The Blues come to Key West for one night

At 14 years old, Tinsley Ellis heard BB King at the Marco Polo hotel in Miami Beach and never looked back. By the next year, he was immersing himself in Muddy Waters, Billy Preston, Howlin’ Wolf and Albert Collins. The Blues itself turns a century old this decade and Ellis has been a part of the movement for four decades. Ellis describes his style as a Southern Blues Rock and will be debuting his 19th album, “Red Clay Soul,” this spring. The album is heartfelt and true to his Georgia roots and “has a serious Southern vibe and speaks of the soul of the region.” We asked the Ellis how he feels continuing the Blues tradition in the 21st century and about playing Key West Theater on Thursday, May 12.

Keys Weekly: In the age of high production music, blues guitar can seem rather traditional. What do you think?

Tinsley Ellis: My music is the antidote for what I saw on the Super Bowl half time show. I watched that and thought, ‘What the hell?’ The dancing, flashing, and actual leaping … there’s not a lot of leaping in my show.

KW: Whose your audience?

TE: People who come to my show miss the sound of rock ‘n’ roll from the ’70s.  It’s a mix of blues and vocals that people can understand. Fans of blues classic rock are very loyal — and I am glad I chose it as a template for the music I play. I still see three generations in my audience, which is hopeful.

KW: Do you try and keep up with what’s popular?

TE: I am a bit disenfranchised by modern pop and country music (he admits Taylor Swift is pretty talented) so playing this kind of music (blues) isn’t the smartest career move. There is very little left of BB King type music, its evolving and changing, but I will always try to keep the feel of it.

KW: Then how do you keep going?

TE: Young Rock stars don’t realize that eventually your hair falls out and there comes a time you are not so pretty anymore.  With the blues that just means you charge another $500 for the show. I never was the voice of youth rebellion, not much shocking about me. Well, maybe later, after the show, then the shocking stuff happens.

KW: Who would you have lunch with if you could?

TE: Eric Clapton, we have a lot in common.

KW: How many times have you watched the “Blues Brothers”?

TE: I watch the “Blues Brothers” every single time it is on TV. The part about booking the venue, absolutely true.

KW: Eight-track? Cassette? Mp3? CD? Vinyl?

TE: Vinyl is coming back, I pressed my last album and began selling it at my shows and people love it. Nothing sounds like vinyl. Eight-track and cassette were never meant to be. And the Mp3 is not as good as CD. I actually really love CD.  The best is 45, but you have to keep changing the record.”

“I am such a big fan of Tinsley’s and can’t wait for the show.  For me, the blues is the foundation for everything. I play what I call ‘American Roots’ music which is blues, jazz and R&B, but I always try and keep it funky.” —   Local Larry Baeder, on opening for Tinsley Ellis

 “I never was the voice of youth rebellion, not much shocking about me.” — Tinsley Ellis


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