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Joanne Shaw Taylor

Dissecting and sculpting opinions concerning the new tour of blues sounds has always dropped me off at my own crossroads. Just left of wax center, extremes of rhythms and vocal curves that stretch the traditional concepts of the textbooks become a welcome exploit for me. Whether the stylistic bending in blues is welcome or forbidden by traditional masses and talking heads, it is always an unworthy indulgence to have a sit-n-spin among the fresh and pioneering channels of echoes to come.

I found that same substance of unbridled allure in new school guitarist Joanne Shaw Taylor, who has released her new project from Ruf Records called White Sugar...a blend of free-flowing guitar riffs with a bluesy elegance, both lyrically and musically. White Sugar is an intimately extreme free-fall into guitar grooves mentality supported by Taylor’s diverse blues intellect!

Although Ms Taylor will state "I guess I'm a wild child in the sense that I play purely for myself," she does not consider herself one, for she believes she has to earn this accolade. The obvious is certain, the seed has been planted, the bud is forthcoming, and then, the sound is blooming, nurtured into what may be a classic arrangement of perennial blues stylings.

Joanne Shaw Taylor’s debut spin, White Sugar, has so many dimensions and attitudes, unlike its author. Ms Taylor is a determined artist with simple and self-motivated vision, no complexities - no quandaries. She does not fancy herself a pure vocalist as she proceeds to speak about her talents during our time together. "To be honest, I still don't consider myself a singer," says Taylor, " I still don't feel I have full control or understanding of my voice." However, to calculate her sound precisely, I would augur Ms. Taylor performances today and in the future vocally as a resonance of artistic uniqueness. Spin to disagree!

Ms. Taylor is in a no-fluff zone with an incredible upside! To explain my point, she went on to say in our conversation, "A three minute solo could explain to you who I am more than an entire three hour conversation." There may be dimensions hidden in her inner being, but the aura is simple and to the point, and so very striking in an industry of expanding egos. Then again, the blues was never about self-absorption!

The artist Joanne Shaw Taylor offers a double bill: guitar grooves that drool with intensity and a blues delivery that has an aged wine mentality.

From my time with Ms. Taylor’s music to our time between sets, this bottle of explosive blues appeal will invite you in and never let you exit. Pour it on heavy and often. With a "fire in the belly" performance and a classic blues ardor wrapped in youth, visit now with an informal look at the blues orchestrated by Joanne Shaw Taylor.

JazzReview: Tell us about your relationship with your instrument. I have found that the true soul of an artist follows its way out through the craftsman tool.

Joanne Shaw Taylor: For me I feel now that my guitar is my voice, and my escape in life, it’s done so much for me already. I always felt a very strong bond to the guitar (I consider this my main instrument as opposed to singing) I grew up in a house full of guitars and guitar based music so I always Just assumed I was a guitarist and that it was something I would be able to do. Having that naive self confident approach really helped me from the onset, I struggled at school and was a painfully shy child but I never doubted I could play guitar no matter how difficult the composition I was trying to learn. I think the guitar has always been an escape for me, particularly when I was younger and it's become such a huge part of my personality now.

Which is why I think I gravitated toward Blues guitar, I think it's the one genre that really allows you to use your guitar as a voice for your personality. It's funny when I meet new people for the first time and they ask what I do etc, I'm always thinking the conversation is pointless, I feel as if me playing a 3 minute solo could explain to you who I am more than a entire 3 hour conversation.

JazzReview: You stated in many clips that blues was never a hobby for you. You take it with all the seriousness and fervor of a well-traveled crossroads resident. Was there an epiphany that set forth this mindset? Talk about that moment.

Joanne Shaw Taylor: Well, as I mentioned previously guitar was always an escape for me. School in general was never something I really enjoyed and from an early age I'd always knew I wanted to be a guitarist. I always played guitar around the house as a young child though there was never a serious practice regime in place just simply tinkering with one of my fathers acoustics. Then when I was 8 I decided to take Classical lessons at my school and eventually I successfully auditioned and then performed as part of the UK youth Ensemble and I learnt from an early age say 8 or 9 that it set me apart from my peers and I think that was my initial motivation. I remember being picked up from school at 3:30pm in the tour bus because I had to go play a recital and I used to perform in the school assembly’s. However although I loved to play I knew Classical guitar was not my calling in life! I think that’s why and when I discovered Blues later I identified so much with it. Unlike the classical world, I'd played in it allowed me a lot more freedom.

