Sometimes the best laid plans go astray — such is the case with this week’s column. When an interview I thought was nailed down failed to materialize, the folks at Alligator Records came through and scored a quick, last-minute chat with critically-acclaimed blues/rock artist, Tinsley Ellis, for me. Ellis will perform as the third act in this season’s “Waterville Rocks!” concert series on Friday, July 26, and when reached on his cellphone on the 9th of this month he was more than happy to talk about his impending trip to central Maine.
Ellis: This will be my first time in Waterville, although I think I’ve driven through, but I’ve never stopped to play there.

Q: Are you out on the road now?
ELLIS: No, I’m in Atlanta right now, and am getting ready to go and do a bunch of tour dates. I just got back from the West Coast where I was touring.

Q: Well, I want to thank you for being willing to chat on such short notice.
Ellis: Oh, this is important to me! I want a trumpet fanfare when I get to town, although I may get nothing but kazoos (chuckle).

Q: We have talked before — I’d recognize your wit anywhere — I believe it was for a North Atlantic Blues Festival show.
Ellis: Yes, I’m guessing that was it, because that’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done in Maine. Oh, I love that one and I know it’s coming up soon.

Q: Now, you say you’ve never performed in Waterville before.
Ellis: No, I haven’t, but I’ve driven through, probably on the way up to Canada or something like that. I’ve played along the coast many times, but haven’t played that far up.

Q: Are you working on a new album or still supporting your last Alligator album?
Ellis: We’re still out there promoting “Winning Hand,” which came out last year. But yes, I’m always working on new material, and that’s where I’m heading out in a little bit — over to my studio to work on some songs that I’m writing.

Q: Does songwriting come easy for you, sir?
Ellis: No, it doesn’t. But when it comes, it’s great to have the new technology and be able to sing a song on your cellphone and not have to use those portable cassette decks and things like that. Now, it’s all digital on a telephone, and it’s a great tool.

Q: Now, you’ve been with Alligator for some time now, correct?
Ellis: I have been with Alligator off and on for over 30 years. I’ve tried others, but I keep coming back, because they are the best for promoting roots music. I found that out the hard way (chuckle).

Q: Yeah, I bet you did. Now, not to give you whiplash by changing topics so quickly, seeing you’ve never played in Waterville before, what can people expect from your show?
Ellis: Well, we’re going to be doing songs off the latest CD, obviously. Then we’ll do songs off the live album that I did with Alligator that I recorded in Chicago in 2005. I also like to throw in some songs by the blues masters — cover songs — but not many. And, then I’ll do whatever I want to do (chuckle). But I like to try to give the fans what they want to hear, within reason — and so the songs off later CDs and the popular CDs make the most sense.

Q: Quite true. Now, what kind of band will you have with you?
Ellis: I’ve got myself on guitar and vocals and I’ve got a drummer and a bass player — we make a lot of sound for three people.

Q: Nice! Is this your usual traveling band?
Ellis: Yes, it is. We’ve been together for years now, and we all live here in Atlanta, Georgia, and get along great. We go all over the world together … it’s good traveling with people who know the music so well.

Q: And, now you’re coming back up to Maine and to a new venue, as well.
Ellis: It’s good to go to a new place. Coming all the way from Georgia has a certain mojo to it, so we’re very excited by it. I’m glad we were able to work it out!

Q: Me, too, man! Seeing you’ve never been there before, is there anything that you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article?
Ellis: Well, people can check out the website which is www.tinsleyellis.com and see where we play and maybe check out some of the songs on there. And then, of course, there’s always social media which I do a lot of. I’m not sure which one of the social media is the most important, so I guess I’d better do them all. And, I’m hooked on them, too, so that’s a good thing!

 

Lucky Clark has spent 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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