Ellen McIlwaine

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Ellen McIlwaine (born October 1, 1945 is a singer-songwriter and musician best known for her career as a slide guitarist. Born in Nashville, McIlwaine was adopted by missionaries and raised in Kobe, Japan giving her exposure to multiple languages and cultures. She attended Canadian Academy, graduating in 1963. Her first experience in music was playing the Ray Charles, Fats Domino and Professor Longhair songs on piano that she heard on Japanese radio. On moving to the US she bought a guitar, beginning a stage career in Atlanta, Georgia in the mid-1960s. In 1966 she had a stint in New York City's Greenwich Village where she opened every night at the Cafe Au Go Go, playing with a young Jimi Hendrix, and opening for such Blues greats as Muddy Waters, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Big Joe Williams. She returned to Atlanta to form the band Fear Itself, a psychedelic blues-rock band. After recording one album with Fear Itself, McIlwaine went solo, recording two highly-regarded albums for Polydor, Honky Tonk Angel (1972) and We the People (1973), the latter featuring a hit single, "I Don't Want to Play". Those albums, and most of her work since, have featured McIlwaine's innovative approach to acoustic slide guitar. McIlwaine's career has been irregular, plagued by what she has often described of conflict with her record producers who wanted to change her sound. She once remarked of the 1978 album "Ellen McIlwaine", "It could have been any other female vocalist, and next time it will be." As a female vocalist who is known more for her acoustic guitar, her music tends to be classified in the folk sections of record stores, despite her strong roots in blues, soul and rock music and her cover versions of songs by artists such as Isaac Hayes, Stevie Wonder and Browning Bryant. She has also recorded several covers of songs by Jimi Hendrix: she wrote "Underground River" about him. By the mid-1970s McIlwaine was highly regarded as a guitarist. Her songs "Sliding", "We the People" and "Losing You" were included on the best-selling all-star various artists compilation The Guitar Album. McIlwaine's critically acclaimed album The Real Ellen McIlwaine, recorded in Montreal in 1975 won the NAIRD Indie Award. A 1982 project, Everybody Needs It, was also very successful, and featured bassist Jack Bruce, an artist who influenced her strongly and whose songs she has covered on several of her albums. In 1980 she made her first tour of Australia after being spotted by Australian singer-guitarist Margret RoadKnight, who was one of the co-promoters of the tour. She returned to Australia in 1984 and during this tour was the last performer to appear at Sydney's famed Regent Theatre, an opulent picture palace that was later demolished. Since moving to Canada in 1987 (first Toronto, later Alberta), Ellen recorded Looking for Troublefor Stony Plain Records, which has also re-released her early vinyl material on CD. Her next CD Women in (e)motion Festival/Ellen McIlwaine recorded live in Germany in 1999 and then Spontaneous Combustion featuring Taj Mahal are on the German Tradition und Moderne label. In spite of debilitating arthritis in her hips, she undertook a third tour of Australia and New Zealand in 2003, which reunited her with Margret RoadKnight and the other Hony Tonk Angels, who had first brought her to Australia in 1980. McIlwaine has since successfully undergone hip replacement surgery. Ellen has long favoured Guild brand guitars. She plays Guild S-250 and S-300D electric guitars; in earlier years, even when performing solo, she often played her electric guitar through an octave multiplier to emulate a bass player. Her acoustic guitar is a venerable and well-travelled Guild instrument, purchased for her in New York by a friend in 1966. This guitar has a unique history, being a former Guild company "loaner" which was used by leading artists including Mississippi John Hurt and Richie Havens while Guild repaired their own guitars. In 2006 Ellen started her own label Ellen McIlwaine Music and released Mystic Bridge featuring the genius of Indian Tabla Drummer Cassius Khan. They are joined by the Soprano Saxophone stylings of Linsey Wellman on three cuts including their rocking version of "Take Me to the River", and soulful Harmonium playing by Amika Kushwaha on the last cut "The Question", a poem by Christine Steele recited over Cassius Khan's beautiful vocal rendition of the ancient Urdu poem set to music, "Darbari Raag".