Bluesman Tinsley Ellis to headline free Basalt Summer Concert Series
Special to The Aspen Times
IF YOU GO …
Who: Tinsley Ellis
Where: Basalt Summer Concert Series in Triangle Park
When: Wednesday, June 26, 6 p.m.
How much: Free
More info: The series continues with Niceness (July 12), Tierro Band with Bridget Law (July 17), Cash’d Out (July 24), Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band (July 31) and Starwood (Aug. 14); basaltchamber.org
Having played more than 100 shows since his album “Winning Hand” was released in 2018, Georgia blues-rock guitarist Tinsley Ellis is liking how things are going.
“It’s taken me my entire career to get to where we could do a tour like this,” Ellis, 62, said during a springtime stop in Aspen. “Especially now, it seems like it’s finally paying off. It’s only taken me 40, 45 years. It beats the alternative, when you get famous at 26 and then disappear. I wouldn’t want that. It happens sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.”
The attention “Winning Hand” has earned comes three decades after his first Alligator Records album and follows many ups and downs in the indefatigable road warrior’s career.
“Some people get (success) right off, like Jonny Lang,” he elaborated. “For the rest of us, with roots music, we have careers of attrition, when the people who are top dogs pass on, the torch gets handed down. I’m not going to be the next Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf. But I can be the next John Hammond or Charlie Musselwhite – not that they have to pass. I hope they don’t anytime soon.”
Ellis will headline the free Basalt Summer Concert Series in Triangle Park on Wednesday. The show follows last week’s series opener from valley regulars Dirty Revival and a seven-show summer run booked by the Art Campus at Willits, the nonprofit that oversaw The Temporary at Willits and is planning a permanent midvalley venue.
The Ellis show follows a well-received March show at the The Temporary at Willits.
The new record features nine Ellis originals and a cover of Leon Russell’s “Dixie Lullaby,” three or four of which Ellis incorporates into his shows.
“Stylistically, I don’t want to get too far from blues, but there are some songs that are more rock,” he said. “And the Leon Russell song is really a rock ‘n’ roll song. The commonalities are blues and guitar.”
But Ellis is a blues rock man.
“I’m blues rock,” he said. “I’m comfortable with that. Being from Georgia, Southern rock is my birthright. I should claim that. I want to be in Southern rock along the lines of the Allman Brothers, not the cowboy hat variety.”
He was inspired to play the guitar, along with seemingly most of his generation, by seeing The Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964.
“They came out, started ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and my sister and I thought they were the greatest thing ever,” he said. “My parents were mortified, which made it even better. I begged my parents to get a guitar after that. They got one for me with the contingency that I take lessons. After two lessons, I liberated myself from that.”
Then British Invasion groups like the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, the Animals and Cream introduced him to the true blues.
“That led me to the real thing — B.B. King, he was the first one I saw. I also saw Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Victoria Spivey,” he said. “That was a long time ago, almost 50 years.”
Ellis made his first album in 1981 with the band The Heartfixers in 1981 for the small blues/jazz label Southland Records.
“They got us drunk and recorded us for three, four hours direct to two track, no mixing, right onto a half-inch tape,” he recalled. “We made that album for $105. I put that thing on now, drop the needle and the thing comes to life. I wish I could make that album again, without the liquor, of course.”
Andrew Travers contributed to this story.
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The nonprofit VOICES led 39 bilingual Basalt Middle School students through a visual journaling project to tell their stories this spring.