Interview with Tulsa blues-rocker Scott Ellison - hints of Rock and Soul wrapped into a contemporary shell

"The Blues is its own genre. As in Jazz, Rock and Roll, etc. It goes all the way back to the Delta to the present and has developed into the most beautiful musical art form in the world. It's the pallet that is in every genre of music that is out today."

Scott Ellison: Preaching The Blues

Tulsa, Oklahoma native, guitarist and songwriter, Scott Ellison has been on the blues and rock scene for over 30 years regularly performing at major festivals and venues across the US, Canada and the UK. Known for his raspy voice, Top-Notch guitar playing and commanding presence on the stage, Ellison has performed and/or shared the stage with numerous legendary artists including Joe Cocker, B.B King, Levon Helm and Buddy Guy. Ellison’s songs have been featured in motion pictures and TV productions including, Eye on L.A., Santa Barbara, Reindeer Games and the ABC-TV Hit Series, Nashville. In addition to solo records and playing with other artists, Ellison has also penned songs that have appeared in such hit TV shows. Scott was also pleased to see himself listed in the film credits for the worldwide release of the movie "Feast of Love" starring Morgan Freeman in September 2007. Scott co-wrote, sang, played and co-produced his song "Don't Push Your Luck" that appears early in the movie.               (Photo: Scott Ellison)

Scott just recently struck gold again with another song co-written by Scott in which he sang and performed "Jesus Loves Me" (Baby Why Don't You) in the new Blockbuster feature film "Home Front" starring Jason Statham, James Franco, Winona Ryder and Kate Bosworth. It became a single from the movie on JSE Records.  You can find Jesus Loves Me (Baby Why Don't You) on Scott's new record, "Elevator Man" soon to be released. Red Parlor released "Elevator Man" on May 12, 2015, produced by Walt Richmond, Eric Clapton's keyboard player on Eric's last 5 CD's. Scott was inducted into The Oklahoma Blues Hall of Fame in May 2013. On July 28th of 2017 Scott's "Good Morning Midnight" was released on Red Parlor and distributed by Sony Red. On May 8th 2020 Scott's new CD titled, "Skyline Drive". The Tulsa, Oklahoma-based guitarist has assembled a tight band that is at home delivering jazz blues or blues rock. He continues to tour in the US and Canada, performing around 200 shows a year.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

The blues and rock counterculture has influenced everything I believe in! Music is medicine for your soul and it not only effected me in a positive way, I get to see in my musical journeys the my music brings to other people! What a blessing! The best!

What moment changed your life the most? What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?

The night I opened for BB King at the performing arts center in Tulsa OK January 26-2008! He called me out on stage 2 times! I still get goosebumps when I think of that night!

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

What I learned about myself from the blues is that when I play my guitar and sing, this is my identity as a man! I feel like a preacher at church on Sunday morning. I'm preaching the blues.

What were the reasons that you started the Folk/Blues/ Rock searches and experiments? How do you describe your sound and songbook?

I would describe my music as traditional mixed with Soul R&B and Rock with a little bit of Gospel. It's the only music that feeds my soul.

"What characterizes Tulsa music scene is the pulling together of the past to the present as one. All music styles are melted together in a great way. There's something in the water for the old and young musicians that has an identifiable stamp sound that makes it so unique but simple.  It's the feel and simplicity that draws them in." (Photo: Scott Ellison)

How do you describe "Skyline Drive" sound and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

(A). Once Skyline Drive the song came together, we knew it was the flagship song.  After cutting a demo, (Skyline Drive) in my studio we continued writing and cutting demos. During this process, the cream rose to the top, and these songs on the album are a representation of who I am as a song writer and artist, and able to perform these songs live. My sound, live, is in a trio. The sound of this record is an influence of all the "food groups" of music I love, and aspire to perform, too many influences to mention, but now, they can be heard. (B). My creative drive comes from my addiction to song writing and sounds in my brain are spinning 24/7 so, what I hear in my head I put down on a recorder.  This is the starting point!

What has made you laugh and what touched (emotionally) you from "Skyline Drive" studio sessions?

