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Call & Response: Joanne Shaw Taylor

The Brit blues star on her upcoming tour with Wilko Johnson and the perils of appearing on the same bill as Grace Jones and a hula hoop.

How’s this for the ultimate line-up? One of the brightest young artists of her generation, Joanne Shaw Taylor is teaming up with the legend that is Wilko Johnson for his first headlining tour of the UK since life-saving surgery in 2014. The shows will take place in April and are the latest in a long line of high-profile slots for Shaw Taylor, who has earned her spurs the old- fashioned way through relentless gigging. Recently she has also toured with Bernie Marsden, the Tedeschi Trucks Band and the “voice of rock” himself, Glenn Hughes. And what’s more, she’s also about to start work on the eagerly awaited follow-up to her breakout 2014 album, The Dirty Truth.

How do you feel about touring with Wilko Johnson?

I’m very excited. It’s nice to see the fans’ feedback as well, because it’s in line with what I was thinking. It’s a good combination. We’re both three-piece guitar players in the confines of the R&B and blues genre, but we’re very different. It’s going to be good fun.

Are you a big Wilko and Dr Feelgood fan yourself?

I don’t think you can be a guitar player in this genre without being influenced by Wilko. I remember when I was about 14 and my dad got me an Old Grey Whistle Test DVD because Bonnie Raitt was on it. Wilko was on it as well with Dr Feelgood. Once you see that kind of showmanship and the look he has on stage, you certainly don’t forget it. It’s not terrifying in the slightest.

Have you met him before?

Some friends of mine – Virgil & The Accelerators – did a tour with him a few years back and I met him briefly then. We’ve just done a photoshoot and we were thrown in at the deep end. It was all: “Hi nice to meet you – right, pose, put your arms around each other.” He was a nice chap.

Have you seen Wilko on Game Of Thrones?

I’m a huge Game Of Thrones fan! I recognised him from the get-go. I don’t think you could have given that role to anybody else.

Before the Wilko tour, you’re also off to the States.

We’ve got a couple of dates with Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi in Florida. I’m based in Michigan and it will be quite nice to get out of there and head down to sunny Florida. Then after that we have a big Glenn Hughes tour, which I’m very excited about. He’s another Black Country kid. We’re pretty much covering all of the States and I get to hang out with Glenn. There are worse jobs.

Are you looking forward to all those long bus rides?

Yeah, I get to sit on the bus and read Game Of Thrones! The longest drive I’ve ever done was my first gig. I drove by myself with all the gear in a rented minivan from Detroit to Las Vegas. It took about three and a half days. Black Country Communion’s first CD had just come out, so I was driving through the mountains listening to it.

How are the plans for your next album going?

We’re recording in Nashville in February. I’m sure any moment I’ll get some burst of creativity!

How do you think it will compare to your last album, The Dirty Truth?

I never like to think about things too much. When you start overthinking things, you end up putting songs on for the sake of putting them on, as opposed to picking the best ones. But having said that, this will be my fifth studio album and I’ve got a good formula worked out. I tend to do four rock, four blues and four soul/funk ballads. I don’t think I’ll deviate too much from that. I don’t think the experimental psychobilly is coming any time soon, but you never know.

You’ve worked with producer Jim Gaines in the past. What have you learnt from him?

On the first album I did with him, White Sugar, I had a tendency to slur my words, which was a bad habit coming from listening to a lot of American singers growing up. He’s helped me with my diction. The reason a lot of guitar players want to work with him is that he’s really good with tones. He also knows when you’re playing too much. He’s the king of stopping you and saying, “You’re playing a great solo, but you’re not really telling me anything with it.” It’s hard to be told that because it’s always fun to turn it up very loud and play too many notes.

What do your remember about performing at the 2012 Diamond Jubilee concert in front of Buckingham Palace?

I was signed to Dave Stewart’s record label when I was 16. I met Annie [Lennox] back then. Fast forward 10 years, she was doing the Diamond Jubilee and wanted to do bluesy version of There Must Be An Angel. At the back of the stage, there was a green room where all the artists were hanging out. I felt like I was in an episode of Spitting Image, because there was Elton John, Tom Jones and Paul McCartney. It seemed so unrealistic to have all these people in one room – particularly when Grace Jones came bowling past us with a hula hoop! She was on just before us. Most of the texts I got afterwards didn’t have anything to do with me – they were banging on about Grace Jones. I got upstaged by Grace Jones and a hula hoop!

Dave Stewart knows his blues though, doesn’t he? 

When I originally got signed, I didn’t really know who he was. I got chatting to him and he’s a huge Robert Johnson fan. He did a documentary once with Robert Palmer [1992’s Deep Blues: A Musical Pilgrimage To The Crossroads] and he went to Mississippi and did a DVD with Junior Kimbrough and RL Burnside. He’s a big aficionado.

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