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Interview:
Tinsley Ellis' Southern pride is all over latest album
 

By GARY GRAFF
Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

» See more SOUND CHECK

If there's a distinct Southern flavor to Tinsley Ellis' latest album, the just-released "Red Clay Soul," it's not by accident.

The 59-year-old blues and rock guitarist was born in Atlanta and cut his teeth playing in bands there -- one of his classmates at Emory University was R.E.M.'s Peter Buck -- before forming the band the Heartfixers and then going out on his own in 1988. He never ran from the influence of his native region, of course, but "Red Clay Soul" wound up having a bit more of its stamp on its 10 tracks.

"We were working on one of the tracks, and (co-producer and keyboardist) Kevin McKendree blurted out, 'Man this album has a seriously Southern vibe to it!'" Ellis recalls by phone from his home in Atlanta. "And I don't thin he was talking about Lynyrd Skynyrd or cowboy hats or anything like that. Hopefully he was talking about some of the other stuff that goes on in this region of the country, people like Clarence Carter and Otis (Redding) and folks like that.

"So we wanted to name the album after the way we thought it might sound, so we went with 'Red Clay Soul' to accent that Southern thing."

After all these years Ellis even knows how to define what that 'Southern thing' sounds like, too. "I think it's that kind of lazy backbeat that goes on in the music," he explains. "I would never compare myself to Booker T & the MGs, but that's the goal. That's my favorite band, so the goal is to have that kind of fatback backbeat going on.

"I don't claim to be a soul man. The word 'soul' is kind of a catch-all word. When I think of soul I think of Otis Redding or Wilson Pickett; I'm certainly not in that league, but that's the stuff I like to listen to. Sam & Dave, too. It's hard to beat that, y'know. And I know y'all have Motown up there; That's the other side of the coin."

In addition to making the music, Ellis has also learned to be a musical businessman. He launched his own label, Heartfixer Music (named after his old band), two years ago, and acknowledges taking some lessons from his previous musical home, Chicago's Alligator Records. Now, Ellis says, the challenge is balancing his roles in order to create product for his company to release.

"It lets me put out an album every year, which is what I want to do," says Ellis. "If I'm on a label I'm going to be on their schedule and it's gonna be every two or three years -- and I don't know how many two or three years I've got left in me. But I know I've got a lot of one-a-years in me

"(Alligator founder) Bruce Iglauer warned me it would be a lot of work, and boy was he right. It's a lot of trips to the post office; When I go in there carrying this big thing of mail, I know they hate me. And God forbid I write a song anymore! At this point in time it's just a lot of clerical stuff, but that's what I signed up for."

Tinsley Ellis

8 p.m. Saturday, June 11.

Callahan's Music Hall, 2015 South Blvd., Auburn Hills.

Tickets are $30 and $25.

Call 248-858-9508 or visit atcallahans.com.




Web Site: www.atcallahans.com

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