Tinsley Ellis laid off the wah-wah pedal on his latest album, but for the next month his foot is firmly pressed on the accelerator.
Nicknamed “Highwayman” for the name of song he wrote in 1992, Ellis is on his second West Coast road tour of the year, which included a stop Nov. 25, in the Crystal Bay Casino at Lake Tahoe. He said 2016 is the busiest concert year he’s had in 10 years.
What has the Atlanta bluesman been doing since his last Lake Tahoe appearance in 2013? A lot.
Ellis has released three albums – “Midnight Blue,” “Tough Love” and “Red Clay Soul” — and this year performed at the Blues Music Awards and made his first trip on the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise.
“Thanksgiving for us will be spent in the van driving from Boulder, Colorado, to Crystal Bay,” Ellis told Tahoe Onstage. “After all the buffets on the blues cruise trip, I can afford to miss Thanksgiving this year.”
Erik “Jazzy Skins” Kaszynski remains the trio’s drummer and Jonathan Holland is the bass player, replacing Ted Pecchio, who is now with Doyle Bramhall Jr.
“(Jonathan’s) a fine Atlanta musician and this will be his first time in Tahoe,” Ellis said. “(The Red Room is) a sweet little room and it’s just a great place to be. We often spend days off there. I call Tahoe the best-kept secret in the world. This time we’re kind of breezing through but we also have some high-profile shows in California that I am excited about. We’re doing Yoshi’s for the first time and doing Sweetwater in Mill Valley, which I haven’t played in almost 20 years. It’s a bigger venue now with Bob Weir backing it. And we will play The Mint in Los Angeles. The West is the best.”
Writer’s block is an unfamiliar term for the prolific songwriter, who started his own label, Heartfixer Music, in order to make albums in whatever style he desires and release them whenever he wants. His goal is five albums in five years, and so far he’s four for four. He said the fifth will come out in late 2017.
Ellis began his career in 1981 as a guitarist and bandleader for Chicago Bob and the Heartfixers. He began singing and went solo in 1988, breaking out with the acclaimed 1994 album “Storm Warming,” which includes the hit song “A Quitter Never Wins.” (That song also launched the career for “Kid” Jonny Lang.)
Each of Ellis’ albums on his own label have been in a different style. The first, “Get It,” was entirely instrumental. The latest, “Red Clay Soul,” has an upbeat, singer-songwriter sound, with just one tune with Ellis’ well-known wah-wah effects.
“My associates say, ‘You’re putting them out too fast,’ ” Ellis said. “I hope that each one is a little different than the rest. ‘Tough Love’ got a lot of love and ‘Red Clay Soul’ needed to surpass it and it has surpassed it critically and airplay wise but not in sales because it’s still relatively new. (It was released in June.) I want to keep moving forward but I also have some special concept albums that I’ve got to make.
“People like it when I do something outside the box. Usually, I go into the studio and go kind of nuts on a guitar but on this one I went in there and did songs and people seemed to like that. You’ve got to do something different. You can’t make the same album over and over again. … On this one, I am showing my Southern roots. The ‘Red Clay’ is a geographic description and the soul is hopefully what the music has.”
One of the album’s standout tunes is one that has been around a while. “Given You Up” was co-written by Ellis and Atlanta’s Oliver Wood.
“That’s a song he and I wrote more than 10 years ago and it lived on my laptop,” Ellis said. “(Alligator Records President) Bruce (Iglauer) wanted it on (2009’s) ‘Speak No Evil’ but it just didn’t fit that album, which was such a bruiser and this is such a happy song.
“I really want to do an acoustic album at some point. And I want to do an album of songs and artists who have influenced me when I was starting out my career, sort of a tribute album. It will definitely be all about guitar and all about blues, but there are just so many original songs that I want to record (that) other people’s songs don’t really appeal to me right now.
Ellis also is open to making a duet album.
“Everybody wants to do it with somebody who has more stature or sales than them, so that’s a tricky one to do,” Ellis said. “Like I want to record with Sonny Landreth and he wants to record with Eric Clapton. I love the one that Leon Russell did with Elton John. I thought that was the best thing that either one of them had done in a long time. … I would love to do a partnership with (Oliver Wood). Anytime he would want to, I am available.”
Concert review: Tinsley brings out his best for Tahoe. LINK
Album review — Tinsley Ellis at his best on “Red Clay Soul.” LINK
Q&A with Tinsley Ellis. LINK
To heaven and back, Walter Trout lives to tell about it. LINK
- Tinsley Ellis
Nov. 22: Zoo Bar, Lincoln, Nebraska
Nov. 23: Owsley’s Golden Road, Boulder, Colorado
Nov. 26: Arena Theatre, Point Arena, California
Nov. 27: Sweetwater Music Hall, Mill Valley, California
Nov. 28: Yoshi’s, Oakland, California
Dec. 3: Egyptian Theatre, Park City, Utah
Dev. 4: Coconino Center for the Arts, Flagstaff, Arizona
Dec. 6: Musical Instrument Museum, Phoenix
Dec. 7: The Mint, Los Angeles
Dec. 8: Boulder Station Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas
Dec. 9: The Rock, Tucson, Arizona
Dec. 15: Workplay Theater, Birmingham, Alabama