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Joanne Shaw Taylor: “There aren’t any rules of how you play the blues, just as long as you input your own personality and feel”

Joanne Shaw Taylor
(Image credit: Ollie Millington/Redferns)

For Joanne Shaw Taylor, there’s nothing quite like playing the blues. Compared to the more disciplined world of classical guitar, which she played in her youth, blues offers much more freedom. She enjoys its raw, funky feel.

“There aren’t really any rules of how you play or what technique you use, just as long as you can input your own personality and feel, and use it as a vehicle, as your voice,” Taylor says. “I like that sense of personality and individuality.”

That said, the British-born guitarist wouldn’t go as far as calling herself a blues writer, at least when classifying her past albums. Beyond her playing, she doesn’t think of her songs as blues songs. However, with The Blues Album, a new disc of blues covers, she fully embraces the genre – with some help from her free time off the road during the past year.

“I’ve always wanted to do a blues covers album as a nod to all my heroes,” she says. “I picked songs that were important to me when I was learning about the genre, when I was in my bedroom at 13 and had just found this new world that I’d fallen in love with.”

For example, Albert King’s Can’t You See What You’re Doing to Me was one of the first songs she learned and performed with her band when she was around 14. 

“It was a nice trip down memory lane to go back to songs that were so important and influential to me in the early years – and then to be able to give them a proper treatment, now that I wasn’t a 14-year-old girl anymore, now that I was a road-worn woman,” she says.

Her longtime friend Joe Bonamassa – who produced the album with Josh Smith – also provided song suggestions, including Little Milton’s If That Ain’t a Reason and Let Me Down Easy. She immediately gravitated toward Milton’s singing and guitar playing and felt she could “put my own little spin on it.” She achieves this through her guitar, “Junior,” a 1966 Fender Esquire she’s had since she was 15. 

“I think having that comfort and having that guitar that I know I can express myself through really made things a whole lot more comfortable,” Taylor says. “Once you’re comfortable, it’s one thing fewer to worry about, and you can just disconnect and think about the music.”

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Josh is a freelance journalist who has spent the past dozen or so years interviewing musicians for a variety of publications, including Guitar World, GRAMMY.com, SPIN, Chicago Sun-Times, MTV News, Rolling Stone and American Songwriter. He credits his father for getting him into music. He's been interested in discovering new bands ever since his father gave him a list of artists to look into. A favorite story his father told him is when he skipped a high school track meet to see Jimi Hendrix in concert. For his part, seeing one of his favorite guitarists – Mike Campbell – feet away from him during a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers concert is a special moment he’ll always cherish.