Last year, Joanne Shaw Taylor showed Western Maryland Blues Fest audiences what a young British woman knew about the blues.
Taylor's coming back to Hub City to headline the Blues Fest prequel, Cabin Fever Blues Bash, at The Maryland Theatre on Thursday, March 3. She and the other two parts of her blues power trio — bassist Paul Lamb and drummer Layla Hall — will perform songs off Taylor's sophomore record, "Diamonds in the Dirt."
Blues Bash typically sets the tone for the Western Maryland Blues Fest, the city's yearly outdoors blues festival and one of the biggest events in the city, fetching crowds ranging from 8,000 to 18,000. This year's Blues Fest has been set for Thursday, June 2, through Sunday, June 5.
Taylor is currently signed to Ruf Records and is living in Detroit — where she says "Diamonds" gets its rock edge from. But fans should expect the same old Joanne.
"I think more than anything, I just bring myself to the table," Taylor said. "I bring honesty. I'm not a perfect guitar player, I'm not a perfect singer, I consider myself an OK songwriter, but I work very hard on those things, but I think I sound like me."
With her heavy British accent and aptitude on the Telecaster, Taylor is part of an emerging class of young artists pegged as the collective new face of the blues — a reality-check for those banking on an old, raspy-voiced guy with a guitar and a drawl to keep the genre alive.
"Everybody better pay attention," said blues producer Jim Gaines, who produced Grammy winners for Carlos Santana, John Lee Hooker and Stevie Ray Vaughan. "There's a whole crop of talented kids out there. Some have gotten deals, some are still waiting for their deals, but there's a whole crop of them, and that's really what's keeping the whole blues business alive. Not the older guys."
Gaines, who produced both of Taylor's albums, said his words were not meant to be disrespectful to blues legends. "They're dying off," said Gaines, who is 69. It's the younger musicians like Taylor, he said, who are taking their cues from the legends and using it to inform their own music — thus continuing the cycle of blues.
For Taylor, the blues influences were Albert Collins, The Paladins and the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, to whom she was introduced by her dad, who also played the guitar. She was gigging at blues venues throughout Europe by the time she was a teenager. Her first break came when she was 16, when someone slipped a copy of her demo to Dave Stewart, half of the synth-pop duo Eurythmics. He invited her to play with his side project D.U.P., whom she toured with, though a record deal didn't pan out. That's around the time she met Gaines.
"He produced some of my idols," Taylor said. "It was only common sense, not only because he was a great producer but because it was my childhood ambition, my dream."
But six years passed before she put out her first album, "White Sugar."
"I didn't want to do an album because it didn't fit right," she said. "But as soon as I stopped worrying about what people wanted and just started working on the songs that came naturally, the pieces started to come together."
If you go ...
WHAT: Cabin Fever Blues Bash
WHEN: 7 p.m., Thursday, March 3
WHERE: The Maryland Theatre, 21 S. Potomac St., downtown Hagerstown
COST: General admission tickets cost $10. Call the The Maryland Theatre's box office, 301-790-2000, or go to www.mdtheatre.org.
MORE: For updates on the 2011 Western Maryalnd Blues Fest, go to www.blues-fest.org.