Tinsley Ellis
@ The Blues Saloon, January 18, 1997

Tinsley Ellis
Photo copyright 1996 by Chuck Winans
All rights reserved.
Tinsley Ellis said he was only 18 days late getting to town! Evidently he was to be here on New Years eve. Oh well, we were just glad he made it at all. There was standing room only this Saturday night at the Blues Saloon. The room was filled to capacity with fervent & loyal Ellis fans out to have a great time. Tinsley was joined on stage by fellow lead guitarist Rob McNelley, bass player Scott Kokiol and drummer Tad Parker. Tinsley Ellis of course plays one of the finest blues/rock guitars on the blues circuit today.

Tinsley Ellis was born in Atlanta and grew up in southern Florida. He started playing guitar at the age of 7 and was 14 when he was hit right in the "hands" with the blues bug. He tells of how he was in the front row of a BB King show and when a string broke on BB's guitar Lucille, King changed the string right on stage and handed the broken one to an impressionable Ellis. His fate was sealed. He had to become a blues guitarist. In 1981 he formed the Heartfixers who released 4 albums through 1986 when he was heard by Bruce Iglauer of Alligator Records. He has released 4 more albums for Alligator starting with the critically acclaimed George Blue in 1988.

Tinsley Ellis
Blues Saloon, 1/18/97
Photo copyright 1997 by Tom Asp
All rights reserved.
Ellis calls his music southern blues, saying its more laid back than Chicago or Texas blues...more soulful than harsh. The guitar influences of Freddie King, Buddy Guy and Magic Sam are the underpinnings of a brilliant guitar style. One of the nice things about Tinsley's guitar playing is that he can display some amazing pyrotechnics when he wants too, but he also has great taste and maturity. He knows how and when to change his phrasing, slow the tempo or step back and let his band take the spotlight. He is a master at this business.

The first set was almost like one endless song, with one tune transitioning into the next...very pleasing. He played many of the songs from his recent Alligator releases and a few from his new, soon to be released, CD (no title yet). There was a great chemistry going on between Tinsley and fellow lead guitarist Rob McNelley (who is a superb player in his own right). They had a great call and response sequence going on between the two guitars at one point that was oh so sweet. Some of the best parts of this show were when both Ellis and McNelley were just jamming on their guitars...trading licks back and forth...!

Local blues guitar player Jonny Lang has one of Tinsley's songs (A Quitter Never Wins from his most recent Storm Warning album) on his new CD Lie To Me. Lang told Ellis that if the record sells a 100,000 copies he will buy Tinsley a Cadillac. Ellis said he already had one, so Jonny said "I'll buy you another one." This was all said in good fun and demonstrated Tinsley's easy going nature and good humor.

One of the new songs, If That's How I Love You, from his future album, had some unbelievable guitar playing by Ellis and mighty fine slide work by McNelley. Up until this point the dance floor was packed but near the end of the first set Tinsley put on a mesmerizing guitar solo that left everyone spellbound. Anyone who was dancing just stopped to watch and listen...it was that amazing. They finished off the first set with Albert King's Heartfixin' Business (also the source of the name of Tinsley's former band the Heartfixers).

The second set had a memorable version of Mercy, Mercy, Mercy (a song made popular by Cannonball Adderly). This is an outstanding soul song that is my favorite from the Storm Warning album. There was also a nice Junior Wells song, Early In The Morning and Key To The Highway (a Big Bill Broonzy song that has been covered by just about everyone) done in a great traditional blues style with a impressive solo by Ellis. Robert Johnson's Crossroads was the finale that put the icing on a great evening of blues. You can catch Tinsley Ellis' return engagement to the Blues Saloon on April 26, 1997.

Mailbox E-mail Ray Stiles at: mnblues@aol.com

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Copyright © 1997 by Ray M. Stiles
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