Tinsley Ellis, Janiva Magness
Wed Feb 26
Tinsley Ellis, Janiva Magness
|Age:||Ages 21+ Only|
Blues-rock guitar wizard Tinsley Ellis & soulful vocal powerhouse Janiva Magness will be together under one-roof for a night of bluesy goodness!Buy Tickets
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Genre: blues Ticket Price: $20 advanced / $23 day of show / $35 reserved loft seating (loft seating is available over the phone or in person at our box office)
Since his Alligator debut 30 years ago, Southern blues-rock guitar wizard, vocalist and songwriter Tinsley Ellis has become a bona fide worldwide guitar hero. The Chicago Sun-Times says, “It’s hard to overstate the raw power of his music.” Now, he makes his triumphant return to Alligator Records with a powerful new album, Winning Hand. Armed with his signature molten licks, melodic riffs and rousing, intense solos, Ellis, as his legions of fans will attest, is among the blues world’s best-loved, hardest working and most well-travelled statesmen. He has performed in all 50 United States as well as in Canada, Western and Eastern Europe, Australia and South America, earning legions of fans with his guitar virtuosity, passionate vocals and memorable original songs. Ellis is also revered as a guitarist’s guitarist, with famous friends including Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes, Oliver Wood, Jonny Lang and members of Widespread Panic calling on him to sit in and jam. “A musician never got famous staying home,” he says.
Recorded in Nashville and produced by Ellis and keyboardist Kevin McKendree, the ten brilliantly performed, fervently sung tracks on Winning Hand include nine originals, ranging from blistering blues to heart-pounding rock to soulful ballads. As his only cover song, Ellis pays tribute to his greatest guitar-playing and songwriting influences with a Freddie King-inspired version of rock legend Leon Russell’s Dixie Lullaby. “Guitar, guitar, guitar is what this album is all about,” says Ellis, who recorded primarily with his 1959 Fender Stratocaster, his 1967 Gibson ES 345 and his 1973 Les Paul Deluxe. Guitar World says, “Ellis’ playing sparkles with depth and subtlety. Whether playing deep, slow blues or uptempo rockers, Ellis rides a gorgeously fat, pure tone.”
Born in Atlanta in 1957, Ellis was raised in southern Florida. He discovered the blues through the back door of British Invasion bands like The Yardbirds, The Animals, Cream and The Rolling Stones as well as Southern rockers like The Allman Brothers. One night he and a friend were listening to records when his friend’s older brother told them if they liked blues, they should really be listening to B.B. King. As luck would have it, King was in town for a week, and the upcoming Saturday afternoon show was just for teenagers.
Tinsley and his friend went, sitting transfixed in the front row. When B.B. broke a string on Lucille, he changed it without missing a beat, and handed the broken string to Ellis. After the show, B.B. came out and talked with fans, mesmerizing Tinsley with his warmth and kindness. Tinsley’s fate was now sealed; he had to become a blues guitarist. He saw Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and every other blues artist who came through town, always sitting up front, always waiting to meet the artists, take photos, get autographs. And yes, he still has B.B.’s string.
Already an accomplished teenaged musician, Ellis left Florida and returned to Atlanta in 1975. He soon joined a gritty local blues band, the Alley Cats. In 1981, along with veteran blues singer and harpist Chicago Bob Nelson, Tinsley formed The Heartfixers, a group that would become Atlanta’s top-drawing blues band. After cutting a few Heartfixers albums for the Landslide label, Ellis was ready to head out on his own.
Georgia Blue, Tinsley’s first Alligator release, hit the unprepared public by surprise in 1988. Critics and fans quickly agreed that a new and original guitar hero had emerged. The Chicago Tribune said, “Tinsley Ellis torches with molten fretwork. Ellis takes classic, Southern blues-rock workouts and jolts them to new life with a torrid ax barrage.” Tinsley’s next four releases—1989’s Fanning The Flames, 1992’s Trouble Time, 1994’s Storm Warning, and 1997’s Fire It Up—further grew his fan base and his fame. Features and reviews ran in Rolling Stone, The Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, and in many other national and regional publications.
Guests including Peter Buck (R.E.M.), guitarist Derek Trucks (who made his recording debut with Tinsley at age 14) and keyboardist Chuck Leavell (The Rolling Stones) have joined him in the studio. Ellis’ song A Quitter Never Wins was recorded by Jonny Lang, selling over a million copies. He in turn has made guest appearances on albums by The Allman Brothers, Gov’t Mule, Colonel Bruce Hampton and others. Producers Eddy Offord (John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Yes) and even the legendary Tom Dowd (The Allman Brothers, Ray Charles) helped Ellis hone his studio sound.
A move to Capricorn Records in 2000 saw Ellis revisiting his Southern roots. In 2002, he joined the Telarc label, producing two well-received albums of soul-drenched blues-rock. He returned to Alligator in 2005, releasing Live-Highwayman, which captured the crowd-pleasing energy of his live shows. He followed it with two more incendiary studio releases, 2007’s Moment Of Truth and 2009’s Speak No Evil. He has since self-released four successful albums on his own Heartfixer label.
Over the course of his career, Ellis has shared stages with Stevie Ray Vaughan, Otis Rush, Willie Dixon, The Allman Brothers, Leon Russell, Son Seals, Koko Taylor, Albert Collins and many others. Whether he’s on stage with his own band or jamming with artists like Buddy Guy, the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Gov’t Mule or Widespread Panic, he always plays with grit, soul and unbridled passion.
With her new Change in the Weather: Janiva Magness Sings John Fogerty, the Grammy-nominated artist is at the nexus of re-invention and tradition. The album, which will be released by Blue Élan Records on September 13, reframes 12 songs curated from the Creedence Clearwater Revival leader’s catalog in Magness’ soaring, soul-centered style. It also places her within the lineage of classic singers who have made albums devoted to exploring the work of a single writer within the Great American Songbook—a process that has yielded such historic recordings as Sarah Vaughan Sings George Gershwin and Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook.
