When you think of bluemen, Tinsley Ellis immediately comes to mind. He’s as prolific as they come in the genre. Ellis has been performing for over 40 years and is in the midst of touring his brand new album, Red Clay Soul. Blues Rock Review caught up with Ellis to discuss the new album and more.
What inspired you to make a soul album?
I listen to a lot of music by folks like Al Green, Sam and Dave, Howard Tate, and other Soul artists. It was my concept on Red Clay Soul to infuse Blues guitar playing over those type of songs. BB, Albert and Freddie King style guitar playing fits all styles of music, especially Soul music. Stevie Ray Vaughan proved that on David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” album over 30 years ago.
You’ve continued to be very prolific releasing albums. How do you continue to find inspiration?
I have a home studio in my basement, so if I have a song idea while I’m off the road, I can go down there and lay it down. If I have a song idea while I’m traveling, I just sing and play it into the record function on my cell phone. These past few years, I’ve been writing more and more, which is good.
Kevin McKendree is someone you’ve collaborated with a lot in the past and he co-produced Red Clay Soul. What was it like working with him on the album?
Kevin has played on every studio album that I’ve done since 1997’s Fire It Up album, which was produced by the great Tom Dowd. His keyboard playing fits me like a glove. We have recorded the the past four albums in his home studio in Franklin, Tennessee. He also engineers and mixes the albums. On Red Clay Soul we recorded live in the studio for the first time in years. I love the results of recording live. There are very few overdubs on Red Clay Soul. What we played is what you get.
Once again, this album has been released on your own label, Heartfixer. What’s been the most challenging aspect of releasing albums on your own label and what’s been the most rewarding aspect?
Having a record company is extremely time consuming. Just yesterday I made several trip to the post office, did a few interviews and put out business fires all day. It’s cut into my time as a songwriter, which is what I really want to be doing now. But the rewards are that I can make the type of albums I want to make and put them out as often as I want to. I love the artistic freedom that having my own record label affords.
Over your career you’ve accomplished a lot. What are some goals or things you’d still like to accomplish in your career?
I’ve played all over the world but never in Asia. I hope to do that soon. Also it would be nice to have more artists cover my songs. I got a taste of that when Jonny Lang covered “A Quitter Never Wins” on his major label debut in 1997. That song has sold close to 2 million copies at this point.
You’re in the midst of another tour. Do you have a preference in terms of venues that you prefer whether that be theaters, clubs, festivals, etc.?
The best tours are ones that include a variety of types of venues. In the Blues world, we find ourselves at a festival one night, at a Blues or Jazz club the next night, and a theater the next. The good thing is that the Blues works great in all these type venues. We even played a Blues festival once at a “clothing optional resort” (a.k.a. nudist colony). When the sun went down, it got chilly and we sold every t-shirt we brought!
Interview by Pete Francis