Here's the funniest one that happened to me in the studio. I was 2 blocks from the studio I had a HOT Starbucks venti pike, took one sip and the entire large scorching coffee poured all over my privates...I howled like a wolf and all other animals’ noises in the forest. When I got to the studio I was on fire from the coffee and in time, I merged the energy anger into my playing, and it brought relief and one of my best solos on the record. But Now, I can laugh about it, you can only imagine how much that burned!!!

What would you say characterizes Tulsa music scene in comparison to other local US scene and circuits?

Tulsa has always been know for it's its great history of having the most talented musicians, singers, song writers, in the world. For the size of Tulsa and this much greatness for the last 60 years, and continues to do so. There is a lot of young talent in Tulsa that are writing and playing great music and really have something to say. What characterizes Tulsa music scene is the pulling together of the past to the present as one. All music styles are melted together in a great way. There's something in the water for the old and young musicians that has an identifiable stamp sound that makes it so unique but simple. It's the feel and simplicity that draws them in. Example: the Muscle Sholes sound, Philly sound, Memphis sound, Motown, etc. drew me in. Tulsa is right in there with these sounds, Tulsa has it's own deal. At this time, because of COVID, all the circuits are closed.

"I love meeting new people in every town or city we play in. People are all the same everywhere when it comes to having fun listening and drinking to the blues. There's a lot of characters out there that crack me up, I love them all." (Photo: Scott Ellison, Tulsa OK)

Why did you think that the Tulsa, OK music legacy continues to generate such a devoted following?

The Tulsa Musical Legacy continues to generate a devoted following because of the late JJ Cale and all his great music, Leon Russell, The Gap Band, Ronnie Dunn of Brooks and Dunn, and all the other blues greats from this town, young and old.

How do you describe previous album GOOD MORNING MIDNIGHT sound and songbook? Are there any memories from studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

I would describe Good Morning Midnight as a blue buffet because I did everything I do in songwriting and playing that I set out to do! To show the whole spectrum of my art! It's my stamp on the blues! If I had to pick one it would be Big City! When Walt Richmond played the final mix in the studio- hearing his piano and my fill licks weaving around together it was a very cool moment because at that moment magic happened on that playback! Every musician waits for that moment and those special ones are rare so you got grasp the moment and hold on to it forever!

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

Meeting and opening up for BB King January 26, 2008, and having him call me out on stage during his show. The best advice given to me was by BB King, and that was "I really love your music, and you're a fine young man, and just keep being Scott Ellison, and do your thing."

Are there any memories from "Gatemouth" Brown, Joe Cocker, and Buddy Guy which you’d like to share with us?

Gatemouth Brown ordered fish sticks and jelly at a truck stop in West Texas when I was touring with him in 1980, I'm lucky I made it out of there alive. They couldn't accommodate his dinner wishes. Joe Cocker was the funniest Englishman I've ever met, he said "Nice show mate, you make it look easy." I was really moved. Buddy Guy/ I played his club "Legends" in Chicago about once a year and if he's in town we'll just sit at the bar and talk about the blues. I learned a lot just from talking with him.

"The blues and rock counterculture has influenced everything I believe in! Music is medicine for your soul and it not only effected me in a positive way, I get to see in my musical journeys the my music brings to other people! What a blessing! The best!" (Photo: Scott Ellison)

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I'm old school and like the way recording was done when I was first breaking in as an artist, everybody plays live together at the same time, not like today where there is pitch correction and all the toy town stuff where it makes it to where anybody can make a record with a computer and call it art which I don't like. I just hope and pray the blues and the blues business doesn't die. I know my identity would be lost.

What has made you laugh from Roy Orbison and Leon Russell? What touched (emotionally) you from Bobby Bland?

After opening for Roy Orbison years ago, hearing his show and meeting him after he was nothing like I thought he would be! He had a great sense of humor! I said Roy, your the greatest singer in the world and he paused and then said- Your are right son! Then he started laughing and gave me a big hug! I was cracking up! After opening for Leon Russell he came to me and said I see your playing those roadhouse blues licks which leads me to believe you didn't listen to much white music and I replied your are correct sir and he cracked up! It was a special moment because Leon is from my hometown and I grew up idolizing him! Bobby Bland was a sweetheart to me! He invited me on his bus after I opened for him and after he completed his show! He liked the fact I was using a trio and had such a big sound! He said son, keep doing what your doing! If it ain't broke, he doesn't need to be fixed! Great advice from a master!

