Joanne Shaw Taylor To Play Denver’s Paramount Theatre on April 13, 2023

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Photo by Simon Green

Denver is getting ready to welcome #1-selling Billboard Blues guitarist Joanne Shaw Taylor to the Paramount Theatre on Thursday, April 13th. Taylor is touring in support of her latest studio album Nobody’s Fool, released on October 28 of last year. Nobody’s Fool follows on the heals of her chart-topping releases, 2021’s The Blues Album and 2022’s Blues From The Heart Live.

Taylor, who was originally discovered by Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics when she was only 16 years old, released her first album, White Sugar, in 2009. Twice honored as Best Female Vocalist at the British Blues Awards, Taylor has released a total of eight studio and two live albums over the past 14 years.

In advance of the upcoming Denver show, I spoke to Taylor via phone from Detroit. She had just finished a gig in Connecticut the weekend prior, and was preparing to head south to Nashville later in the day.

Rick: Do you ever stop touring?

Joanne: Nope (chuckles). Occasionally they let me have time off. We had a few weeks off at Christmas, but then we got back at it this weekend, so I’ve had a few weeks off. It’s been nice.

Rick: When you do get to take a break, what do you do?

Joanne: Sleep. Watch Downton Abbey. Try to read books. Write songs.

Rick: So even when you’re taking a break you’re not really taking a break if you’re writing songs. Are the songs you’re writing being done out of, for lack of a better word, obligation, or are they just things that come to you and you feel the need to lay them down?

Joanne: No, it’s never really an obligation. I always love writing, and I don’t take breaks from it. It’s kind of nice, as a musician, to have those two creative worlds of live performance, and being on tour, but when we’re not on tour having that creative outlet of writing. I love both, and it’s very therapeutic and enjoyable.

Rick: You’ve written or co-written the vast majority of the songs on all of your albums. What was the motivation behind doing an album of blues covers?

Joanne: I always wanted to do a blues covers album because I don’t think I write blues songs, you know.  I think I write kind of a mix of blues/rock/soul/pop. When you think of traditional blues songs, they tend to have some sort of a hook, whether it’s “Rollin’ and Tumblin”, “I’m A King Bee”, or “Good Morning Little School Girl”, and I’m not very good at that. I always knew I wanted to do a blues album that was more traditional, and if I did it I would do covers. And then with COVID, and being off the road and not really having anything to write about, and not doing anything for eighteen months, it just sort of came about organically.

Rick: It’s interesting that you say that… I’ve read that you’ve never really considered yourself to be a blues artist. Yet that’s the way you’re presented, and seemingly the way most of the music world views you. Nobody’s Fool is anything but a pure blues album – it crosses a diverse set of genres. It seems like a big departure from what you’ve done in the past.

Joanne: Yes and no. I don’t really think it is. There’s always been a mix of blues songs, rock songs, pop songs, soul songs… even on White Sugar. I think this is certainly the first album that’s got fewer blues songs than the rest. I’ve always said I’m a blues guitarist, a pop singer, and a pop/rock writer. The blues influence is always going to be in there. But it’s always a bit of a jumble with me.

Rick: I know what you’re saying. Blues as a genre is so broad. What is pure blues music?

Joanne: I don’t know. I do know that if someone told me they’d never heard blues before, and what should they listen to, I’d give them Muddy Waters. I wouldn’t give them Nobody’s Fool. Blues music influences all other genres, you know, so you can say you’re a blues artist, but really, you’re a rock and soul artist, and that came from blues, and you can hear blues in it. I think that’s the thing I love most about it. There’re so many artists, from Jonny Lang to Son House, that are completely different but they all have this feel. I think that’s the main thing, that blues isn’t so much a structure as a feel. You know… you sing with a blues feel, or you play with a blues feel. That’s what I love about it. But really, I don’t worry too much about it, and just write the best songs possible.

I think the thing with musicians, and particularly with writers, is that you have to let them write what they want to write, as opposed to forcing them to write a particular thing, because then you’re going to end up with a song they’re not happy with and you’re probably not going to enjoy. You need to let them write what they’re going to write and then let the people who are going to enjoy that song enjoy that song.

As a writer, I describe it like this… I love pizza, but I don’t want to eat pizza every day. I love blues, but I don’t want to do blues songs every day. Sometimes I want to listen to Ella Fitzgerald. And sometimes I want to listen to Harry Styles. You have to allow artists to feel whatever they want to feel and to explore.

Rick: If you were writing your bio today, and you wanted to start if off with some succinct statement about who or what you are, what would that be?

Joanne: Joanne Shaw Taylor (chuckle). I think that’s true… I’m not a spring chicken anymore – this is album number ten – and it’s all about building a catalog that all sounds like one artist. Nobody’s Fool sounds different from White Sugar, but it all sounds like the same artist. I don’t know how to describe me. I’m a female blues guitarist, who was influenced by male players. As a female singer, I obviously sound different than male singers, and most of the female singers I’ve been influenced by were outside of the blues.

