Welcome Back: Joanne Shaw Taylor

Having lost her mother to cancer last year, Joanne Shaw Taylor’s priorities have changed. Back in 2012, the guitarist/singer branched out from her staple blues rock, and from regular producer Jim Gaines (Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughan), for third LP Almost Always Never.

After full-on touring following her mother’s death, she craved familiarity so returned to Gaines at his home studio in Tennessee (where she recorded her first two albums) for The Dirty Truth. This comfort shows in her instinctive blues and contemporary rock sensibilities – all pared down to prime cuts and infused with soul.

How did your mother’s passing affect your new record?

I was in New Zealand on tour when we got the call to say the treatment wasn’t working and she only had a short period of time left. That was one blessing, that I managed to get home and have two weeks with her. That was about a year before we made this album, but I think one thing was… I was back on the road about three days after mum’s funeral. I did a very hectic tour with my label, it wasn’t with my usual band and any day off was a travel day. It was a long experience, and a bit lonely. So that influenced my decision to work with Jim, and make this a slightly easier year. We’re like family, and I’m very close to his wife Sandy.

What stands out in your memories of recording at Jim Gaines’s studio?

It’s a tiny little place, all on one storey. The living room is also the control room where I sit with Jim, the dining room is where Steve [Potts] on the drums is… I remember thinking, “This is going to be really fun to make.” And Shiloh National Park is right there, so when we got to the later stages and Jim was giving me mixes, at night I’d drive through the park playing them, to see what worked and what didn’t. Music always sounds better when you’re driving really fast.

Your vocals sound more confident on the record.

The vocals were really easy on this album, which is the one thing I was dreading because Jim’s a real stickler for diction. And I mumble a great deal – I had a speech impediment when I was a kid which meant I didn’t start talking until I was about five. And growing up in the Black Country, that didn’t help!

Does Joe Bonamassa’s success inspire optimism regarding the public’s reception of the blues?

I think so. I mean, Joe’s like my best friend. I’ve known him for about five years now and he’s been very supportive. But, yeah, he’s shown it can be done. He’s the full package: he can sing, he can write songs. He and Kevin [Shirley, producer] have been very clever with how they’ve built their business. And you won’t find anyone who’s more obsessed with what they do. It wasn’t a fluke, there was a lot of work involved.

You were only 14 when you started gigging professionally. What’s the most ludicrous thing anyone tried to get you to do in those early days?

I remember when I was about seventeen having a meeting with a couple of A&R guys who wanted to sign me to a major label. And they were adamant that I had to be the Avril Lavigne of the blues. They wanted me to jump up and down, wear my guitar lower down… God, that would have been awful.

The Dirty Truth is available now from Axehouse Music.

Polly Glass
Deputy Editor, Classic Rock

Polly is deputy editor at Classic Rock magazine, where she writes and commissions regular pieces and longer reads (including new band coverage), and has interviewed rock's biggest and newest names. She also contributes to Louder, Prog and Metal Hammer and talks about songs on the 20 Minute Club podcast. Elsewhere she's had work published in The Musician, delicious. magazine and others, and written biographies for various album campaigns. In a previous life as a women's magazine junior she interviewed Tracey Emin and Lily James – and wangled Rival Sons into the arts pages. In her spare time she writes fiction and cooks.