That comparison may sound like hyperbole until you hear how creatively Magness, who again collaborated with Grammy-nominated producer Dave Darling to make her fifteenth album, explores these songs, from the familiar Creedence hits “Lodi” and “Bad Moon Rising” to numbers from Fogerty’s solo career, like the title cut and “Don’t You Wish It Was True,” which appears here as a duet with triple-Grammy-winner and American music icon Taj Mahal. And, of course, Fogerty’s work is timeless. His songs have been part of the soundtrack of the lives of multiple generations, cutting a broad swath through rock, blues, and country, and trailblazing the eclectic, roots-based Americana genre.
Magness first opened the door to Change in the Weather: Janiva Magness Sings John Fogerty when she decided to include a passionate version of Fogerty’s gospel-fueled “Long As I Can See the Light” on 2016’s Grammy-nominated Love Wins Again. That album continued her own emergence as a songwriter, which began with 2014’s Original and came into full bloom with 2018’s Love Is an Army. The latter was a brilliantly crafted bridge between the past and present, blending echoes of classic soul and Americana music with enduring themes of love and the contemporary sounds of protest. It followed a 2017 EP, Blue Again, on which Magness, who has won seven Blues Music Awards including Entertainer of the Year, and received 28 nominations, returned to her roots with a collection of songs from that genre’s back pages.
“Kirk Pasich, the founder of Blue Élan, suggested that we record ‘Long As I Can See the Light,’” Magness explains, “and I loved adapting and singing that song, so it was a natural evolution to Change in the Weather. John Fogerty is a brilliant writer. His melodies are big and rich and provide a real highway into the heart of his songs, which is wonderful for me as a singer, and their backbone is his storytelling, which is spare and direct, and absolutely American in its imagery and themes. And those themes endure.”
“A lot of the lyrics of his early material were protest-oriented, and that’s important to me—to be speaking out about the current state of affairs in our country and the world. So, songs he wrote in the late ’60s and early ’70s, like ‘Bad Moon Rising’ and ‘Wrote a Song for Everyone,’ which talk about welfare lines and turbulent times ahead, are still relevant.”
Nonetheless, Change in the Weather: Janiva Magness Sings John Fogerty perfectly balances challenging realities with joyful buoyancy. “Don’t You Wish It Was True” exudes that balance. The song, which originally appeared on Fogerty’s 2007 solo album Revival, gets righteous bounce from a happy-go-lucky shuffle beat, loping and sliding guitar, and the bright vocal interplay of Mahal and Magness. Mahal, who began his influential career in 1964, has been Grammy-nominated 11 times, and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Americana Music Association in 2014, sings like a gravel-throated Santa from the Mississippi Delta, adding cheerful asides to the tune’s utopian vision. And if
anything, one of the album’s themes is its musical diversity. “Change in the Weather,” for example, gets a tent-revival treatment, with Magness’ spirited testifying, handclapped rhythmic accents, and devilish bursts of dirty guitar.
On “Lodi,” which is reimagined here as a blues-rock workout with a nod to Memphis soul, Magness is joined by Los Angeles-based outlaw country singer-songwriter Sam Morrow. Once again, their voices are a contrast of sandpaper and honey that blends to elevate the song’s classic chorus. And the Creedence rock ballad “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” is slowed to the pace of a lazy river, providing Magness a showcase for elegant phrasing and stirring dynamics that elevates the song’s deep emotionalism into something even more delicate and lovely than the original.
Throughout, producer Darling draws a perfectly tight and raw ensemble sound from the band: Magness’ current touring group of drummer Steve Wilson, bassist Gary Davenport and guitarist Zachary Ross.
“One of the things I love about this album is that people already connect with so many of these songs,” Magness observes. “I connect with these songs. And for me, connecting with people is one of the reasons I love to sing … I have to sing. I know we’re really all part of one big community and, at the heart of everything that unites and divides us, we still have so much in common and so much that we can share. If music like this can bring us all together a little more, then I’m more than happy to be a vehicle for it.”
Although Magness is already in the midst of a creative roll, releasing an album annually and touring the world, 2019 promises to be another banner year. In addition to creating Change in the Weather: Janiva Magness Sings John Fogerty, her memoir, Weeds Like Us, will be published in June. Magness fought some tough battles before she launched her career. She lost both parents to suicide as a child and was placed in a dozen foster homes. But, inspired by the encouragement of her final foster mother and a galvanizing performance by the legendary bluesman Otis Rush, she found stability and salvation—and, ultimately, triumph—in music.
Since the early ’90s, Magness has built an impressive career in American roots music, brick by hard-earned brick. She has traveled millions of miles, sung on thousands of club and festival stages, and made a string of recordings that have earned accolades and awards. Today, her albums rise to the top of Billboard’s roots music charts and the apex of the Americana and blues radio charts. She is only the second woman, following blues giant Koko Taylor, to receive the Blues Foundation’s B.B. King Entertainer of the Year award, and it was presented to her at the Memphis ceremonies by King and Bonnie Raitt. As anyone who has seen her performances or listened to her albums will attest, Magness has, indeed, earned a place in the history of American music.
“It’s hard for me to separate my life from my artist’s life,” says Magness. “It’s easy to get lost in the work and the devotion of being an artist—of trying to give as much of myself as I can to the people I sing to and to the songs themselves, whether I’ve written them or they’re the songs on Change in the Weather. But there’s one thing I know that is the absolute truth: Everything about me isn’t necessarily what you’ll hear on a record or see on a stage, yet everything about me that’s on an album or on a stage is real, every time.”