Saint Michael's College Magazine

Blues Horizon

Blues musician and fine arts professor Bill Ellis teaches the History of Rock and Jazz, as well as guitar and music theory.

bill ellisWilliam Lee Ellis has got the blues. Named for legendary bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe, Bill Ellis grew up in a musical family in Kingsport, Tennessee, steeped in traditional American blues and bluegrass music. He spent his youth backing his fiddle-and-banjoplaying dad (Tony Ellis, one of Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys) at bluegrass festivals across the country. Later they performed widely around the world, appeared on TV, and made a number of recordings together.

Ellis joined Saint Michael's fine arts faculty in the fall of 2011, teaching the History of Rock, History of Jazz, Music Theory and traditional finger-picking styles to student guitarists.

He's also writing a new book: I Belong to the Band: The Music of Reverend Gary Davis, a Piedmont blues giant."Davis was a great sacred bluesman, a genre I love For Ellis, the blues is the most important indigenous music of the 20th century. dearly - there's a combination of the heavenly and the hellish, there are wonderful dynamics, tension and drama I found everything I enjoyed in the guitar in that person." For Ellis, the blues is the most important indigenous music of the 20th century - the bedrock influence of jazz, hip-hop, rock. "And it's right there in the music people listen to today."

For Ellis, the blues is the most important indigenous music of the 20th century.

Ellis has recorded four albums. The latest, God's Tattoos, won the 2007 Best International CD Release from the Blue Star Awards, Australia, and was nominated for Best National Recording in the Muddy Awards, Cascade Blues Association, Portland, Oregon. All Music Guide called Ellis "An original guitarist and songwriter who understands that tradition is the source of the flame but is never the fire itself."

Ellis is also one of the voting members on the Grammys, serves on their Board of Governors in Memphis, and chairs the liner-note committee that screens contributions and makes nominations. Additionally, he is on the 60-member National Grammy Hall of Fame Committee, which nominates historically important but overlooked records. He has nominated 10, and succeeded in getting three into the Hall of Fame: Bukka White's "Fixin' to Die," Furry Lewis' version of "Cassie Jones," and Sam the Sham's "Wooly Bully."

"These very important records are finally getting the recognition they deserve," he says. +

Learn What Matters