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Bluesworld Cafe | Rockin’ All Over Den Nul Outdoor 3 21/08/ 2021

Interview: Scott Ellison Says Now Is His Time to Shine

Scott Ellison Says Now Is His Time to Shine
Interview with Barry Kerzner

Currently, people around the world are enjoying their music at home because for the last few
weeks, a great portion of the world has been homebound trying to avoid being infected with
the Coronavirus. No live festivals, concerts, or shows. In fact, artists and performers of every
persuasion have seen their ability to earn a living shrivel up to a mere pittance. If they’re lucky,
they are able to earn some money by performing live shows on Facebook or other social media
venues.

It is in this climate that Scott Ellison delivers his best album ever. In fact, he believes Skyline
Drive will be the best received music of his career in spite of the dire times we are living
through. And why shouldn’t he feel that way? He’s played with everyone from Clarence
And quot;Gatemouth&quot; Brown to The Drifters, The Coasters, and Gary “US” Bonds. He’s been putting out winning solo albums for years and playing his music for fans in every corner of our blue planet.

I was privileged to speak with Ellison as he shared moments from his amazing career including
being praised onstage by none other than BB King himself. He also provided his perspectives on
writing, recording, and performing.

Barry Kerzner – Oklahoma has such a rich musical heritage. Leon Russell, J.J. Cale, Chet Baker,
Garth Brooks, Roy Clark, Wanda Jackson, Reba McEntire, and the legendary Woody Guthrie are
just some of the great artists the state has produced. How does it feel to be a part of that?
Scott Ellison — It’s the greatest thing in the world. For a guitar player, this is the greatest place
in the world to grow up. I’m a baby-boomer so the guys that were my heroes were J.J. Cale,
Leon Russell, Barney Kessel from Muskogee, and on and on and on! So, growing up with that is
your model and there was great local talent growing up in Tulsa. The musicianship of the guitar
players was so great with everybody.

BK - Early on you played with Jesseca James (Conway Twitty and daughter) …
SE — That was my first road gig back in ’77. Good experience. Did a US tour and a Canadian
tour. Good way to jump into the road thing and learn early.
BK … and later with Clarence &quot;Gatemouth&quot; Brown in 1981. He was insanely good! How did you land that?
SE — My friend that used to play with him, David Tanner in Tulsa, fantastic piano player, singer
played bass, played everything; wiz kid! The two of them got a nightclub together called Cardo’s
Cadillac and they were having Gatemouth Brown booked. So, I asked David, “Hey I got to meet
him.” I got there and we just hit it off immediately. We talked about music and… just one of
those things. We talked about 30 minutes before they got a sound check. He said “Why don’t
you go open for me? Do a song and then the band will bring me on.” So long story short, I did it
and he loved it. He said, “I want you to leave with us in the morning.” That was like [going from]
playing beer joints with 20 people in ‘em to playing bigger places, festivals, theatres here and
there. It was an awakening like, “Whoa; There’s a whole other world out there.”

BK — So what did you learn from playing for / with them, from those experiences that you were  able to use later on in your own career?
SE — With Gatemouth Brown I learned so much… Roy Clark was a big influence. Really? How
they handled a crowd. You learned so much from Gatemouth Brown, how he handled the
audience. Everybody does it different. I didn’t go solo for years after that, but you always carry
those things with you.

BK — You relocated to LA in the mid- ‘80s…
SE — Yeah, I moved out there in March of ’83.
BK — Where you played with the Shirelles, Marvalettes, JJ Jackson, The Drifters, The Coasters,
Gary &quot;US&quot; Bonds and Peaches &amp; Herb. A good chance to learn a different, more soul infused perspective. How did you feel about that?

SE — It helped me. Growing up I loved all kinds of music. Living in Tulsa, JJ Cale, the Leon
[Russell] thing. We grew up with the GAP Band. There was always a mixture of blues, Gospel
and country, soul, and Rhythm and Blues. I mean I love everything from George Jones to Muscle
Shoals… Everything coming out of LA and New York was good. So really, all those influences,
and being a sideman for all these acts. You’d get to go out with The Coasters, The Shirelles, The
Marvalettes, Gary “US” Bonds and Peaches &amp; Herb, and you just get that soul. I played nothing
but rhythm guitar so that was good. I had that period I was one of the first calls to play rhythm
guitar with one of those acts on the road, so that was cool. There’s deeper knowledge; I loved
every minute of it.

