It wasn't too long ago that you could count the number of women rock-guitar players on the fingers of one hand. After Bonnie Raitt, the Wilson sisters from Heart, and Melissa Ethbridge you had to really struggle in order to think of anyone else.
Well, as the man said, the times they are a changing, and now its becoming more and more common to see a woman fronting a band not only as the lead singer, but also as the lead guitar player. They're obviously still a minority, but at least now it's no longer considered an oddity or a novelty act when a woman fronts a band; the days of people saying, "Hey, she plays pretty good for a chick" are becoming a thing of the past.
I don't know if it's a coincidence or not, but a good many of these guitar women are showing up fronting blues bands. A couple of years back the German independent blues label, Ruf Records released a two disc set called Blues Guitar Women. Canadian guitarist Sue Foley, who helped put together the compilation, said in her liner notes that she found it alarming that she was able to fill two CDs so easily, because it made her realize just how many women were out there playing the blues, and how many weren't getting the recognition they deserve.
Unfortunately, just like their male counterparts, a great many of these guitar players are pretty much indistinguishable from each other. It seems like women are just as inclined to fall into the loud, hard, and fast school of playing as men, forgetting that a little bit of diversity makes music a heck of lot more interesting. So when someone like Joanne Shaw Taylor shows up with a CD like her forthcoming White Sugar (January 1, '09 on Ruf Records) I pay attention. Not only has Joanne written all the tracks on the CD, she understands that music, especially the blues, sounds a whole lot better when you don't play the same thing over and over again.
As with so many blues guitar players since the 1960s, Taylor hails from Great Britain, and like those who came before her she looked to the United States for her inspiration. In her press materials she cited Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix, and Albert Collins as the musicians who made her want to pick up a guitar and dedicate herself to playing the blues. Although she has also followed in their footsteps by fronting a trio, she sells herself short by saying she fronts a power trio. For while it's true her music has plenty of power, there's none of the 'let's make their ears bleed' mentality that I would normally associate with the term.