The first lady of British blues, Joanne Shaw Taylor, woke up one morning only to face the 10 questions we ask everyone…
1. What was your first guitar and when did you get it?
“My first electric was a 1966 Fender Esquire. I got it cheap - I came down on the train to London with my dad and I found it at Andy’s on Denmark Street. I saved up some money working in a guitar shop in Birmingham and I think it was £1,000, which, even at the time, was pretty cheap for a ’66 Esquire. It’s been battered about a bit on a lot of airline flights. I only bring it out if we’re travelling via bus now and taking the ferry over to Europe. I don’t trust airlines with it any more.”
2. Suppose the building was burning down; what one guitar from your collection would you save?
“It would be the 1966 Esquire, which I fondly refer to as ‘Junior’. It really is beautiful. It’s very versatile. The neck on it is just worn to hell and back, you know? It’s so easy to grip. I just absolutely love it.”
3. What plectrums do you use?
“I use the little Dunlop Jazz III picks. Bonamassa uses them - I’m on the road with him right now and I’ve just stolen a bunch off him [laughs]. I started using them on Joe’s advice a couple of years ago and I found they tidied up my right hand, because I was quite sloppy before that. I can’t go back to playing normal size plectrums now; I feel like I’m holding a casserole dish in my right hand!”
4. When was the last time you practised playing and what did you play?
“It was yesterday, because we’re putting one of the new songs off the new album into the set and I haven’t played it since we recorded it in January, so I’ve got to go back and relearn my own song. I tend not to do too much practice, because we tour so much that I don’t like to overplay. You know, carpal tunnel and all that kind of stuff…”
5. When was the last time you changed your own strings?
“I would’ve said probably about five years ago, but we did a live performance at Glastonbury and we were just about to go on camera and I broke an E string, so I had to quickly replace it myself. That was the last time, but before that it was definitely a good five years since I’d done it.”
6. If you could change one thing about a recording you’ve been on, what would it be and why?
“I think the only thing I’d change was on the first album I ever did, White Sugar. There was a bass note missing when I got the final mixes, so I sent them back to Jim Gaines, the producer, and he put it back in, but when I got the final masters the bass note was still missing. I think the record company mastered the rough mixes not the final mixes - so I wouldn’t mind hearing the album as we intended it to sound. I know Jim Gaines probably would.”
7. What are you doing five minutes before you go on stage and five minutes afterwards?
“Five minutes before I go on stage it’s usually mass panic! I still get very nervous, but it’s excited nervous, so I try and chill out. Usually by then, all the crew’s gone and it’s just me and the boys and we have a little ritual - high fives and weird handshakes. Monty Python-esque. Five minutes after, I’m usually just trying to take a few minutes to myself, maybe have a glass of wine or something and chill out.”
8. What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you on stage?
“I dislocated my hip once on stage, that was pretty bad. I was playing at The Roadhouse in Birmingham, reached for the pedalboard - I was in high heels - and it just popped out and then popped back in. I just came off stage and took a minute - and that’s the reason I don’t wear high heels on stage any more. Sensible footwear, kids; it’s the way forward.”
9. What song would you play on an acoustic around a camp fire?
“It would be Bird On A Wire or Hard Times Come Again No More. Bird On A Wire is one of my favourite songs, the Johnny Cash version. With Hard Times Come Again No More, the Emmylou Harris version is the one I love the most.”
10. What aspect of guitar would you like to be better at?
“All of it! I’m quite happy with my guitar playing in that I think I’ve got a lot of personality; I think I sound like me, which is always an important thing for me, growing up with blues players like Albert Collins or Freddie King where you’ve just got to hear one note and you know who it is. I think I can be a bit sloppy, because I like to learn things quick. I’ve got quite a few bad habits and I wish I was a bit tidier. Sometimes, I just hit it hard and hope for the best, you know!”
Joanne Shaw Taylor’s new album, Wild, is out now on Axe House Music.