If life were a Disney movie (and some say it is), Tinsley Ellis would be that strange man who lives down the block a ways. He never really yells at anyone to stay off his lawn, but he’s kind of different and keeps to himself. Sometimes you hear music coming from his house, and by the end of the movie you would discover that he was the one playing that music and everyone would start flocking to his house for a rocking good time.
Ellis is one of those great secrets as he is well-known to those fortunate enough to know him, but unless you are already among the initiated, chances are you might just pass on attending one of his shows. And that’s a shame, because Tinsley Ellis is one of the hardest working players in the business and he puts on a killer show.
On November 11th, Ellis landed in The Tin Pan, a cozy little nightspot that seats a couple hundred fans, and flanked by Jonathan Holland on bass and Eric Kosinski on drums, proceeded to deliver one of the best blues shows of the year. Fresh off their appearance on the most recent Blues Cruise the trio quickly tore into Cut You Loose and the crowd was immediately hooked.
He quickly followed with To The Devil For A Dime and a smoking version of A Quitter Never Wins. Three songs in and the audience was hanging on every note. Of course, it’s pretty safe to assume that the vast majority of people in the audience knew what to expect. Ellis has been coming to Richmond since somewhere around 1980 and built up a loyal fan following here and in all those other cities where he’s been playing his fiery brand of rock and blues.
At this point he took a moment to announce that he was here with a new album, Red Clay Soul, and since I knew I didn’t have that one yet, chalked up some money to pick it up after the show. Ellis then launched into the opening track from that album, All I Think About. Oh yeah, I’m going to like this album and can’t wait to play it on Time For The Blues.
He then has a little fun with one of the instrumentals from his album Get It! This time he offered up his take on Bo Diddley’s Detour. It was a raucous and fun song and was a nice way to showcase a selection from one of his more interesting albums. Next up was a blistering version of The Axe which slowed things down nicely.
The most recent previous title, Tough Love, was represented by Midnight Ride, and then it was back to Get It! for Catalunya. He finished up this portion of the show with Freddie King’s Double Eyed Whammy. You can never go wrong with a selection from Freddie King.
At this point, Ellis switched guitars and picked up a National Steel Resonator for a change of pace quiet acoustic approach. He ripped through Muddy Waters’ I Can’t Be Satisfied, and then to give equal time to Howlin’ Wolf, started in on his version of Little Red Rooster. One audience member was so moved, he pulled out a harmonica and played along.
(By the way, in case you were wondering, that’s rarely a good idea.)
He switched guitars again and the trio blasted their way through Highwayman and Pawnbroker and the audience give them a prolonged standing ovation. After the obligatory walk off the stage and return, the band ran through two more numbers: If The River Keeps Rising and Rockslide.
Once again, The Tin Pan has been the host of a great blues show. I can only hope that they will continue to bring in some of the best acts from the genre, so to be sure you better keep checking their website along with that of The River City Blues Society. You don’t want to miss anything that is coming to town!
(Photos of Tinsley Ellis were taken by Jeff Scott of Jeff Scott Shots. He's an amazing photographer and we are lucky to have him as a member of the Time For The Blues family. If you haven't checked out his work, get yourself over to http://www.jeffscottshots.com/ pronto. I think you're going to like his stuff a lot.)