of seeps in and adds to it in ways that I will never really understand (laughter). I think that for sure it has changed me hopefully for the best.

Are you looking forward to being back out on the road here in the UK?

I am, yes. For me, it will be a nice little tester. As I mentioned earlier, we have just been out and played three shows with Joe on the cruise, which I am now calling my first tour of 2020 (laughter). That was a nice little warm up for me. So yes, I am kind of looking forward to digging back in now, getting on the bus, getting back into gig shape and tour shape when you are just playing every day. I have been looking after myself and have been trying to remain healthy, so yes, I am all good to go, fingers crossed. I am bringing over my States guys who form the rhythm section. These guys played with me all last summer and I am looking forward to getting them broken in over there in the UK (laughter). I have never played The Glee Club in Nottingham before, so I am looking forward to seeing just what that is all about.

Whose idea was it for you to play the album in its entirety?

(Laughter) I must hold my hands up and say that it was mine. Thinking about it now as the tour draws ever closer, maybe it will be one that I regret (laughter). I have just never done anything like this before really, and in terms of business talk, it is quite easy to sell a tour when you have got a new album out. The challenge is always if you want to tour the same market again, as in the UK, which I have already toured once on the back of this album, then it is always nice to come up with something different. The idea coincided with me wanting to play some of the smaller venues. We went through a period of playing larger theatres, which is lovely, but I like to mix things up. I do miss the smaller clubs and the more intimate venues sometimes.

If you remember that old programme VH1 Storytellers, I have been watching the one about Dave Stewart recently, it’s where artists go on the show and talk about specific songs, so I just thought why don’t we play the album in its entirety as it is meant to be heard, in intimate venues, where I can talk a bit more about it. Then, when we talked about the rest of the set, it was just the idea of, ‘why don’t we just have the fans vote for it’ because more than anything I was actually keen to see just what the fans wanted to hear. As I have been doing this for a good few years now, I assume that I know what the fans want to hear, now that I have got a big back catalogue, but not really knowing for certain. So, that’s the remainder of the set and the initial thought process behind it (laughter).

Asking the fans to vote for the songs that they would like to hear, has that thrown up any surprises for you?

We will only obviously be picking out the top ten songs, simply because I am not in the position to play a four-hour set (laughter). I have to say that up to this moment in time, everything has been pretty well bang on what I would have wanted to play, so it has been quite interesting in that regard. It would appear that I am in tune with my fans I suppose. So, it really has been a pleasant surprise. The only surprise was somebody who was adamant and only voting for songs off Reckless Heart and I was like ‘we are already playing the songs off Reckless Heart’ (laughter). Then we had a couple of people saying Free Bird and Definitely Maybe, so I had to point out to them that I wanted them to vote for my songs (laughter).

I think that I have to take the blame for that and not being more specific on the social media, but they were the only clanging surprises, I guess (laughter). We also had people voting here in America and we were like ‘but we aren’t doing it on the American tour’ (laughter). I put it down to cross wires on social media; it’s both a blessing and a curse I’m afraid.

The forthcoming UK tour really has got a back to basics, up close and personal feel to it.

Yes, it has, and I am excited about that. We did a run which included The Birmingham Symphony Hall which is both lovely and exciting but also acoustically it wasn’t really built for a four-piece blues rock band (laughter). The clue is in the title ‘symphony’. Also, it is nice for me to walk out onto the stage and perform a totally different show, rather than trying to perform on a grand stage such as The Birmingham Symphony Hall. You have to adapt to a different onstage persona I suppose because there are so many people there. Whereas I love playing the club type venues as well, and I didn’t want to think that those days were behind me so I decided to surprise everyone and let them know that, once again, I will pretty much do what I want (laughter).

Hopefully, at this stage, the fans seem to be pretty excited about seeing me in those venues together with the option of taking advantage of a meet and greet as well. We have set the price of those tickets specifically very low so that it is made open to everyone really.

Putting you on the spot, what would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

There have been some big things like playing lead guitar in Annie Lennox’s band at the Diamond Jubilee Concert in London. I have recently been nominated for a Blues award which is totally amazing. Working with Kevin Shirley that for me is a real highlight, but I would have to say that, for me, it has to be all of it really. What you must remember is that I was just a thirteen-year-old girl from Cheswick Green in Solihull in the West Midlands, who wanted to live in America and be a Blues guitarist. Everyone said, “oh okay love, good luck with that” (laughter). But the fact that I have managed to do it and make a living out of it really is humbling for me at times. I have met wonderful, like minded people along the way. I get to talk to lovely people like you who support me. It is all rather special really and it is never wasted on me.

I’ve got three quick fire questions to test your memory…

Oh god well let me tell you that I have the worst memory possible (laughter).

In that case, just do what everyone else does, and make it up (laughter).

I always tell everyone that I am like Homer Simpson; one piece of information goes in and I lose another one simply because I have got so many Blues licks to remember that there is nothing else up there but hey, let’s give it a go (laughter).

What was the first record that you bought?

The first proper album that I bought was Texas Flood, which was the debut studio album by Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble. The first singles that I bought, I actually bought two when I was eleven years old, were The Most Beautiful Girl In The World by Prince and the other one was Return Of The Mack by Mark Morrison (laughter).

Who did you first see performing live?

The first proper concert that I went to was with my brother and it would have either been AC/DC in Birmingham with The Wildhearts supporting or it could have been REM in London with Wilco supporting. My brother took me to both concerts and they were very close to one another so it would have been one of those. They were both very good gigs and I still owe my brother a beer for it (laughter).

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

That’s easy, that would have to be hearing Tommy Emmanuel playing Somewhere Over The Rainbow on the recent Keeping The Blues Alive At Sea cruise. That is one of my favourite songs anyway, and I also love the Jeff Beck rendition.

You have mentioned the cruise and you have also mentioned a certain Joe Bonamassa. So you will have obviously seen the quote, and you have actually used the quote, so I thought that I would tell you exactly what happened. Back on the 26th June 2016 I was interviewing Joe and I asked him, “who should we be looking out for over here in the UK on the Blues scene” to which Joe replied, “truth be told, I think that Joanne Shaw Taylor is a superstar in waiting”.

Wow! That was you was it. It’s always nice to get something good to be able to put on a tour poster. The only thing that I can say to you is thank you for getting that quote.

It’s not a problem. What I would like to ask you is when you hear someone like Joe saying something like that about you, how does it make you feel?

It’s lovely and obviously it’s incredible that Joe and I have become such close friends. I now know all his family and I know that I have always got his full support which is incredible because of who he is, but obviously I don’t think about that too much. I just find it wonderful that I have got this incredibly, intelligent and talented lovely young man that’s supports me so much. Joe is like a big brother to me. I would have to say that there is still a part of me that doesn’t believe it, which is fair enough and I have always been that way. But it is always great to hear something like that. I don’t go out of my way to keep on knocking myself; I just concentrate on improving, doing a good job and try to be a nicer person every day. That’s really the stuff that you should be focusing on. So, thanks again Kevin, its lovely.

Joanne on that note let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been lovely. Take care and I will see you at The Glee Club here in Nottingham on Wednesday 25th March.

Thanks Kevin, you take care and I look forward to seeing you at The Glee Club. Please do come and say hi.