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Born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1957, Ellis was raised in southern Florida. He discovered the blues through the backdoor of British Invasion bands such as the Yardbirds, the Animals, Cream, and the Rolling Stones as well as Southern rockers such as the Allman Brothers.
Already an accomplished teenaged musician, Ellis 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—Fanning the Flames (1989), Trouble Time (1992), Storm Warning (1994), and Fire It Up (1997)—further grew his fan base and his fame.
Guests including Peter Buck (R.E.M.), guitarist Derek Trucks (who made his recording debut with Ellis at age fourteen), and keyboardist Chuck Leavell (Rolling Stones) have joined Ellis in the studio. Ellis’s song “A Quitter Never Wins” was recorded by Jonny Lang, selling over a million copies. Ellis, in turn, has made guest appearances on albums by the Allman Brothers, Gov’t Mule, Colonel Bruce Hampton, and others. Producer Eddy Offord (John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Yes) and even the legendary Tom Dowd (the Allman Brothers, Ray Charles) helped Ellis hone his studio sound.
In 2002, Ellis 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, Moment Of Truth (2007) and Speak No Evil (2009). 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 such as Buddy Guy, the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Gov’t Mule, or Widespread Panic, he always plays with grit, soul, and unbridled passion. Back home on Alligator Records with his new album and a massive live tour in the works, Tinsley Ellis is ready to prove again that whenever he picks up a guitar, he’s playing with a winning hand.
Feral blues guitar. Nonstop gigging has sharpened his six-string to a razor’s edge . . . his eloquence dazzles . . . he achieves pyrotechnics that rival early Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton.
Ellis unleashed a torrent of dazzling musicianship pitched somewhere between the exhilarating volatility of rock and roll and the melancholic passion of urban blues.
—Los Angeles Times
Raw and righteous, funky and strong