Joanne Shaw Taylor Interview

How influential has the blues been on your career?

 Very, I started playing classical when I was 8 and then switched to electric guitar when I was 13 after I saw a Stevie Ray Vaughan video. He was my primary influence and I researched all his influences afterwards. So that was my introduction to playing guitar. Guys like Stevie, Albert Collins, B.B. King, Clapton etc.

What got you into the blues?

Well I got into S.R.V which was through my father, he is a guitar player also and had a large record collect. Mostly blues and classic rock.

Which blues artists have influenced you most? And how?

Well after S.R.V it was really Albert Collins and Gary Moore that were my other main influences. Albert for his attacking style and love of telecasters and Gary for more of the rock edge. I grew up in Birmingham/Black country area of England which is basically what Detroit is to the US. We have a large history of producing rock bands such as Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Zeppelin etc, so a lot of those rock players were big influences on me also and of course theres an argument to be made that a lot of their influences on guitar were traditional blues players.

What equipment do you use and was your decision to use it influenced by another artist or what you heard on a record?

I’ve always been a Telecaster girl but of late I’ve predominantly using Les Pauls. I find they give me a slightly harder rockier sound which is what we we’re aiming for a lot on this new album.

When you write songs is there a certain way you go about it or does it change?

I kind of have a set formula. I always write the music, then the song title, then the melody and lyrics… I find having all those things in place makes me be a bit more controlled I suppose and focused when it comes to writing the lyrics.

Is there a blues player you haven’t played with that you’d really like to?

There’s a few, I love Ian Siegal who’s another UK guy.. I’d like to work with him as he’s a very different style to myself and I’d be really interested to see what songs we could come up with with our combined styles…. obviously it would be a dream come to to work with B.B. King or Bonnie Raitt.

Is there a song or album that has been influential in the way you write and play?

I don’t think theres any one album or person… it’s much more of a cumulative thing… you sort of absorb and borrow from everyone you listen to over a long period of time i think.

How influential do you think the blues has been on modern popular music?

Extremely. You only have to trace back some of the big names in popular music and their impact on music history. Whether it’s Stevie Wonder, Jimi Hendrix, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones, you don’t have to go far to find a ground breaking artist who was heavily blues influenced.

In your eyes, how influential do you think Robert Johnson has been on the blues?

He was a godfather of the genre, there were recorded blues artist before him i.e. Charlie Patton but his playing style and the myth surrounding his recordings/life/death have inspired countless guitar players from Clapton to Jack White. Plus he was one of the early great songwriters.

If you could name one blues player who has influenced both the blues and other genres the most, who would it be and why?

Probably Hendrix, he was a blues guitarist who developed a different approach and style to anyone before him. He was probably the most influential guitar player of his generation as well.

What guitar techniques do you associate with the blues?

I’m not sure theres any particular techniques. More lack of… i.e. it’s really a personal style of playing, much more focused on personality and soul/feel. Take Albert Collins for example. He didn’t use a plectrum, he used a capo and tuned to Fm. Weird as hell but you need only hear two notes to tell who it is and nobody’s been able to reproduce that sound.

Some people think the blues is basic and a lazy genre people just fall into when playing music. What do you say to that?

I think the genre can be susceptible to laziness. I think people misunderstand it. Trust me I’ve seen and played with 200 “Blues guitarists” who’ve strapped on a black suit and black hat and played any old solo in the minor pentatonic and called it “blues” because they’ve approached the solo with “feel”. There’s ALOT of technique and practice that goes into to becoming a GREAT blues guitarist. Lord knows I’m still scratching my head after a decade plus of hard practice and trying to hone my style. It takes as much dedication and talent as jazz, metal or any other genre of guitar playing it just has a different rule book if you will. When I say Albert Collins had a weird technique, he did, but it was still well practiced and he articulated his notes to the best of his ability. I think people misjudge it sometimes and think just because you are able to put more of a personal approach to your playing that that means you can be sloppy or lazy. Look at B.B. King, he doesn’t play particularly fast but every note he plays is well articulated and played for a reason.

Do you have a favourite blues period? If so, what?

Probably the UK scene in the 60’s as it spawned so many of my favourite players, Beck, Hendrix, Kossoff, Clapton etc….

Albert King, Freddie King or B.B. King? And why?

Freddie!!!! Cause he was as funky as hell… and he wore a jumpsuit onstage. Not many men can pull off a Elvis style jumpsuit!

Modern music’s evolution from the blues isn’t that widely known, how important do you think it is that people become aware of it?

I think people who are really into music know. I think anybody who know’s a little about the Kings of Leon or Muse or maybe even the White Stripes will of heard to some extent of the genres importance and maybe even researched it. That’s assuming their of my generation and not older in which case they probably may have been there when it had it’s “boom” in the 60’s. Also a lot of blues music is very different to a lot of modern bands even if those bands may have been influenced by the blues i.e. The Black Keys. If some people get into the blues because of those bands, great but likewise if they just prefer the Black Keys thats great too. I’m just a music fan I think sometimes people can get a little too, shall we say sensitive about it. If your into one thing and not another there’s nothing wrong with that.

How different do you think modern music would be today if there was never any blues to begin with?

Very. I’m not sure what it would be… maybe not as diverse. Maybe there’d be less guitar lead bands. To be honest we’re still recovering from the Grunge period i.e. theres lots of guitar based bands out there but you still rarely here a guitar solo on the radio. But it’s influence is large and profound. Blues has always been a genre though not always a popular one and I hope it will always be appreciated and be performed by someone.

Photo by Lee Millward
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