Interview: Joanna Connor

Chicago-based slide guitar virtuoso and singer-songwriter, Joanna Connor, 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 Friday 26th February 2021. Through the magic of the old interweb we spoke to Joanna about the new album, as well as getting the lowdown on her musical background. Catch up with Joanna below.

Joanna ConnorYou’re renowned as a slide-guitar player, what first attracted you to playing slide guitar? Were you self-taught?

It was a stroke of fate and luck. I was looking for a guitar teacher and my mom’s co-worker’s husband taught guitar. Little did I know he was an expert in many different early Blues styles, including slide.

You’ve been based in Chicago for over 30 years, given that the Chicago Blues-scene is legendary, was it destiny that you would play the Blues?

I always felt music chose me. Blues was played in my house regularly, unlike many white kids growing up in the 60s and 70s. The honesty, passion, groove, all spoke to me. And the triumphant attitude of the music despite the worst of circumstances

How did you feel performing your first? And how was it?!

I absolutely loved performing, I was always a bit nervous beforehand and I still get that way.

On to the killer new album ‘4801 South Indiana Avenue’, what was the gestation period of the album like? At what point did Joe Bonamassa come on board as producer?

Joe thought of all of it. He planted the baby and I delivered it.

I believe that your vocals were recorded with you standing at the recording desk rather than with you in a traditional booth? Did this make it easier or was it more pressurized?

At first, I was like, oh no, too much pressure! But actually, it felt fine to not be alone in a booth.

The album was recorded with the majority of players all in the same room, have you always worked this way?

Yes and no. We were after a really live feel. Once again, Joe was the mastermind.

Opening track ‘Destination’ is a sizzler! Was it always going to be the album opener?

It was the first song we recorded. It set us all up on the right spirit. It was a natural to be the opener.

It certainly works! At what point does an artist know that they have a great song? Is it instant? Or is it once they see the reaction from others?

I think the reaction from listeners tells you. It’s hard to know if one of your songs is truly fantastic. It may speak to you and no one else.

Listening back to the album for the first time, what moment gave you the biggest goosebumps?

‘Bad News’. It kind of tears your heart out.

‘Bad News’ is fantastic. What goes through your head in the run-up to releasing new music? Are you excited? Nervous? Both?

At this point, I have seen so much. I have a wait-and-see attitude. But none of my albums ever had this kind of overwhelming positive reaction.

The players on the album are incredible, but as a major Double Trouble fan, I have to ask what it was like having the great Reese Wynans on your album?!

That was an absolute gift to have him. He is a phenomenal musician. Chops, feel, taste, and sensitivity. He brought me to tears. It was an honour to have him there.

Joanna ConnorMagical! Now, ‘4801 South Indiana Avenue’, that’s the address of ‘Theresa’s Lounge’ isn’t it? Theresa Needham “The Godmother of the Chicago blues”. Were you able to play there before it was moved? And total sidebar: but how freaky is it that I can type that address into Google and watch people and cars go past it! Totally weird!

Lol! I played there three times before it closed. All memorable nights too!

Blues music is steeped in mythology and urban legends, what is the best one that you’ve heard?! And, is it true?!

One musician, Lefty Dizz. The Rolling Stones loved him, used to tell me that if you hit a high C on the guitar, every woman in the room will react with, shall we say a sensual reaction. He made me laugh. I drank a lot of Old Grandad Whiskey with him! He used to call me Red, and I found out later, that’s lingo for a light-skinned black person, which was an honour to me.

Favorite scene/moment in the Blues Brothers movie?! Bob’s Country Bunker? Illinois Nazis? Ray Charles shooting at a shoplifter? Minnie The Moocher? Or just the overall sense of love for the Chicago blues scene?

That movie made me want to live in Chicago- the funk, the soul, the grit. Aretha stole the scene musically and all those Sam and Dave sides they played, which is Memphis soul, but absolutely groovy.

It is a classic movie for sure. What current social issue are you particularly passionate about?

Economic and racial injustice, animal rights.

What album do you have in your collection/Spotify playlist that would surprise most people?

I listen to a lot of Irish trad music and Ravi Shankar.

Although 2020 was a year to forget, there was some great music released; what would be your album of 2020?

Mine, lol.

Who would you class as an underrated songwriter?

John Hiatt

What are your plans for 2021 should COVID ever disappear?!

Playing music in front of people and traveling to Ireland to visit my family ancestral home of Donegal.

 

Joanna Connor’s new album “4801 South Indiana Avenue” is released by KTBA Records on February 26th. Pre-order the album from www.jbonamassa.com/albums/2021/joannaconnor/4801

Interview – Dave

Live images – Allison Morgan

Connect with Joanna on social media here. 

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