Blues guitar to me is very personable, it’s disciplined in the way the classical genre is but it allows for more freedom and expression. I knew I wanted to be a guitarist but it really wasn't until I discovered blues at the age of 13 that I felt I had found my outlet.

JazzReview: I asked Zayika Hooker (John Lee Hooker’s daughter and blues vocalist) a few weeks back, who was blues new wild child? She could not name it. I often stated that Debbie Davies had that label, however from the depths of the music sheet today, you hit the stage. Do you consider yourself the new school wild child?

Joanne Shaw Taylor: (Laughing) I'm not sure you can consider yourself a wild child surely that’s a title that has to be earned. That said I guess I'm a wild child in the sense that I play purely for myself, I have always and will, hope I always make music purely for myself, I feel that’s the only way you can be true to yourself as an artist and therefore possibly create something that is different or individual.

I tend not to bear too much weight on what is in fashion, though I have a great respect and love for the Blues and its history, I certainly don't feel restrained by what people feel is acceptable for the Blues genre. I'm not sure if that makes me a wild child though!

JazzReview: When Johnny Lang crossed my path, I felt a sense of something very special was to take place in blues. I have had the sensation, only to a higher degree, with you. How does one as young as you, handle such praise and keep focused?

Joanne Shaw Taylor: Thank you! I'm a huge Johnny Lang fan and he was one of my early influences. I only really have one ambition in life and that is to make the most of whatever talents I have been given. Wrongly or rightly I have never been motivated by money or otherwise, I'm just very thankful I am able to pursue my passion as a living and live such a wonderful nomadic lifestyle and meet like minded people. Needless to say when people appreciate what I do and the music I make it is the highest complement but I still have a long way to go and a lot of hard work to do. I try to stay focused on that.

JazzReview: White Sugar has the energy to shift the tectonic plates of the blues industry. The sound heavy with potential and sensually appealing you manipulate the notes. Talk about the concept for White Sugar.

Joanne Shaw Taylor: Well, as is often the case with debut albums it was a ten year process in all fairness, so I had a lot of time to prepare it. There was never really a concept for the album as far as I was concerned. I was just very aware that it was to be my debut album in my introduction to fans, so it had to be the best album it could be and also be very representative of how I see myself as an artist. I certainly wasn't trying to break any new ground.

My main goals for it were to be a triple whammy as I like to say, Good playing, Good vocals, Good songs. I feel White Sugar was a good first effort and I had incredible time writing and recording it and it will always be a very special album to me personally. I just hope it reflects who I am as an artist in which people can relate to the songs or perhaps appreciate my playing. At the end of the day I worked very hard on it and I just hope the listener gets as much pleasure out of listening to it as I did recording it.

JazzReview: I am experiencing "Time has Come" as we speak, in the background. A multi-dimensional cut with numerous identities within the structure Talk about the strong guitar work within and go into the composition of the cut.

Joanne Shaw Taylor: I wrote that track when I was 14; I simply wanted a slow blues of my own, to sing at gigs. That said the guitar solo and general structure has developed over the previous decade. When I think of the "composition" element to that song for me it largely centers on the guitar solo. My main ambition being that this is the focal point of the song to me and I could make most use of dynamics

JazzReview: How would one sketch the fashion of your vocals? Go into the sound and delivery as it has a very unique and sultry flow but edgy. Case in point is the spin "Bones."

Joanne Shaw Taylor: To be honest I still don't consider myself a singer, I started singing purely because I wanted to be able to lead my band, I.E. The singer gets to pick the set list. I still don't feel I have full control or understanding of my voice so it's hard for me to comment. All I can say is that in recent years I have tried to approach it in the same way I approach my guitar playing Hit it hard and hope for the best. As with my guitar playing technically I don't really understand my voice as an instrument so I rely heavily on feel and initiative.

JazzReview: Talk about the art of telling a story in blues, as in the cut "Kiss the Ground Goodbye."

Joanne Shaw Taylor: I was fortunate early on in my career to meet and work with Dave Stewart (Eurythmics); Dave took me under his wing and became something of a musical mentor to me. The main lesson Dave installed in me was that Songwriting was a just as valuable tool as guitar playing possibly more so when it came to relating yourself to the listener. I can't help but feel that over the years the art of the song has become less and less important in the new Blues/Rock genre, especially when you think back to the likes of Robert Johnson or Willie Dixon. Two artists that were always trying to tell a story to the listener.