Rick:  There are a lot of very strong female blues artists working today, in a field that for a long time was dominated by men. But women have made great strides, and some of the best blues voices out there today are female.

Joanne: A lot of people have a preference for one voice over the other, and that’s the thing about voice… it’s gender specific. Whereas for guitar players – it’s a gender-neutral instrument. With voice I don’t know if it’s that blues is more of an emotional thing, and women tend to be more emotional, or in touch with our feelings, or more able to express them, I suppose. But as you were saying, it’s really nice to see so many women out there today. Because for me there was really only one woman I could look at who sounded like me, and that was Bonnie Raitt. Or there was Jennifer Batten. I kind of had to invent myself. Steal a bit from Stevie Ray Vaughan and steal a bit from Tina Turner.

Rick: Returning to Nobody’s Fool, as you’ve said, it’s your tenth album. You’ve been doing this for a while, and you’ve had a terrific career, with both critical and commercial success. Yet many are referring to Nobody’s Fool as your “landmark” or “breakthrough” release. What, if anything, do you feel about that characterization?

Joanne: I don’t know, but I know what you’re talking about. I was quite surprised by that. And it was funny because this album was a really easy album. I’d just done two of the most blues albums I’ve ever done, and I thought, ‘well, this is nice’ because I don’t have to do anything in particular. I can almost sneak out an album where I can have fun writing pop songs, just to see if I can. I didn’t think there would be that much focus on this album. I think the thing I’ve noticed about it is that it has widened my audience, and I’m seeing a lot more women at my shows now. And I do wonder if that has to do with the fact that I’m at an age now where – you know, I’m older and I understand myself more and I have more things to sing about that women can relate to.

Being a woman in your late 30’s is a lot nicer than being a woman in your early 20’s, in a male dominated industry. You’re a lot more comfortable in your own skin, and you care a lot less about what people think. I don’t have to worry about what I’m wearing because it’s for me. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to wear it. I just feel free to be myself, which I think most people, particularly women, can appreciate.

Rick: When you hit the stage at the Paramount in Denver in April, it will be the first time you’ve played Denver in a little over five years. Obviously COVID had a lot to do with that lengthy span of time, but still… There’s a lot of us who have been waiting anxiously for our shot to see you live. Can you give us a preview of what we’re going to see and hear?

Joanne: You’re going to see close to two hours of blues/soul/rock/pop sung by a British woman. It’s a mix, you know. There’s a lot from The Blues Album, and a lot from Nobody’s Fool. But just a good evening of me connecting with you and letting you know what the songs are about, and me getting to sing them for you, and I just hope everybody gets something out of it.

Rick: I have just one more question for you. You’ve done countless interviews over the course of your career, and have no doubt been asked the same set of questions over and over again. If you were interviewing yourself, and you wanted to be able to tell people reading the interview something about yourself that nobody else has gotten at, what question would you ask?

Joanne: I don’t know if it’s a question so much as more of the thing we touched on in terms of the ‘what are you’ idea. I struggle with interviews a lot because I feel like I have to come up with an explanation for what I am. What bucket do I fit into, when I just don’t fit into any buckets. And I think the main thing I want to get across is I haven’t tried to be blues, or soul, or pop… I’ve just tried to be me. And I’ve done that in every part of my life. I’ve tried to be a very genuine person. And when it comes to music, that’s all I have to offer, is that when you come to the show you’re going to see Joanne Shaw Taylor. Me being me, singing my songs, and hopefully, whether you like blues or pop or soul or whatever, it doesn’t matter because it’s just music. I do have a great love for this (blues) genre – it’s changed the course of my life and I wouldn’t be here without it.

Rick: I said I had one last question, but what you just said sparked one more from me. You talked about fitting into a bucket. When you were younger, and just getting started in the industry, did you make more of an effort to fit into a specific bucket than you do today.  Or has it never really mattered to you?

Joanne: I do think so. I actually turned down a few record deals – I turned down Ruf three times before I signed with them – because I didn’t feel I was ready to do whatever it was I wanted to do and I didn’t even know what that was. I’ve always been annoyingly stubborn, and I’ve never been comfortable doing things I don’t want to do. I think the main thing going forward is that as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that the mark I want to leave isn’t so much about being the best blues guitarist or anything like that as it is that there weren’t really any women for me to look up to, and maybe I’ve created one now where some other girl can see a girl playing guitar and singing and see what that sounds and looks like.

Denver, she’s heading our way, and I really don’t think you want to miss it. Tickets for Taylor’s April 13 show are available through Ticketmaster, at https://www.ticketmaster.com/joanne-shaw-taylor-denver.  For a preview of the caliber of performer and performance you can expect, check out the following clips… https://www.youtube.com/JTS1 or https://www.youtube.com/JTS2

Photo by Kit Wood

Story by Rick Witt

Photos courtesy of Simon Green and Kit Wood

 

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