What has been the hardest obstacle for you to overcome as a person and as artist and has this helped you become a better musician?

I would say the loss of my wife in 2010 and my father in 2014! Having to take on a lot more responsibility has made me stronger and has added more mojo to making me a better musician!

"I think it's a close relationship all the way, it started in the Delta and now we have the blues of today and it's a beautiful thing. Everybody is different which makes it so unique." (Photo: Scott Ellison)

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Go back to analog recording and make it against the law to record on pro tools or any other digital equipment! Haha, all you have to do is listen to Spoonful by Howlin Wolf and that speaks for itself. People try to get that sound and they can't and never will.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the music circuits?

I love meeting new people in every town or city we play in. People are all the same everywhere when it comes to having fun listening and drinking to the blues. There's a lot of characters out there that crack me up, I love them all.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

DON'T TRUST ANYBODY IN THE MUSIC BUSINESS! Period but let's get serious LOL. My experiences in this business as a musician who's traveled all over the world, from experience comes wisdom. Example: don't let the same dog bite you twice. To make your bones in this this business, you have to get fired once, feel the pain, and make the change and keep steppin, that's when you truly become a professional. You ask yourself, whatever it takes to be better, you will do, so you will never feel that pain again. That makes it reality! How far you get in this business depends on you, timing, and luck. The skill level never stops, I want to keep getting better, this is my drive!! After seeing my buddy Robert Cray's performance in Tulsa, I was so inspired, I went home and practiced for 2 hours and I wrote the music to Lonely in Love, that is on Skyline Drive, Chris Campbell wrote and sang the beautiful vocal with his great melody's and stellar lyrics. It was magic!

Are there any memories from JJ Jackson, The Drifters, and The Coasters, which you’d like to share with us?                                        (Photo: Scott Ellison)

The great memories I have working with these artists is how funny off stage they are and watching them do their magic every night. They truly knew how to put on a great show and work the crowd. I was on a state fair circuit with the Coasters in the Midwest, I had a couple hours to kill in the late afternoon, I met Willie Mosconi, the famous pool player. He was taking a break from a pool exhibition, sitting in a folding chair by a tent, it was 102 degrees outside, and he was wearing a black suit, white shirt, black tie and looked so pissed off. I went by and introduced myself and I started talking to him about the temperature and how hot it was. I had him laughing b/c I was telling him I had to wear a suit I hated, and had to go on in an hour, and he laughed his ass off. I knew he could relate to that, b/c he looked so hot and miserable in his suit, I was hoping it would make him laugh and it did. We talked about one nighters, and hearing him talk with the "jersey" accent was funny and cool, he cracked up about my "OKIE" accent too. My fun time with a legend.

Do you consider the Blues a specific music genre and artistic movement or do you think it’s a state of mind?

Yes, the Blues is its own genre. As in Jazz, Rock and Roll, etc. It goes all the way back to the Delta to the present and has developed into the most beautiful musical art form in the world. It's the pallet that is in every genre of music that is out today. The music business today is in a sad state of affairs, from the stand point, everybody can get all artists music for free. To me, this is the real MOVEMENT. As far as state of mind, when I perform a great show, and I'm sitting in a chair with a towel and bottled water, my identity as a man, it's a spiritual feeling you get b/c you've performed your art in front of a large crowd and it's been accepted and this feeling stays with you like medicine for your soul, when it hits your soul, and you can express it, this is the Blues.

What is the relationship between the blues culture to the racial and socio-cultural implications? 

I think it's a close relationship all the way, it started in the Delta and now we have the blues of today and it's a beautiful thing. Everybody is different which makes it so unique.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

If I was in a time machine I would love to go back and meet Robert Johnson and all the early artists that I admire, that would be about as cool as it gets.

Scott Ellison - Official website

(Scott Ellison / Photo by James Bass)

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