BK — You’ve said that your biggest thrill as a performer was when you opened for BB King at
the Performing Arts Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma and he called you out to play with him and the
band not once, but twice. Tell us about that.

SE — We were doing stuff off of Cold Hard Cash, and we did about a 50-minute set. Back stage,
BB was getting around and the band really loved it and got to hang with the guys back there.
So, BB goes out and gave me a real nice stroke onstage; beautiful things he’s saying. Then about
3 songs into his first set, he started “Rock Me Baby” and he called me out onstage and the horn
players’ got a seat for me right next to him.
He talks to me and tells me he loves my show; “I love your tunes. It’s been a long time since I’ve
seen you.” He remembered me in Las Vegas when we met in in ’88 or whenever. So, his
memory is impeccable — it blew me away. He called me out again to take a bow and all that
toward the end of his show. It was really cool. It was a great experience. He wanted me to play
but it wasn’t set up for that; it was so off the fly that there wasn’t another rig out there.
Anyway, that was the biggest thrill of my life though to this day because, my late father was
there, my late wife was there, so yeah, it was a cool thing!

BK — And since he’s passed it probably means even more now.
SE — Oh yeah; yeah! And the cool thing about that was that there was a guy that had a digital
recorder and he got the whole show. Three or four days after that show, I put a thing on the
internet, “If anybody has a recording of that show, I would be indebted for life.”
Then about three months later, I got a Facebook message from a guy in LA that was there at
that show and recorded the whole thing. He made CD for me and sent it to me and years later
he came to see us. To have the audio your favorite moment of your musical life and hear BB
and relive it… If I get down, I just put that on, and it picks me right back up.

BK — In the mid- ‘90s you began recording solo albums, including Chains of Love on Quicksilver
Records in 1993 and Live At Joey’s on Red Hot Records came in 1995. How does those
experiences compare to recording your new album, Skyline Drive?

SE — That’s a great question! I was 35 when I went solo, because I was a sideman up until then.
I decided I wanted to be a full-time solo guy, and I was already working on songs two or three
years before I was out doing gigs in LA trying get my band oiled up, trying to get my sound.
Chains of Love kind of started that, and I was still developing my live show when I made that
record. Then I met my wife, who’s deceased; I met her on that Chains of Love tour when I
played Tulsa.
Anyway, Chains of Love was my platform, my jump-start as a solo artist. Really, it was more R And;
B pop in there and then I got more into the straight-ahead blues and that morphed into my kind
of soul, my kind of R &amp; B. If you do it a lot, you’ll find yourself. That’s the whole thing. You just
have to keep doing it and rehearsing it and playing it, and finally you’ll find your own stamp.

BK — Steve Crane joined you on Skyline Drive. He’s been on several of your albums.
SE — Yeah. Steve was my best friend in LA. I met him in ’88, and we became instant friends. He
played bass with Glenn Fry on his solo tours. Great singer, great bass player, great song writer.
We were on a gig together in the valley somewhere - I was subbing for some guy and he was
subbing for some guy and we just hit it off. We wrote “Chains of Love” for my first CD and on
this one we wrote “Coming Down from Loving You” together.
As I remember, both of our ladies left us around the same time in LA. We wrote a lot of great
tunes together. He’s my touring bass player. I snatched him up as soon as I could get my hands
on him! And then Robbie Armstrong, he’s been with me for 15 years. That’s the band right
there.

BK
— Also joining you on Skyline Drive is Chris Campbell. You said you’d been meaning to get
together and write something, and when you did “the songs just started coming together.”

SE — They did, yeah. Chris was a hero of mine. He sang in a great regional band called The
Mystery Band and my drummer Robbie Armstrong was the drummer in that band. Chris is
always one of my favorite singers I’ve ever heard in my life. I ranked him up there with David
Ruffin or any of those guys; I mean he was that good.
He’s a great writer; one of the best I’ve ever worked with. The magic with him is the best I’ve
ever seen, and also being such a great singer, I wanted to bring him aboard and make him a
part of this new album. It worked out great. It’s a great experience and I’m more excited about
this record than any one I’ve ever done. For whatever reason, it just feels… even with
everything going on with the planet - you just never know when the right time is and for some
reason, it’s the right time for this record.

