Joanna Connor is a Brooklyn-born, Worcester, MA-raised, Chicago, IL-based singer/songwriter and guitarist, who has publicly cited her mom (who I’ve actually met) and her mom’s record collection as being a major influence on her life and music. “She listed to blues, folk and rock as much as she could,” Connor recalls on her website. “So I heard Buddy Guy and Taj Mahal when I was kid, and got into the more obscure artists as I went on. And I saw all the Chicago bands, who came through town.” By the time, she was in her mid-teens, Connor was playing the Worcester and Boston club scene with her own band before relocating to Chicago in 1984.
Upon her arrival to Chicago, Connor was mentored by a number of blues legends, sitting in with James Cotton, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells. After a stint in Dion Payton’s band, Connor went solo with her own band, releasing her full-length debut, 1989’s Believe It, which began a string of critically applauded albums released through Blind Pig Records. Connor’s 2002 effort The Joanna Connor Band found Connor displaying the full extent of her influences as it featured “Different Kind of War” and a funky cover of “Slippin’ Into Darkness.” But just as the buzz and accolades were growing, Connor began a touring hiatus. “There were several factors: 9/11 had just gone down, the economy was changing and clubs were closing. But most of all, my daughter was pretty young at the time. She wound up deciding that she wanted to become a big-time basketball player, so that required dedication on both of our parts,” the Chicago-based singer/songwriter and guitarist explains on her website. That dream has come true: Connor’s daughter was awarded a basketball scholarship at Indiana State University, and Connor has pursued her career with a renewed fervor.
Although Connor wasn’t touring, she discovered that audiences were coming out to see her play renowned Chicago blues club Kingston Mines, where she began playing a weekly three night residency most weekends, between gigs at larger clubs and festivals. “It’s become kind of an institution: You go to Chicago, you go to Wrigley Field and then you go see Joanna Connor,” the Chicago-based singer/songwriter and guitarist says. “The schedule is kind of brutal, but it’s great—Usually a packed house, with lots of adrenaling pumping. When it gets to be around midnight, the audience starts getting younger. And I love that—My son is 29, and he gets people looking at him and saying, ‘That’s your mom’?” (And the schedule is brutal indeed: we’re talking about 3 two hour sets between 7:00pm and 5:00pm Fridays and Saturdays — and until 4:00am on Sundays.)
The crowds increased after a video featuring a live version of “Walkin’ Blues” was posted by a Massachusetts-based fan on YouTube. “It was just a phenomenal thing that happened. I was getting calls from America’s Got Talent and movie people reaching out; I even had a Russian billionaire fly me to Spain to play a birthday party. I think people loved the combination: Here’s a woman who looks like somebody’s mom, and she’s playing like this. What I remember most was that it was 90 degrees that day, so I was wearing the coolest dress I had.”
Connor’s 14th album, the Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith co-produced 4801 South Indiana Avenue is slated for a February 26, 2021 release through Joe Bonamassa’s new blues label Keeping The Blues Alive. Recorded at Nashville’s Ocean Way Recording Studios, 4801 South Indiana Avenue derives its name from the actual address of hallowed, Chicago blues club Theresa’s Lounge — and the album reportedly finds Connor, Bonamassa, Smith and an impressive array of musicians digging deeply to conjure an authentic, ass kicking non-derivative set of good ol’ Chicago blues. “We want the listener to open that door, walk in, and feel to their core some of the magic that a place like that brought night after night. It was an honor to bring this to you, the listener,” Connor says in press notes. “This album is a homage to the blues school that I attended in Chicago,” Connor adds. “We attempted to capture the spirit of tradition and inject it with raw energy and passion.
“I Feel So Good,” 4801 South Indiana Avenue’s latest single is a boozy, breakneck boogie woogie centered around Connor’s blistering solos and dexterous guitar work and her powerhouse vocal while Lemar Carter (drums) holds his own with a rapid-fire hi-hat driven pattern reminiscent of Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher.” For me the track not only captures a self-assured lady, who kicks ass and takes names and wants to have herself a good time, it captures a moment I miss dearly when you open the door to the club and see that it’s rocking. The booze is flowing copiously. People are sweating and dancing. The band is roaring. And everyone desperately wants it to never end.
“This is one heavy boogie tune,” Connor says. “The opening note I held was a fun challenge! This tune absolutely burns. Joe used some interesting microphone technique on the vocal and overdrove it purposely. The drummer (Lemar Carter) and I were flying by the seat of our pants so to speak and miraculously ended the fade out together. I particularly love the way the musicians come roaring back- all Joe’s idea!”
Shot in Kingston Mines, the recently released video features Connor in a white faux fur coat, green dress and silver “these-were-made-for-walking-all-over-you” boots rocking out all night. And it accurately captures her live stage presence. Simply put, Connor is can flat out play those blues.