In regards to my own songwriting I simply find it very therapeutic. I always write from an autobiographical point of view, "Kiss the Ground Goodbye" being about my experiences of the music business, I turned down a few major label deals early on in my career as in my opinion the Major's are a fast sinking ship and they never were very understanding of the roots genres anyway. After I parted company with my first record label I took some time out to re-evaluate what it was exactly I wanted to do and how I wanted to sound and I think a lot people in the industry who knew me saw that quiet period as my demise.

JazzReview: Tell us a bit of those whom share the studio with you.

Joanne Shaw Taylor: Playing on "White Sugar" we had Dave Smith on the bass guitar and Steve Potts on the drums. Both Dave and Steve we suggested to me by producer Jim Gaines and I already knew of their work on Jonny Lang's "Lie to Me" And Luther Allison's later records. Needless to say I was thrilled to have them on board even more so when I meet them on the first day of recording.

For me they were instrumental to the recording of the album, they both played a huge hand in the final arrangements of the songs and more importantly they were such an inspiration to play with. Given their credentials I was obviously aware that I had to produce my best performance in the studio everyday and more importantly they are both two very down to earth humble southern gentlemen. Working with them was an absolute pleasure.

JazzReview: Jim Gaines as a producer has many accolades. What did you take from your time working with him on the subject of producing and mixing?

Joanne Shaw Taylor: To be honest I was skeptical of going in the studio and working with a producer. My previous experience of producers being very egotistical and over bearing... Fortunately Jim is none of these things and that was apparent from the onset. Firstly Jim to me is everything a producer should be, A producers job to me being to help the artist create the best album they are capable of making, Jim is one of the most humble and easy going people I have ever met especially given his CV. I learnt a great many lessons from him, too many to list but I am very excited about the prospect of working with him again.

JazzReview: What thoughts ran through your mind and the final pieces of the project were set in stone?

Joanne Shaw Taylor: Relief :-) As I said before to me this album was ten years in the making, from the time I picked up an electric guitar when I was 13 I had dreamed of making an album. To have the opportunity to make it and to record it in Tennessee with the caliber of musicianship I had on board was a dream come true. I think a great sense of disbelief was the only thing running through my mind.

JazzReview: As a young artist what is the most difficult part of the process to develop and over come, as to barriers one faces in the industry?

Joanne Shaw Taylor: I don't think I ever felt or came across any barriers as a young artist in fact regarding my age I only ever meet people who were encouraging of my development.

If I did come across any barriers they were regarding my being female. The guitar community as a whole is still very male dominated and if there was any one thing I found difficult it was the fact that in the press this was commented on heavily as if my being female should encourage people to judge me differently as a player. It's a slight bone of contention for me. All my influences are male and I like to think I play with as much ferocity as anyone, male or female. Firstly for me music is not a competition or dependant on sex the guitar especially is a very individual and personable instrument, but if I am to be compared against male guitar players if I don't stack up it's because perhaps I'm just not as good or as entertaining, it has nothing to do with my being female.

JazzReview: One quote that best defines the blues.

Joanne Shaw Taylor: One of my favorite quotes is by Miles Davis "Learn your instrument inside out and then just forget it all and just play"

JazzReview: Now to take you down the one path you’ll never forget, but may regret

JR: Where do you hang after the performance is over?

The merchandise tent, usually with a beer... The best part of my job is meeting fans or like minded blues fans who have questions to ask regarding my playing or have new artist to turn me on to. I've also received some of the most amazing presents from fans... paintings, signed SRV tickets, handmade carvings of my guitars. They never cease to amaze me. Then the hotel room, where I usually end up calling friends, at all hours... As I find it hard to come down from that post gig buzz.

JR: Favorite magazine that takes you away from the world

I don't read magazines... I'm usually attached to my iPod. That’s my escape.

JR: What spirit lives inside you ?

My Parents!

JR: The one chore you just cannot do around the house

Fortunately, I live in a series of hotel rooms so I don't have to do any!

JR: The one song that best describes your social life

"Rock & Roll"... Led Zeppelin

JR: What appetizer best compares to your personality

Ha, Hmmmm...... I'm quite partial to smoked salmon belini's, but for the sake of entertainment, I'll say hot wings.

JR: Favorite liquid refreshment that takes you away

Gin and Tonic

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Joanne Shaw Taylor
  • Interview Date: 7/1/2009
  • Subtitle: Blues-View with Joanne Shaw Taylor... White Sugar, White Heat
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