On balance, Joanne Shaw Taylor needed a break. Having played professionally since she was 16, touring non-stop from the age of 21, the Black Country native found herself looking at a very different life after March 2020.
“I’ve done one show since then, which was a private party for some BMW motorbike guys,” Taylor, 36, says over the phone from Detroit. "So quite a burly audience, which was great!"
With much of her crew based in Europe, her tour plans were scuppered again in 2021 by covid. Making the most of things, she embraced her glut of home time – catching up on sleep, learning to cook, watching Downton Abbey – and made a covers record, The Blues Album, with Joe Bonamassa.
You’ve lived in Detroit for fourteen years now. What keeps you there?
I saw a comment on my Facebook page the other day, some guy having a go at me for “making lots of money and pissing off to America”. I was like: “Dude, I moved here when I was twenty because it was the one place I could afford to live!” But yeah, it’s home now. And Michigan as a state, I feel very at peace here. We have lovely summers, beautiful autumns, cold Christmassy winters. And Detroit’s got this very working-class, industrial vibe which I like.
How much of the decision to do a covers album was prompted by not wanting to write a load of ‘quarantine blues’ originals?
I probably wouldn’t have made this album now if it hadn’t been for covid. Being off the road sort of forced that, with the label saying: “Okay, you might as well make an album.” And yeah, having nothing to write about. It gave me time to stop and think about why I do this. I had burnt myself out. I wasn’t in the best mental or physical health. And after a break I was like, I’ve always wanted to do a covers album and… fuck it, frankly!
Little Milton, Don Covay, the Fabulous Thunderbirds… It’s not a standard selection.
Yeah, me and Joe knew: “Look, we’re not doing Sweet Home Chicago and Mustang Sally.” You don't disregard anything because it’s too recent or well known, but we certainly didn’t intend to do a ‘greatest hits of the blues’.
Anyone who knows you’re a Stevie Ray Vaughan fan might be surprised at how much sixties music there is on there.
Yeah. And I don't think I ever said it to Joe, but it was always in my mind that that’s what I wanted. I mean, I love Stevie Ray Vaughan and the Fabulous Thunderbirds and a lot of that eighties, nineties blues, Robert Cray, Bonnie Raitt, but most of my daily listening is old-school Little Richard, Howlin’ Wolf, early Aretha. There’s a whole vibe with those records.
Who’s a tougher producer to work with, Kevin Shirley or Joe Bonamassa?
I think Kevin would throw me more curve balls [Shirley produced her 2016 album Wild]. Also it’s Kevin Shirley; I'm not gonna say no to him. He’s a massive South African dude, for one, so the physical presence is quite intimidating. And Joe was just… I couldn’t get past the fact that we’re such good friends.
There’s footage of Joe with a megaphone behind the sound desk.
That was a trying day [laughs]. I think I was in a right strop, to be honest. I’m usually pretty good temperament-wise, unless I’m tired, and then I’m a horrible witch of a person. I think he was trying to cheer me up.
What would you both do to unwind after a long day in the studio?
We would go to dinner with Josh [Smith, co-producer], or maybe we’d go guitar shopping first – Joe was the only person who bought anything, obviously. And then we’d go back to his, open a bottle of wine, and I got him into watching The Crown. He loved it, but we had to keep stopping so he could ask me questions. He’d be like: [Joe voice] “So is that her dad?” “No that’s Prince Philip, her cousin and her husband.” And “Is that Meghan?” “No, this is still the 1950s, Joseph…”
Which musician’s death this year hit you hardest?
Losing Charlie Watts was really shocking to me. I’m a massive Stones fan, and he was such a gent and a fantastic drummer. He came to a couple of my gigs. I think Exeter is the last one he was spotted at. I think he used to sit at the back and then just leave.
If you could be the guitarist in any band for the day, which would it be?
The Stones, or AC/DC. They’re my two favourite bands. And I wouldn’t mind playing with Pink. I think she’s awesome.
How will you be spending Christmas?
I’m hoping to get home, because I haven’t seen my family for nearly two years now. If not I’ll stay here and have a Zoom Christmas with them. I’m seriously debating putting up the tree this weekend [this interview took place in late October]. I think after the last year, if it makes you happy why not do it? And having my Harry Potter Christmas tree up is going to make me very happy.
You have a Harry Potter Christmas tree?
I do. The baubles are claret and gold, Gryffindor colours, and then all the other baubles are characters and the Sorting Hat and… I’m a very, very giant fucking nerd. I think it’s very important you know this.