Joanna Connor

Blue-Collar Virtuoso
Joanna Connor
Joanna Connor: Maryam Wilcher.

Joanna Connor’s latest is her most-potent album to date. Best Of Me serves up a feast of guitar styles and genres, all under the banner of the blues. Special guests include Joe Bonamassa, Josh Smith, Gary Hoey, and Mike Zito, all bringing fiery fretboard interplay. But more importantly, Best Of Me is a window into the soul of a Chicago slide virtuoso.

How are you?
Well, Buddy Guy snatched my keyboard player, Dan Souvigny. That was a little hard, but we’ve been soldiering forward. He played on the new record, but now he’s living the A-list rock star life (laughs). But I have a great rhythm section, so we’ll be fine.

Best Of Me has a lot of fire. Bassist Shaun Gotti Calloway is a monster.
He’s unbelievable. He’s a character, and I love him. He’s special, and I’m trying to hold on to him as long as I can (laughs).

Did he have a lot of creative input?
He and I wrote the record. He wrote two by himself, I wrote two, and we collaborated on the rest. He got the musicians together and it was a collaborative-producing thing. My drummer, Jason “J Roc” Edwards, did all the background vocals, and it was all good with me.

After all this time, you still deliver so many shades of the blues.
I’ve always been on a journey to be as good a musician as I can be. I always surround myself with great players. People who are better than me do not intimidate me – they inspire me. Your life’s journey influences your music. People come up to me and say, “Wow, you sound even better than you used to!” Well, I hope so (laughs)! That’s the whole purpose.

You go from single-note playing to slide in the blink of an eye. You sound like two different people.
It’s my schizophrenia (laughs). Just kidding. But I would get bored if I didn’t. I love everything about the guitar; I love backing people, or whatever. When you do all those hours at Kingston Mines (in Chicago)… let’s face it, you gotta mix it up. Some people don’t, and that’s fine, but I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve had this gig for so long.

Best Of Me might be your most personal album – lots of love and loss.
I wanted to dive into the nitty-gritty. With love songs, there are different aspects. Love is never one thing. There’s lust, adultery, and different shades, but it all came from what’s in my head and what’s in my life. The band helped a lot. We’ve been playing on all kinds of stages in Chicago and hitting the road a lot. We have a flowing communication onstage. When we play these songs live, they’re a little more open-ended. We’re not jazz players, but we think like jazz players. There’s a structure, but a lot of freedom. We listen to each other, and I think that translated to the studio.

What gear did you use?
John Christy, the engineer who owns Studio 2424, had a crazy bank of amps and a switcher to run all them on their own or combine them; there was a Soldano, a Mesa-Boogie, Marshalls, Twins, and vintage cabinets. Isaiah Sharkey records there all the time, which is really cool.

Which amp did you use most?
I used the Boogie a lot. It’s an older head that I mostly ran to a Marshall cabinet from the ’70s.

Did you use your old Les Paul or your new Les Paul?
The new one – a Custom Shop Murphy Lab ’59 Standard. I also used my Delaney LaGrange Joanna Connor model, which is a hybrid Delaney built that feels like a Les Paul but with a Strat tone and a Bigsby. For the first time ever, I raised the action and made it more of a slide guitar; usually, I use the Les Paul with the regular setup.

I also used a ’62 Strat that was in the studio – Isaiah Sharkey’s old guitar.

What’s on your pedalboard?
My new thing is the Belle Epoch Tape Echo by Catalinbread. I also have a Boss Blues Driver and CE-2 Chorus.

What did Mike Zito offer for advice after you signed with his label, Gulf Coast Records?
When we were going in to record, he said, “Don’t make the songs too long, so we can get them on the radio,” which we were going to avoid anyway. And he said, “Try not to do too much fusion (laughs)!”

This article originally appeared in VG’s October 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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