"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 Best Blues Queen
Gulf Coast Records announces a June 9th release date for Best of Me, the label debut from acclaimed Chicago blues guitar great Joanna Connor. Joining Joanna (guitar and vocals) on the recording is her regular “Wrecking Crew” touring band: Shaun Gotti Calloway – bass; Dan Souvigny – guitar and keys; Curtis Moore Jr. – keys; and Jason J Roc Edwards - drums and vocals. Special guests include labelmates Eric Demmer – saxophone and Jason Ricci: - harmonica; and guitarists Joe Bonamassa, Josh Smith, Gary Hoey and Gulf Coast president Mike Zito: guitar; David Abbruzzese on drums and the Grooveline Horns. Best of Me was produced by Shaun Gotti Calloway, Jason J Roc Edwards, and Joanna Connor, and recorded at Studio2424 in Chicago. Chicago-based slide guitar virtuoso and singer-songwriter, Joanna Connor is best known as one of the reigning Queens of blues rock guitar. The soundtrack of her childhood in her adopted hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts was diverse and bounteous. The Blues was part of the lexicon. Joanna’s favorite record as a child was Taj Mahal’s “Take A Giant Step/ The Old Folks At Home”. (Joanna Connor / Photo by Maryam Wilcher)
Seeing Buddy Guy perform at a local university at the age of 10 left a paramount impression. Playing saxophone, guitar and singing through her school years were her passions, and eventually led to her performing professionally at age 17. But her hunger to become a guitarist first and foremost and her desire to immerse herself in the Blues, propelled her to move to Chicago in 1984. 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. Joanna and band shared stages with Blues, Rock and Jazz greats, including Luther Allison, BB King, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Robben Ford, Danny Gatton, Robert Cray, Jimmy Page, ZZ Top, Joe Cocker, Etta James, and others. 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 Special Thanks: Joanna Connor & Mark Pucci Media
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 do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?
Well blues captured my heart when I was a child. I believe the honesty and the pure emotion spoke to me. I believe that’s part of the makeup of who I am.
"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..." (Chicago blues guitar great Joanna Connor / Photo by Maryam Wilcher)
What characterize your music philosophy? Where does your creative drive come from?
I think very much like a jazz player. There is structure but open end to lens to intense improvisation.
Currently you’ve your debut release with Gulf Coast Records. How did that relationship come about? Do you have any interesting stories about the making of the new album “Best of Me”?
There are musicians that play together and may do it extremely well. Then, there are musicians that move as one, that share moments of creating music that is mystically telepathic. The group of musicians we assembled here created a free-flowing and fiery blend of soul, rock, funk and country, all rooted in the blues. Making this record with the go ahead from Mike Zito and Gulf Coast Records to have free reign was uplifting and inspiring.
This recording definitely brought out the ’best of me,’ and solidified my band as a force to be reckoned with. Guitar power and nuance is evident on this record but so are convincing vocals, soul-stirring keyboard work, tighter than tight horns and a rhythm section that propels and compliments each song. The album touches on my maturing as a woman, facing mortality with grace and thanks, celebrating love won, love lost, lust and passion, the pain and pleasure of having this human experience. I hope the listener enjoys this record as much as we had making it.
What moment changed your music life the most? What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?
It’s hard to pin down what moment changed my life, but seeing Buddy Guy up. Close at 10 was definitely a game changer.
I’ve been blessed to have many heady moments in my musical life. Working with so many of the blues’ greats for sure is in my soul.
"By now I’m used to being in the boys’ club. It’s what I know and it’s trying at times but I find often I’m the toughest person anyway mentally. Women are just starting to be who they are and not held to a standard of impossible cover girl standards." (Joanna Connor / Photo by Maryam Wilcher)
What's the balance in music between technique and soul? How do you want the music to affect people?
Technique is very important to me, I loathe sloppy. I feel precision infused with great feeling is most effective. I want the music to liberate both myself and the audience from everyday thinking.
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.
How do you prepare for your recordings and performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?
I am very much a loner. I don’t hang out. I go inside my quiet space and detach to prepare for a show. But music is spiritual. So ,you let it flow.
What does to be a female artist in a Man’s World as James Brown says? What is the status of women in music?
By now I’m used to being in the boys’ club. It’s what I know and it’s trying at times but I find often I’m the toughest person anyway mentally. Women are just starting to be who they are and not held to a standard of impossible cover girl standards.
Do you think there is an audience for blues music in its current state? or at least a potential for young people to become future audiences and fans?
I have a standing house gig in Chicago and the average age of the audience is at the most 30. They love me.
"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)
How started the idea of previous 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 "4801 South Indiana Avenue" 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…
(Joanna Connor / Photo by Maryam Wilcher)
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