“Music chose me. I vividly recall trying to sing like Louis Armstrong’s ‘Hello Dolly’ in our Brooklyn apartment. It came on the radio often. I knew I was small, but when I researched what year this version was on the charts, I was floored with the realization that I was two years old!”
And so, Joanna Connor’s musical odyssey began. 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”.
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.
“It was my university. I went out every night of the week. Within a month I had my first gig with the legendary Johnny Littlejohn. A few weeks later I became a part of Dion Payton and the 43rd St Bluesband. We were the house band at the Checkerboard Lounge, on the south side of Chicago, then owned by Buddy Guy. That’s when my schooling kicked into overdrive. I played with Buddy, Junior Wells, Otis Rush, Sammy Lawhorn, Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin, Magic Slim, Son Seals, Lonnie Brooks, Koko Taylor, just to name a few. I was blessed.”
Joanna went on to form her own band in 1988 with weekly appearances at the Kingston Mines in Chicago. Her formidable guitar playing, and distinctive soul-churning vocal ability caught the attention of Blind Pig Records, who released her debut album “Believe It” in 1990.
National and International accolades in the press and radio media resulted into a decade of world tours, a dozen recordings on Ruf Records, MC Records and others, a documentary on Germany’s WDR Television, and a multitude of TV appearances and radio features.
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.
Joanna signed endorsement deals with Gibson Guitars, Victoria Amps and Orange Amps.
In 2005, she took a hiatus from touring to spend time at home raising her young daughter. Two 15 plus year residencies at the House of Blues and The Kingston Mines, honed Joanna’s considerable guitar and vocal chops even further.
While working continuously in Chicago, a handful of videos of her incendiary slide guitar solos went viral creating quite a sensation and garnering attention from media and established musicians alike. Joe Bonamassa sought her out and offered to produce the kind of record he felt Joanna had always had in her and should deliver to the world. 4801 South Indiana is this record, a blues record that delivers all the raw emotion, passion, and fire that made the Blues so compelling from its inception. Joe Bonamassa did not merely produce, arrange, and play on the record, he enabled and inspired Joanna to pull from deep within her all of what her life in music had given her. While steeped in tradition, the recording is no museum piece, it is alive and it is kicking, once-in-a-lifetime Blues.
Photo by Maryam Wilcher