BK — The album has a very laid-back, sparse feel to it. You’ve described the recording process
this way: “I’ve have known most of the musicians and engineers we worked with for quite a
while, so the result is really a bunch of old friends getting together and having a good time
doing what we love to do.”

SE — That sums it up right there. That’s it! With Chris and I writing all these tunes, we had a lot
to pick from and we got the best 10 out of probably 100 demos, ‘cause Steve wrote one and I
wrote one.

BK — It’s a really well-rounded album. The songs are well written and chock-full of great
playing. The performances are good; very understated actually. It reminds me of the great early
albums of Tinsley Ellis.

SE — Thank you, I really appreciate that compliment. Tinsley’s great and I love his older stuff —
my favorite stuff is his early and middle period. Guys like that make you better. There’s great
talent out there and we all got to dig in and keep this blues world alive man. He’s one of them
that does it very well.
I’m glad to be having a shot with this Skyline Drive and working with Frank [Roszak]. It’s a great
time. It’s gonna be exciting to see what happens.

BK — The album drops May 8th. With the Coronavirus preventing and /or restricting live shows,
there’s a lot of folks online now, especially on Facebook, because I have friends that can’t work
— they’re in the same boat you are. I mean, nobody has been able to work because you can’t

play live. So, what they are doing is hour-long live performances on Facebook. A lot of artists
are doing this. Do you have any plans for doing something like that if we are still under
lockdown as time goes on? Maybe doing a virtual, online release party?

SE— Yeah. You know, it’s funny you say that. If we’re still on lockdown, I’m thinking of
somehow getting my trio, and I’ll probably add Hank on keyboards — he played all over the
record, and maybe do a CD release party on-air.
It’s funny you said it because I’ve been thinking like “What’s my B-Plan Scott?” I mean, if we
can’t get out and play it.

BK— So what folks are doing is playing these live shows and they put their PayPal links up as a
Tip Jar and they’re not making what they would on the road but they’re making something.

SE — Yeah, that’s it. I’m such a workaholic: I’ve just always got to be moving and playing music.
My agent said, “You’re probably like a caged animal in a puppy cage right now.” I’ve turned into
my home-studio hound. Keep the energy going. I’ve got a lot of new tunes, so that’s one good
thing that came out of all this downtime.

BK — Are you considering putting out a video single?
SE — I thought about doing “Breathe Underwater.”
BK — “Lonely In Love” is another great one for a single.
SE — Yeah, that’s a good one. It’s funny; I’m glad you mentioned that because I’m getting more
compliments on “Lonely In Love.” I’m so excited because even though it’s track 12, it’s still one
of the best tunes on there and you have to end with a bang.

BK — You might also consider releasing “Woman’s Got A Hold On Me” for all the acoustic guitar
lovers out there. I’m sure they’ll enjoy it.
SE — That’s an excellent idea. I do an acoustic show anyway, but I’ve been so close to the thing,
moving’ and groovin’ that I didn’t even think about that. That would get the acoustic world
more involved with my music, and maybe even reach a new audience.

BK — And right now, every pair of ears is another pair of ears! We talked about virtual shows
and I saw that you have some dates for shows in Texas in mid-May. Are you still leaving those in
place and hoping for the best?

SE — I’ve got ‘em on the books and I try not to look at my calendar anymore because I lost
some good money in April man. I had casinos [booked] that were gonna generate some money.
Those were gone; three of those in April, so I was like “Oh! Ouch!” I’m fine; financially I’ve got it
under control.
I’m trying to be realistic and counting on, by then, it’ll be cool; it will be contained, and I can go
back to work.

BK — Was there anything else you would like to add that I didn’t cover?
SE — I just want to thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.
BK — Thanks. I’ve enjoyed it as well. Take care and be well.
SE — Take care my man.
Scott Ellison on Facebook
Scott Ellison


About Barry Kerzner
Music has been an integral part of Barry’s life since discovering Buddy Guy, Miles Davis, Frank
Sinatra, and the Beatles as a small child. As time marched on, music influenced his art, his
writing, and his life. While serving in the military, he experienced live music around the world.
Barry served as Editor-in-Chief for the now defunct ChicagoBlues.com and also served in various
positions at AmericanBluesScene.com, including a stint as Editor-in-Chief. In addition to writing
about music, he also writes about addiction and recovery issues.

Release: SCOTT ELLISON – SKYLINE DRIVE

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