Guitarist Tinsley Ellis Interview

"Feral blues guitar...non-stop gigging has sharpened his six-string to a razor's edge... his eloquence dazzles...he achieves pyrotechnics that rival Beck and Clapton." -- Rolling Stone

Tinsley Ellis has travelled a million miles, and through that journey he has become a man with clarity about where he stands today and his future destination. As a proud Georgia-based artist, with his new album Red Clay Soul he celebrates a legacy built on four decades of performing, recording and song writing. Travelers headed to Florida or other destinations in the Southeastern U.S. encounter red clay embankments as they hit the state of Georgia, and Ellis has chosen to title this new collection Red Clay Soul to celebrate the music of the area. He offers, "Georgia is where the Blues has got Soul. From the gospel inspired Ray Charles, to the R&B of James Brown and Otis Redding, to the Rock and Roll of Little Richard, to the Blues Rock of The Allman Brothers Band, all these acts have one thing in common. They all have the sound of Georgia and down here we call that sound red clay soul."

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Guitarist Tinsley Ellis Interview
Scott - Hi Tinsley, Hey man.... Thank you so much for taking the time out to do an interview with me and my Guitarz site.  I hope all is well with you... Give all our loyal readers and peeps a short but descriptive label of your style of guitar playing and the types of music you like playing.

Tinsley - Being from Georgia, I've been described as a Southern Blues Rocker. I think that description hits the nail on the head.
Scott - Ok, now for your music … What is the name of the current Album you are promoting at the moment? How did the music come about?

Tinsley - My newest album is Red Clay Soul. Red Clay Soul came out in June 2016 on Heartfixer Records. It was recorded in Nashville at The Rock House in Jan 2016. Kevin McKendree played keyboards and co-produced the album. Lynn Williams played drums and Steve Mackey played bass. Oliver Wood from Americana act The Wood Brothers played guitar and sang on "Givin' You Up", a song we co-wrote. The album has great reviews and airplay.
Scott - What are your personal highlights on the new album? Why?

Tinsley - I like the duet with Oliver best, especially the guitar interplay throughout the song.
Scott - So where is your stomp'n ground?

Tinsley - Atlanta GA USA, where the Blues has got Soul!
Scott - Are there a lot of places to play your style of music in and around your area? If so, could you name some venues?

Tinsley - We play a yearly show at Variety Playhouse in Atlanta, but there are several Blues clubs here like Blind Willies, Northside Tavern, Fatt Matt's and Darwins.
Scott - What was it about the electric guitar that inspired you to play it?

Tinsley - I saw The Beatles on Ed Sullivan show in 1964 and begged my parents the next day for a guitar. The British Invasion bands led me to the real thing like Muddy Waters, Howlin'Wolf and BB King, all of which I went to see every time I could.
Scott - What type of guitars do you play and why?

Tinsley - 1967 Gibson ES-345, 1959 Fender Strat, 1973 Les Paul Deluxe, 1969 Martin D-35, 1937 National Steel, 1982 Gibson Moderne. If you want to sound classic, use the instruments the old masters used.

Over the past 40 years, Tinsley Ellis has performed in all 50 states, across Canada, Europe, South America and Australia. He's taken the stage in Russia, the Canary Islands and other destinations not on the traditional touring circuit. His vision for the future is to continue to release the type of albums that push the boundaries of Blues and to expand his touring radius. He reflects, "Playing concerts is what I've done the longest. From the time I was a young teenager watching BB King, Howlin' Wolf and Billy Preston, to the great new music of today, I've taken what I've learned from these masters and incorporated it into my concerts. From BB King, I learned about performing with dynamics. From James Brown, I've learned about putting on a seamless, exciting concert. From The Allmans, I've learned about how to excite fans with extended instrumental jamming. I try to learn something new about putting on shows at every concert I attend."

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Scott - What type of amps do you use? Do you use different amps for the studio vs live shows?
Tinsley - 1967 Fender Super Reverb and 1965 Fender Deluxe Reverb. Sometimes I play through a Leslie 16 cabinet 
Scott - Do you have any endorsement with instrument and gear companies?

Tinsley - Ernie Ball guitar strings. Holland and Nico's guitar pickups.
Scott - How did you first get into the music business?

Tinsley - It started as a hobby, then a lifestyle, then a way to make drinkin' money, then it tuned into a full time thing.
Scott - Who have been your main influences on your career to date?

Tinsley - BB King and The Allmans initially. Stevie Ray and Robert Cray in the 80's. Peter Green is my favorite to listen to right now.
Scott - Give us a list of musicians you have collaborated with over the years.

Tinsley - Allman Brothers Band, Jonny Lang, Gov't Mule, Derek Trucks, Albert Collins, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, Son Seals, Koko Taylor, Widespread Panic, Lonnie Mack, Mike Zito, James Cotton, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Bob Margolin, Allen Toussaint, Col Bruce Hampton, Jody Williams, Nappy Brown, Chicago Bob Nelson, Chuck Leavell, Peter Buck, Donald Duck Dunn, Richie Hayward... There are too many fine artists to name them all.

