Q&A with Chicago-based slide guitar virtuoso Joanna Connor, one of the reigning Queens of blue rock guitar

"Most of the greats are gone, headliners and side people. The level of musicianship is weaker, less inventive. I have no thoughts on the future because of this pandemic. We are living in intense times."

Joanna Connor: The Blues Rock Queen

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 February 26, 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. The new album reflects an entirely new experience from the way Joanna has recorded music in the past.                               (Photo: Joanna Connor)

Joanna has played guitar with the who’s who of blues including the likes of James Cotton, Buddy Guy, Jimmy Page, and Junior Wells. Debuting at Chicago’s premiere blues club Kingston Mines in the 1980s, she played there three nights a week ever since, in between gigs at larger clubs and festivals, before the spread of the pandemic earlier this year. An aggressively edgy and highly innovative blues rock guitarist with a tight groove that encompasses jazz and funk, Joanna’s hailed by many as one of the most powerful and influential female guitarists on the planet.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues and Rock culture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

I’ve lived the life of a musician for almost my entire life. My views of the world were always inclusive, and curious and fascinated with cultures and art and spirituality, so bring an artist fit into that life view. I have seen a lot of sexism in my business and experienced a lot of it when I was younger, it’s a very me dominated field. The younger generations have brought new abs I believe, better and more accepting attitudes and more women and girls are making music abs in the business.

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started and what has remained the same?

I have grown as an artist, as I have grown as a human, what is inside is reflected in my music and creative process. I know myself more, I have untangled parts of myself, so I feel as artist o am more expressive.

What would you say characterizes Chicago blues scene in comparison to other US local scenes and circuits?

Chicago is still the Eli center of blues. It’s still dominated by black musicians. And I’m sorry, but they bring the fire, the soul, the sensuality. 

"I’ve lived the life of a musician for almost my entire life. My views of the world were always inclusive, and curious and fascinated with cultures and art and spirituality, so bring an artist fit into that life view. I have seen a lot of sexism in my business and experienced a lot of it when I was younger, it’s a very me dominated field. The younger generations have brought new abs I believe, better and more accepting attitudes and more women and girls are making music abs in the business." (Photo: Chicago-based slide guitar virtuoso and singer-songwriter, Joanna Connor & Joe Bonamassa, Keeping The Blues Alive)

How started the idea of new album and how do you describe "4801 South Indiana Avenue" sound and songbook?

This album is a homage to the blues school that I attended in Chicago. We attempted to capture the spirit of tradition and inject it with raw energy and passion. We recorded the album in Nashville. Joe retweeted one of my videos last May and it went viral on his site. I thanked him in a message, gave him my contact info, and he immediately responded. He opened for me years ago at the House of Blues Backporch Stage in Chicago, where I played weekly for years! Joe was totally aware of me for years. He wanted to make an album for me that he felt I needed to make and had never really made. We used no effects, lots of cool guitars and vintage amps, which is new for me. We tried to redo it to portray the deep history I have in the blues genre, bring out the thousands of sweaty hours in those blues clubs in Chicago and deliver it to the record. It was the hardest I’ve ever pushed my voice ever, I remember asking Joe point-blank, ‘Out of all the guitar players in the world why me?’ Because you have an intensity about your playing that most people don’t have. As a matter of fact, I wish I had some of that in myself where you just let it go, and you don’t even think about it.

Playing with Reese Wynans was an honor and a privilege and brought me to tears. Having Josh Smith and Joe playing guitar on every cut and arranging everything was a gift to me. Bassist Calvin Turner was incredibly groovy and solid and was responsible for the horn arrangements. Lemar Carter is one of the hottest drummers on the music scene and plays with Frank Ocean and so many others. He’s a master of time and taste and groove. We recorded every song in a max of three takes. We were all in the same room together, except for Joe who was in the control room playing and producing. Making this album felt like a sweet gig.

What has made you laugh from album's sessions?

Joe Bonamassa has a dry and quirky sense of humor, which I adore. The songbook is a variety in styles of blues and nit typical covers, it’s a bit deeper in the artists catalogs.

"I have learned that you need enough ego or confidence to play and perform, but ultimately you have to get your ego out of the way and let the music flow out of you as a gift to the listeners abs other musicians you are playing with..." (Photo: Joanna Connor and the late great bluesman, Luther Allison)

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Most of the greats are gone, headliners and side people. The level of musicianship is weaker, less inventive. I have no thoughts on the future because of this pandemic. We are living in intense times.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences? Are there any memories which you’d like to share?

I was supposed to go backstage abs meet Stevie Ray Vaughan at what turned out to be his last show, and o declined, saying, no I will meet him when we play on a fest somewhere together. And then- he’s gone, so as I was sitting next to Reese Wynans in the studio, where he was absolutely laying it down so beautifully, I stayed to cry. It hit me- I never got to play with Stevie, but here is his keyboard player playing on my album, and he’s set up next to me. When Reese saw me, he said something like Girl, I’m not that good!! I kinda laughed. I didn’t tell him why I was crying.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

I have learned that you need enough ego or confidence to play and perform, but ultimately you have to get your ego out of the way and let the music flow out of you as a gift to the listeners abs other musicians you are playing with...

What is the impact of blues on the racial, political, human rights, feminist, and socio-cultural implications?

There is a big concern that the blues is whitewashed in a sense…

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