I’ve never met bluesman Dave Ellis face to face. Never spoken to him over the phone. Couldn’t tell you his address, or what his favorite meal is, and yet I consider him a great friend through our connection with the blues. Ellis is the driving force behind an incredible power trio that delivers some of the strongest blues I’ve heard in a long time.
We met – if you can call electronic messaging meeting – when he contacted me about submitting his album Straight Up for review. Since I am always interested in discovering new (to me anyway) artists, we figured out a way to make it happen and I was very impressed by his work.
Since then, we’ve stayed in touch and talked about Ellis’ desire to come to the United States and play music. In my opinion, Ellis is much more American in spirit; restless and eager to explore and conquer new worlds. Recently we traded emails about his past, his present, and his dreams for the future.
Professor: What first attracted you to the blues?
Ellis: First and foremost, it was the power, the sense of brooding sexuality, a foreboding sound, I'm thinking of Jimi's Voodoo Chile, with Stevie Winwood on keys and Jack Cassidy on bass. Really dark and mysterious, and of course an amazing guitar sound. However, I had heard a lot of Delta Blues as a youngster, like Muddy, Skip James and Son House, all equally powerful and unique in their approach. It is a music I can still identify with, be it a song about lost love, loneliness, or pleasure.
Professor: How do you describe your sound?
Ellis: It’s a kind of Hybrid, Jimi 1970 / SRV 1989 tone I'm going for mixed with 1930's grit. The set up I use has everything to do with my sound, which is a familiar combination of pedals. I was always in love with univibes, and have the Fulltone Deja-vibe2 which is a 100% true to the original Shinei model, but more robust in build. I would have to acknowledge my two favorite artists always. Although I wouldn't want to be a copyist in the musical sense, if I play one of their songs I'm always thinking how I feel about it. and try to put my own stamp on it. You could say my sound is full on.
Professor: How long have you been playing?
Ellis: 40 years this summer.
Professor: How is the blues scene in Europe and the UK?
Ellis: There is a massive divide in interest for a start. Eastern European countries are in love with the Blues - its contemporary. I have seen a lot of changes in Poland, it was a chance email that got me there first in 2005. I had been living in Spain after a short tour and came back to the U.K to fix some business, I sent a call out to a club and it took off. Right place, right time. The U.K Blues scene is still there, but on a much smaller scale.
Professor: Have you ever toured the US?
Ellis: No, not yet, I played so far only once in the USA, at Buddy Guys Legends, in Chicago. It was the open night, so you better be good or it’s the door. I played with the house band 45 minutes and spent a great few lifetime memories right there with B.G. I'm on the lookout for a U.S agent right now, here's hoping.
Professor: What are some of the obstacles in your way?
Ellis: There are a lot of dishonest people in the music bizz, it seems on any level, and unfortunately I have been through a lot of back stabbing. I'm not a competitive person, so it can be very hurtful when you find out. I had a major obstacle with the Polish language for a few years, thankfully now I'm through it. I can ask for all kinds of good stuff. But in reality, I have been through much worse situations, being homeless for best part of a year, sleeping rough with rats - that was no fun. I think having no financial backing makes a hard job tougher; I don't have a massive PR machine behind me so it makes getting to the right person that much harder for sure.
Professor: How many albums have you released so far? How can people find them?
Ellis: My latest album Straight Up is my 14th album, the only other album available at the moment is Long Time Gone a best of compiled by from the previous albums, available via http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/daveellisbluesband2
Professor: What is your ultimate dream as far as playing music?
Ellis: I keep having the same dream of playing Jimi's Rainbow Bridge set on Haleakala crater Maui, now that is an ultimate dream. In reality to make a comfortable living from doing what I love, but if I can have more than one wish it would be to rock with Double Trouble in Antones Nightclub in Austin, Texas.
Professor: Where do you find your inspirations?
Ellis: SRV is a massive influence in his battle through addiction, I really understand, having an addictive personality myself. Each day is a new struggle that I have to deal with. I find having lived this life gives me an insight into a diverse reality even though it’s a grain of sand on a beach in comparison. I consider myself blessed to be able to play. I've played concerts with some really great musicians too, Papa George in London, get out of town, he is a Lion vocally and a great guitarist.
Professor: How much of being a professional musician is actually playing music? How much is all the rest of the business – looking for gigs, etc.?
Ellis: On tour its 25 hours a day pro, one way or another you are on show, although most nights I play an hour and half. Other venues have different scenes, the longest was four one hour sets till late. I think it’s a life choice, the Blues, so really once you are in, it’s in for life. I am always fixing some new contacts for the next gig on the next tour in the next country, it never ends.
Professor: Are there many festivals in Europe and the UK during the summer? Do you get many chances to play?
Ellis: There are many Blues festivals in Europe, in summer and winter. My biggest was a solo gig in Lithuania... 16,000 supporting Big Joe Turner, plus it was on live T.V. so the pressure is on, but the bigger the better for festivals, I project differently and love the challenge. I have been playing mostly abroad for the last ten years, so I've really gotten out of touch in truth with the U.K Blues festival circuit and now looking to a new, Honest, trustworthy agent I hope to get back into it as soon as possible.
Professor: How did the Straight Up album come about?
Ellis: It was a new challenge on many levels, I live in the U.K and my Bassist Jerzy Janik and Slawny Pushkin both live in Poland, so I decided to make single song videos in my apartment of the tracks, with all the changes, keys, stops and such so when we came to record it was a heads up for them.
When I arrived in Poland we rehearsed two twelve hour sessions for the first two days, went to Meksyk Studios near Beautiful Cracow, and recorded the album in less than eight hours on the third day. Most tracks are first take, and the album only has one overdub. Both Jerzy and Slaweg sing the lyric Stop Sign as a backing vocal on that track alone. They are both pretty amazing in my opinion, it’s all about the connection between us, it is my finest album to date. It was mixed a few weeks later by studio engineer Krzystof Pajak. No studio trickery, all live and direct.
Professor: Do you have a favorite song on Straight Up and what does the title refer to?
Ellis: It depends on how I'm feeling. I wrote about all things that were happening in my life, some songs are really moving along like Sun Goes Down. It’s about that moment we all want and sometimes get. Other days I feel the slide tracks more; it has a lot of different colors. I wanted to write songs that had substance for myself and my beliefs. Sky Blues today is about SRV for example.
The title has a few different meanings... I leave it up to the listener to decide. One thing for sure, it is the first album I have recorded completely sober, which I am proud of.
Professor: What is your philosophy when it comes to music and life?
Ellis: My feeling is simple, I just want to be the best I can be, continue playing great concerts with great musicians with Honesty, Respect, Peace and Love.
Ellis is hard at work lining up shows and writing his next album. He’s chasing a dream that has been a part of his life for many years and he’s constantly putting out quality work. It remains to be seen if that dream translates into reality, but if it does, I am positive that he could become a serious player of the blues.