Interview: Guitarist Joanne Shaw Taylor talks reissues, U.S. tour
Joanna Shaw Taylor

Cleveland’s Music Box Supper Club will be serving extra sizzle and spice next Wednesday, Aug. 22, when British-born guitarist Joanne Shaw Taylor plays the riverside concert hall on The Flats’ west bank.

Taylor’s cut several independent solo albums, whose hot licks and Stevie Ray Vaughan-like riffs drew the attention of fellow fretboard wizards John Mayall, Joe Bonamassa, and The Tedeschi-Trucks Band.

But recently Taylor signed to Sony Music, whose Silvertone imprint just re-released her last two efforts, The Dirty Truth (2014) and Wild (2016)…and will distribute her next three. Taylor has scheduled eighteen dates through August and September in large mid-size American markets like Cleveland, New York, Washington, and Atlanta. The tour wraps with a string of shows in sunny Florida.

Advance tickets are available now on Taylor’s website. Chicago singer / six-stringer J.D. Simo and the SIMO band open.

We rang Taylor last week to discuss her move to Sony, her songwriting process and musical influences, and her stints with The Eurythmics’ Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, whose early support proved crucial to her success. The guitar goddess (who divides her time between Birmingham, ENG and Detroit, MI) was already back in the studio working on songs for her first proper Sony release.

Talk about dedication.   

AXS: Hello, Joanne! The tour starts next week here in Cleveland. Are you still at home now?

JOANNE SHAW TAYLOR: I’m in Detroit, yes. We’ve got a bit of time off and we’re gearing up for the tour next week.

AXS: Tell us about the Sony reissues. Will there be any remastering or tweaking?

JST: They’re re-releasing my previous two albums on the Silvertone label. That’s the first thing they’re doing. They’re both pretty new albums, so no remastering required. If they were both thirty, forty years old maybe they’d touch them up [laughs]. But Wild just came out eighteen months ago. They just wanted to have the albums under their umbrella. It’s about the distribution, so they’re easier to get hold of!

AXS: How was the process for writing and recording Wild different than Dirty Truth? Or were they similar? I know the first was done in Memphis, and the new one in Nashville.

JST: It was a bit different. It wasn’t [Dirty Truth producer] Jim Gaines this time. We did Wild with Kevin Shirley [Aerosmith, Journey] in Nashville. It was at the old Grand Victor Studio. Kevin worked me pretty hard [laughs]! I’d been there once before with a friend. But that was pretty much a case of doing the gig and get out! But we’d go walking down by the river at the hotel and would get a coffee near the Johnny Cash museum. I was really excited because it was the only place in America my mom and I had visited on a girls’ trip, when I was like, six or something. I loved it.

AXS: You play both Gibson Les Pauls and Fender Telecasters. Any preference, guitar-wise?

JST: If all my guitars in a burning building and there’s one I’m running in to save, it’d be my 1966 Fender Esquire. That’s the one I’ve had longest, so there’s a sentimental value! But I know people who don’t think you should use both. But it’s not my fault that you can’t make a Les Paul sound like a Telecaster or a Telecaster sound like a Les Paul! It’s good that we live in a world where we have genius people who built both! The main thing for me is that I’ve got small hands, so I like small necks and slightly lighter guitars. I’m just a small British woman doing lots of gigs [laughs]! I’ll need my shoulders to work when I’m sixty!

AXS: Wild is full of terrific guitar playing, but it also features gospel singers and a horn section.

JST: I’m more than happy to tell you I hadn’t a thing to do with any of that! That was the benefit of hiring a very good producer! We recorded live in the studio with drums, bass, keys and myself and a second guitar player. But then Kevin Shirley added the backing vocals and horns afterward, I think in Sydney. He flew out there and hired a couple friends of mine who sing with Joe Bonamassa [Mahalia Barnes, Jade MacRae]. They’re both Australian. So yeah, he added that later. And he didn’t tell me! So when I heard it I was like, “Wait a minute…!” But it was great. I’d never done anything like that before. I think it really added to the tracks. “No Reason to Stay” is probably one of my favorites on the album. I really like mixing it up. I’m not sure what genre you’d call it. I just do what I do and write the songs. And that one for me is a signature song because it’s got all the different styles that I love. It was kind of a happy accident. James House, who I wrote it with, I went to his house and he had most of the chords written out. He put them on a loop, and I just started jamming on it to get the melody [sings]. He did one line and I did the next, and so forth. And it’s certainly a song I can relate to. It’s for those of us who stayed in relationships longer than we should have. When you’re with someone so long, you feel you’ve invested so much that you just want something back!

