Chicago-based slide guitar virtuoso and singer-songwriter, Joanna Connor, who is best known as one of the reigning Queens of blues-rock guitar, releases her 14th album ‘4801 South Indiana Avenue’ on Joe Bonamassa’s new independent blues record label Keeping The Blues Alive on 26th February 2021.
The new album, the follow up to her critically acclaimed studio album Rise, was produced by Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith at Ocean Way Recording Studios in Nashville, Tennessee. Joanna, Joe and the rest of the musicians on the album dug deeply and conjured up an authentic, alive and kicking non-derivative set of Chicago Blues.
Clive, on behalf of Bluesdoodles was delighted that Joanna took time out of her busy schedule to talk with him on what must be said was a dodgy line!
BD: First of all, thanks for taking time out, how are coping with what’s going on in the world at the moment?
JC: It’d been a rollercoaster, every kind of emotion possible
BD: Are you doing any live music over there at the moment?
JC: No, not where I live, but if you live in the Republican states like Florida or Texas, but politically that’s a dark highway right now!
BD: I’ll tell you, I’m in my 70’s so have bought a lot of your stuff and played you on the radio over the years, especially your take on Walking Blues but for the uninitiated, who is Joanna Connor?
JC: Oh, thank you and boy, that’s a good question. That could go on for a few days. I was born in Brooklyn New York, I was raised in Massachusetts, moved to Chicago in 1984, when I was 22 because I loved the Blues and wanted to become a student in the actual Blues Community, work with the legends and I got to do that. I started my own band in 1989, was with Blind Pig, Ruf Records recorded the Walking Blues, got house gigs, then in 2005, staying in Chicago, got four gigs a week. Then Joe Bonamassa entered my life, we made a record and I’m very proud of it!
BD: Joe started off by supporting you, I gather ?
JC: Yeah, I just started posting my videos on his pages on social media and I thanked him and said ‘Hey if you ever want to get in touch with me, this is my contact info and he did. He reached out and said ‘I can help you’ . That was the sentence that started it all. I said ‘Oh, OK’ . We got together in 2019 and by 2020 we were in the studio recording the record which we’re talking about now, which will be available end of February.
BD: This is the second release (Dion before that) on his own Keep The Blues Alive label ?
JC: Uh Huh
BD: Joe came out with an interesting quote, saying he thought you were ‘Underserved’ , what do you think he meant by that ?
JC: I think he meant that the companies I’d worked with before were too little, they were good, but they didn’t push me like they should have and the Blues Community were surprised that I’d never been nominated for any Blues Awards. BD: He also mentioned ‘Demons’ , what’s that all about? JC: Don’t think he meant Demons, I guess you could call it dark energy , the thing that makes the Blues the Blues, the passion, the fierceness, suffering of the human condition, all that stuff, you know.
BD: Josh Smith is also on board ?
JC: Yes, he’s wonderful , I loved him . I’ve known him since he was a kid, he used to come and play in Fort Lauderdale. I know his family and it was nice to have him on this project.
BD: I’ve listened to the album, which we’ll get on to eventually, but is Joe a hard task master when he’s producing?
JC: He says he is (laughs) he said he was the dictator, but for me no , coming up to the Chicago Blues school, especially when I was younger, they were real scary, take everything onstage with you, there were guns. Joe did everything with a bit of humour and he was direct and I can relate to that. BD: He was probably in diapers when you started in the 1980’s? JC: (Laughs) Yes , he probably was ! He’s sixteen years younger than me.
BD: I was interested to read that you class yourself more of a live performer than a recorder?
JC: For sure. I’ve spent decades on stages and that’s where I feel most comfortable. I feel my greatest strength is being an improviser. Song writing is not my thing, but I get up on stage and do my thing. I don’t even have a set list wherever we go, we play in the moment, you know ?
BD: So in the real world do you have a permanent touring band?
JC: I do, I’m very band orientated because of the communication, in the last couple of years I’ve had the best band ever , not that we can play!!
BD: There was a suggestion again from Joe, that you might like to toughen up your vocals to match your guitar playing, what did you think about that ?
JC: That was the hardest thing to do, because doing the guitar bits live in the studio, usually we do it all in one take, but the vocal part we had to focus on more , because he got me singing in a way I’m not used to singing , I can do it, obviously, but he really pushed me to limits, that’s what he wanted to hear and I delivered , I guess. He was satisfied.
BD: There are a lot of covers on the album, what about your own song writing , you eluded to it earlier, or is it a tribute to the older blues guys?
JC: That was the general idea, I’ve never made a straight blues record in all the years I’ve been making records, so I knew that eventually one day I would do that, but I think this was the perfect timing. Joe came along and we talked about it , I couldn’t have made this record without him, he wanted it to sound like this, you know he was so important in the whole process , it was great to have someone of his ability as a musician and producer to be the third eye to guide everything, you know , because I couldn’t have done that on my own.
BD: You open with a Jimmy Thackery track when he was with The Assassins, I have to admit I know a fair bit about him, but never heard of that part of his career?
JC: We opened for them in Baltimore way back in the day when they were together , they were fairly popular back in the early ’90s , especially on the Eastern seaboard, so I played with them. I don’t think they ever toured internationally. Joe brought the subject up by saying he loved some of their records , so pulled up one of their tunes (Destination)
BD: I take it you play all the slide on the album ?
JC: Yeah, there are a couple of places where I play lead , but Joe said he wanted to hear the slide.
BD: You have a song from another one of my heroes, Luther Allison (Bad News)?
JC: I opened for Luther for about ten years, we had the same agent /manager, Thomas Ruf , probably done 200 shows with him and his son, Bernard.
BD: You also have an Albert King cover (For The Love Of A Man) and Hound Dog Taylor (Please Help) all these blues greats…..without wishing to be rude about a lady’s age, are they contemparies of you?
JC: They’re a little bit older, I’m 59, I never met Hound Dog Taylor , I did meet Albert King, not to play with, but met him. But we all love them, they were such wonderful artists with great, honest, kick ass music.
BD: Josh Smith wrote It’s My Time’ ? The last four words refer to conjuring up Ry Cooder ?
JC: Ry Cooder is one of my all time favourites, he’s definitely one of the people who influenced my slide playing and any time I’m felling down and out, I put on a Ry Cooder track, wherever and it just makes me happy.
BD: Is there anything else you want to add re the album, getting close to my allotted time ?
JC: Well yes, the band, Reese Wynans (ex Double Trouble) and what a pleasure to work with him, I was literally next to him in the studio the whole time and it brought tears to my eyes to see him play, he’s such a nice guy, the first thing he said after shaking my hand ‘You’re a bad ass’, that’s the best compliment I’ve ever had ! Just a really great guy. Also, can everyone in England buy the record !
BD: Have you ever played England ?
JC: Yes in the 90’s I played two nights at the Jazz Cafe, I did a tour with a promoter called Alan Hewitt for three weeks, that was sixteen years ago, looking at coming over February 2022
Joanna Connor’s new album “4801 South Indiana Avenue” is released by KTBA Records on February 26th via www.jbonamassa.com/albums/2021/joannaconnor/4801