There are a number of special guests on the new album who have strong ties and history to Ellis' career. Oliver Wood from The Wood Brothers, and keyboardist/producer Kevin McKendree both return as collaborators. Ellis states, "Kevin is someone I have recorded with on every studio album I've done since Fire It Up, which was produced by Tom Dowd. On this one, he co-produced with me for the first time, and it was his idea to record live in the studio. That insight and vision yielded an album that is different and more exciting than the others we've done in his Nashville-based studio. When it comes to Oliver Wood, he was in my band in 1993-94, and was a big part of my 1994 Storm Warning album. A decade ago, we wrote Givin' You Up, and it finally comes out on Red Clay Soul. I love what Oliver brings to the song on both guitar and vocals. We decided to leave the long jam version on the album, and it's fun as hell."

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Scott - I see that you have recorded 18 albums going as far back as 1982. Do you have any favorites?

Tinsley - The biggest selling one was Storm Warning on Alligator Records in 1994 on which we had Oliver Wood and a very young Derek Trucks on guitars, plus Chuck Leavell on organ and piano. This album was Derek's recording debut. I'm very proud of that. I really like two specialty albums: the Live-Highwayman album  which came out in 2005 on Alligator, and the all instrumental album from 2013, "Get It!" on my Heartfixer Music label
Scott - I know that you are a touring musician who has toured the world many times. Can you give us a few memorable highlights of some of the the cities that you have performed in?

Tinsley - We have repeatedly played all 50 states, Canada, South America, Europe, Russia, and Australia. We once did a Blues festival in the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa.
Scott - Which cities have grown close to your heart?

Tinsley - Atlanta will always be my favorite. So many friends and family here.

Ellis’ travels have earned him a gifted musical life filled with coveted experiences. Being present as a relevant artist yielded organic opportunities many dream of. He shares, "My proudest moments onstage have been the times I've been invited to sit in with my musical heroes: Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, Otis Rush, James Cotton, The Allmans and so many others. In 2013, I was invited to be a part of the Blues At The Crossroads 2 Tour, a run that celebrated the music of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. I was the 'Rock Guy' on the tour. The other frontmen were guys who actually recorded and toured with Muddy and Wolf. They were James Cotton and Bob Margolin from Muddy's band and Jody Williams, the Chess Records session guitarist who recorded on many Wolf and Bo Diddley sides. And The Fabulous Thunderbirds backed us all up. It was cool because I was the youngest frontman on the tour, and they rode me hard, calling me a 'little whippersnapper' and 'sonny boy.' The stories these guys told as we traveled coast to coast were hilarious. To this day, I don't underestimate how much they schooled me musically."

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Scott - How many weeks a year are you touring these days?

Tinsley - We were on the road 120 days in 2016. Back in the old days it was close to 300 days, but we just want to play the good places now.
Scott - How has your guitar playing evolved over the years?

Tinsley - Started out as a Beatles/Stones/Clapton guy, then I became a Blues purist. Now I like it all.
Scott - Who are you listening to these days?

Tinsley - Peter Green, Booker T and The MG's, Son House, Otis Rush, BB King.
Scott - Please give us some top musical goals you would like to achieve in 2017.

Tinsley - To make a new album and continue to tour the world.

The new album is on Ellis' own Heartfixer Music label, of which he reveals, "I've been in the business of music for over 40 years now. I've been passed around like a joint from label to label, from booking agency to booking agency, from manager to manager, and from producer to producer, so I've learned a lot. Knowing what works in the music business can be very valuable, but knowing what doesn't work in the music business is priceless. Things are changing fast in the music business, and it's adapt or die." The label name comes from a piece of his own history. In 1981, "Chicago" Bob Nelson and Ellis formed a traditional Blues band called The Heartfixers in Atlanta, a name inspired by the Albert King song called Heartfixin' Business. The label is named after that band. The Heartfixers recorded four LPs, and disbanded when Ellis signed to Alligator Records as a solo artist in 1988.

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Scott - Has the music business model of today helped you or hindered you?

Tinsley - It's never been better for the listener. Thanks to the Internet, the store never closes, and the store never runs out of music. My philosophy is that what's good for the listener is also good for the artist.
Scott - Do you embrace online social networking? Why?

Tinsley - I'm very active on Facebook and Twitter. It's the best way to get the word out about shows and releases these days. We invite all to visit to see where we are playing and check out the music.

"Ellis unleashed a torrent of dazzling musicianship pitched somewhere between the exhilarating volatility of rock and roll and the melancholic passion of urban blues." -- Los Angeles Times

Tinsley Ellis has achieved a lot of success and worked with some of the best in the business. He has toured the globe, released 19 albums, and hit the heights of commercial success with songs covered by other artists – notably, Jonny Lang recording "A Quitter Never Wins." Ellis even gave Derek Trucks his recording debut on Ellis' Storm Warning. He won Rock/Blues Album Of The Year with Tough Love in 2015 from Blues Blast Magazine and made many "Best Of" lists within Downbeat and others. Tinsley Ellis continues to release compelling music. And he continues to bring it night after night at one venue after another across the globe, sharing his blues-steeped legacy, fine songwriting, and deep pride in being a Georgia-based artist.

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Scott - I also don't want to forget this... Tell us about any other things you may be in involved in or any special interest besides music that is close to your heart?

Tinsley - Family, friends and health.
Scott - I would like to thank you for your time and candor with our loyal readers and keep on fighting the good fight to bring us some awesome blues music.

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