AXS: How about “Summertime?” That’s a lovely take on a Gershwin classic.

JST: That was Kevin’s idea. I’m glad he picked that because I’d have picked it for myself. It was so iconic when Janis Joplin did it…but I’m a huge Ella Fitzgerald fan!  And her version is one of my favorites, so I already had that one in my head…to the point where it was hard to get away from that sound. You hear something one way, and it’s hard to think of it any other way, you know? I struggled a little at first, trying to decide how to approach it without overthinking it. I think it worked out pretty well. It was nice when I played it on Jooles Holland last year. That was a real treat. It’s funny how he picked that, how Kevin sort of heard that for me. It all happened really quickly, this album. He set me up with James House and Gary Nicholson to write with, and he sent me down on a Wednesday and we were to start recording on Monday. He said, “You’ve got five days. Go write some songs!”

AXS: So the pressure was on!

JST: There was a lot of me going to the hotel bar at ten o’clock [laughs]! And lots of wondering, “Is this any good? Is this going to happen?” And when he said, “By the way, we’re doing ‘Summertime.’” I said okay, but by the time we’d got to it, we had one day of tracking left. And with “Wild is the Wind,” I got an email the night before that said we were going to do it. The David Bowie version of it! So I knew I wasn’t getting any sleep that night [laughs]! But the whole thing happened very quickly, in about ten days.

AXS: Did you start playing guitar at an early age?

JST: Yes! For as long as I can remember there were guitars in this house. I was maybe five…quite young, and my dad always played. He’d taken my brother out to buy a guitar. I remember them walking in through the garage, and they’d both bought a guitar. I remember a very distinctive “A-ha!” So my dad played, my brother played…and my mother was a professional dancer later on. So there was always singing and Motown. So that’s where that comes from. I wasn’t going to be a lawyer growing up in that house [laughs]! I’ve been really lucky in that I’ve had some keys mentors. There was a local guy called Ian Parker. He was the local young blues guy. I was like 15 and he was about 23. He got me my first gigs and took me under his wings. And then there was Dave Stewart! So there’s always been a big brother figure around [laughs]! Jonny Lang was a big influence. When I got into guitar there was a resurgence of kid blues guitarists like Jonny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Eric Gales and people from Texas coming through. It was nice to have kids my age doing it.

AXS: You played in bands with Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, including a Diamond Jubilee show with Annie at Buckingham Palace in 2012. That must’ve been something.

JST: It’s funny how as you getting older things to seem more daunting. But back then I was in my mid-20s. I was certainly nervous! But when I got the phone call it was, “Yes! Yes, I’ll definitely do it!” I think now I’d be a bit more nervous! But it was fantastic. On a personal note, it was shortly before my mom passed. She wasn’t there, but she watched it on TV. So it was nice for her to see me on the big stage.

AXS: Any plans for a new studio album in the next year, after the tour?

JST: I’m actually sitting in a recording studio as we speak [laughs]!

AXS: Wow! Got you right back at work, do they?

JST: Yes! We’re not telling people yet who is producing. But I’m writing and working things out ideas to get an album out in early 2019. We’re up in Detroit. Next week we’ll rehearse, then we’ll pack up and get down to you guys and kick off! I used to play Cleveland a lot at The Winchester. We went back two years ago with Glenn Hughes [of Deep Purple] and booked a gig for ourselves somewhere in Cleveland. I don’t think it was Music Box. It was some other club right by The Winchester, right around there. Then we went to a Thai restaurant! We do so many gigs, sometimes you walk into a place and you go, “Oh, I have played here!”