Joanne Shaw Taylor
Sold out venues. Screaming crowds. Her name in lights. Joanne Shaw Taylor never anticipated any of that at the start. Back then, she was just an ordinary Black Country schoolgirl, bored with the disposable pop she heard on late nineties radio, rifling her father’s record collection for sunken treasure, and falling for albums by SRV, Albert Collins and Jimi Hendrix.
“Guitars were lying around the house,” recalls Joanne. At 13, she’d picked up her first electric and practiced every minute.
At 14, she defied her teachers to play The Marquee and Ronnie Scott’s, and began to overcome insecurity about her voice. “I never set out to be a singer,” she modestly told Classic Rock. “I’ve always had a deep voice. I think it came from my influences as a kid. When I was singing to records, I was listening to Albert Collins and Freddie King. When I was a teenager, I became a big rock fan: Glenn Hughes, Skin, Doug Pinnick. I wouldn’t get far on The X Factor.”
Joanne left school at 16 and ran straight into her big break, as a twist of fate directed her demo into the hands of Eurythmics icon Dave Stewart after a charity gig.
Reflecting on his first impressions, Stewart recalls that “she made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.” His call the following day proved the start of a lasting friendship, with Joanne seeking his advice on the industry and even accompanying his DUP supergroup across Europe in 2002.
Stewart gave Joanne her first deal, but when the label ran into financial trouble, it gave her a chance to regroup and work on her songwriting. Until then, original material had perhaps been a neglected side of her talent.
“I never really wrote songs until I was 21.” Suddenly the dam broke. In 2008, Ruf won the rush for Joanne’s signature, and soon she was working with veteran producer Jim Gaines (Carlos Santana, Johnny Lang, SRV), bassist Dave Smith and drummer Steve Potts on the songs that became debut album White Sugar. “We recorded it in this little backwater town in Tennessee,” she recalls, “and if we needed a break, we’d walk to the shop and buy root beer.”
When White Sugar dropped the following year, taking in gems like Bones and Kiss The Ground Goodbye, it turned out the press had a sweet tooth, with Classic Rock crowning it Blues Album Of The Month and Guitarist noting “she plays with more attitude and flair than most – massive potential here”.
Soon enough, the buzz was building, with Joanne both raising her profile supporting Black Country Communion, and honing her craft on 2010’s Diamonds In The Dirt. This second album was another step up, from the explosive lead breaks on Can’t Keep Living Like This to the heavier influence of her adopted Detroit hometown on the crunching country-blues of Dead And Gone. Not bad, considering she had written the material in just two days and recorded it in less than a fortnight: “It’s the dreaded second album curse. You have ten years to do the first one, and ten days to do the second!”
By then, she was unstoppable, with Diamonds In The Dirt proving not only a classic record, but also a skeleton key to every door in the industry. Having received a nomination for ‘Best New Artist Debut’ at the auspicious British Blues Awards for White Sugar, Joanne scooped consecutive wins in the ‘Best British Female Vocalist’ bracket at both the 2010/2011 events: a haul that cements her position, as Blues Matters put it, as “the new face of the blues.”
Since then, it’s gone stratospheric, with Joanne breaking into the notoriously hard-to-crack US market, beating the stereotypes of her age and gender, and being watched by 17 million viewers as she played an angel-winged solo during Annie Lennox’s set at the 2012 Diamond Jubilee Concert. That same summer gave us Almost Always Never – a bar-raising third album that found Joanne dodging expectations, writing the songs her muse dictated, and diving in at the deep end with just her talent to keep her afloat.
Recorded in Austin, Texas, these twelve cuts moved from the savage Les Paul solos of Soul Station and the strutting hooks of Standing To Fall, to the failed relationship achingly depicted on You Should Stay, I Should Go and the title track’s refrain of “You crash, you burn/you live, you learn”. She’d never sounded more open and honest. “I’ve loved every album I’ve made for many different reasons,” reflects Joanne. “But I’m so proud of these songs. It’s the perfect and truest example of who I am as an artist to date.”
Maybe so, but if you only know Joanne Shaw Taylor as the songwriter and studio magician, then it’s time you heard Songs From The Road. Released November 2013 on Ruf Records, it’s a candid snapshot from the road that makes your front room feel like the front row. “That night was just really good fun,” she reflects. “And I think that translates on the album.”