Q&A with New York Blues Hall of Famer, Elly Wininger, a contemporary interpretation of traditional styles

"I miss the individuality of the blues artists of the past. There are so many copy cats and much of the uniqueness and quirkiness has been lost. I hope young artists who are drawn to the blues will take the time to listen to the original versions of songs."

Elly Wininger: The Blues Never End

Inducted into the NY Blues Hall of Fame in 2014, Elly Wininger's third album "Little Red Wagon" was #8 on the Folk Music DJ Chart for January 2018 and in the top 100 for that year. Her new album, "The Blues Never End" including the award-winning song "Right Kind of Trouble" released in September 2021 by Earwig Music. Traditions endure and remain vital when artists interpret rather than just copy. This set of 13 songs, including 4 original compositions, brings a contemporary set of aesthetics, rooted in tradition, to a variety of blues and gospel styles. You’ll hear influences of Cajun, ragtime, old timey, jazz and country, affirming the proximity and cross pollination of all these styles, and their commonality in actual practice, both today and historically. We Americans grew up together with an incredible richness and variety of musics. I hope this album encourages an appreciation and enjoyment of that living diversity. Cutting school to hang out in the Village, Elly listened. There was Lightnin' Hopkins, Muddy Waters, Mississippi John Hurt, Dave Van Ronk, and newcomers like her teacher David Bromberg, and John Hammond Jr., Artie Traum, Geoff Muldaur, Danny Kalb and so many others picking up from the source.                                                         (Elly Wininger / Photo by Jeff Fasano)

Eventually she got up the courage to play in the basket houses. 1973 found her on stage at the Philadelphia Folk Festival, singing with Maria Muldaur and immersing herself in all the styles that made up the 'folk revival.' Elly's musical talents, however, don't end there. As producer of "Rockin' the Boat," a public radio series which chronicles the power of music in movements for social and political change, Elly won several awards, including one from the United Nations. As a composer, Elly's guitar, vocal work and original songs, have been featured in theater productions, video games, and in the Clio award-winning public service campaign against drunk driving, "Friends." Elly produces her own albums as well as albums for other artists, and she hosts the live/podcast variety show: "Catskill Cabaradio." In addition to giving workshops and clinics, Elly has created a program called "Our Song" which has been used by many organizations including the ARC, to assist people of all ages and abilities in writing their own songs. Harkening back to her start in Greenwich Village, festival promoter Kurt Henry called Elly a "folk-blues legend." And indeed- she played the very first set on opening night at CBGB, and was offered a recording contract with Red Robin Records at age 16.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

I always loved the blues but I don't think I had a clue about the cultures it came from until I traveled to Mali and the rural southern US. The isolation and abject poverty of some of the areas, not to mention the desolation of the huge prisons gave me a more immediate connection to the music.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

My sound is a contemporary interpretation of traditional styles. We are lucky to have better recording technology now so why not take advantage of it? My philosophy is all about following your passion. African American singing opera? Fine. White Jewish woman singing the blues? Fine. Same for the songbook- if you're attracted to a song, there is a reason, and your version will reveal that. I have no idea where my creative drive comes from. Lots of books have been written on this subject. I think it comes from being human.                                             (Elly Wininger / Photo by Jayne Toohey)

"Well, here is one of my pet peeves about being a woman in music. It seems that men can look unkempt and slovenly while women are being advised to lose weight and dress sexy."

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Certainly, meeting and studying with David Bromberg was highly influential. He gave me some really tough assignments that have served me well in developing my own style, as well as a familiarity with many different streams of folk music. Very early on I had an out of body experience while playing at The Four Winds Cafe which was a basket house in Greenwich Village. As a result, I don't get stage fright because that was as terrifying as it gets. I hope!

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

I miss the individuality of the blues artists of the past. There are so many copy cats and much of the uniqueness and quirkiness has been lost. I hope young artists who are drawn to the blues will take the time to listen to the original versions of songs. "Dust My Broom" is not a ZZ Top song although they do a great version of it.

What were the reasons that made Greenwich Village in the 60s to be the center of Folk/Blues researches and experiments?

Well, it was only one of the centers really. Great stuff was happening in Boston, San Francisco, Ann Arbor, and all over on college campuses. New York City just had more venues, so artists congregated there.

What is the impact of Blues on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want to affect people?

I want people to enjoy my music. All the rest is secondary.

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

If you're not in it for the joy, don't bother. Please.

"I always loved the blues but I don't think I had a clue about the cultures it came from until I traveled to Mali and the rural southern US. The isolation and abject poverty of some of the areas, not to mention the desolation of the huge prisons gave me a more immediate connection to the music."

(Elly Wininger / Photo by Jeff Fasano)

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

I'd like to go to Paris. Now.

What does to be a female artist in a Man’s World as James Brown says? What is the status of women in music?

Well, here is one of my pet peeves about being a woman in music. It seems that men can look unkempt and slovenly while women are being advised to lose weight and dress sexy.

Elly Wininger - Home

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