MIDWEST RECORD RECAP
Dave Ellis/With Any Luck But Bad: When it comes to cowboy music, if you aren’t really into the culture, which runs pretty deep, you only really know polar opposites like Ian Tyson and Michael Martin Murphey. Ellis, a real old time cowboy, might fall somewhere in the great middle between the two but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t make a mark. Almost with the same kind of vibe you’d get if John Koerner made the conscious effort to make a kids record, Ellis doesn’t stand on ceremony when it comes to song selection as he moves from campfire songs to Willie Nelson and soundtrack picks. Mostly just him and his guitar, this is a charming and captivating enough set to make you want to make plans to vacation at Elko. Well done.
NEW CLASSICS UK
As a boy raised outside Taft,California, Dave Ellis at 10 years old was already working with horses. His father worked in the oil fields in nearby Bakersfield and later Dave would follow along in his footsteps, working in the oilfields just like his dad. In the 1950’s he was witness to the birthing of The Bakersfield Sound and saw people like Rose Maddox, Buck Owens and Merle Haggard perform in rowdy joints so rough and tumble they had steel doors. His horsemanship is unsurpassed, evolved out of the Mexican Vaquero tradition, and his songs on this album, with affecting additional vocals by Jody Grimm, paint a vivid picture of a form of cowboy life that still exists in the American West. Dave Ellis is the real thing – not a drugstore or movie star cowboy but a real working hand and a good guy. The beguiling manner in which he depicts this life in story and song is compelling. Highlights include the gorgeous You’re The Reason God Made Oklahoma and the epic campfire tale about Will James, Curly Fletcher and the Strawberry Roan. This is one of four new releases from the Little Village Foundation, a non-profit label that supports artists from non-traditional backgrounds. All have deep roots in American popular and roots music, many with ties to California (with the exception of Twin City soulman Wee Willie Walker). Chicago-raised keyboardist Jim Pugh, founder and guiding force behind Little Village, records artists and helps connect them to the broader musical community, as well as their own. ‘It’s like pebbles on the beach,’ he reflects. ‘You pick up one and it’s beautiful, but when you hold four together the commonality emerges. It’s breathtaking, and the bigger picture – what America really sounds like – leaps out at you.’ A lifelong champion of blues music, Pugh once booked Koko Taylor for a school dance, back when he was 14. As a young man and aspiring professional musician, he sat in with amazing artists in Chicago and played birthday parties for farmworkers in rural California. In a career spanning over 40 years, he has recorded and performed with a star-studded array of musicians including BB King, Etta James, John Lee Hooker, Robert Cray and Van Morrison. After he retired from his touring career, he began looking around for music that held its own outside the mainstream, by musicians who were unsung. IF NOTHING EVER CHANGES (LVF104) features Wee Willie Walker, who cut a few singles for Chess and Goldwax and is a slow-burning soul sensation with a voice rich in experience. SON OF BOOGIE (LVF102) includes twelve tracks by Ron Thompson, whose nimble guitar growls with rocky, raucous blues. He also sings and plays harmonica, with fine backing from Jim Pugh on Hammond organ and D’mar and Scott Griffin on drums. SNUVIKO (LVF103) features Los Tres Amigos – The Three Friends from Where The Clouds Descend, with rare instrumental tales from indigenous Mixtec tradition by musicians living in California. These indigenous Mexicans spoke little Spanish or English and worked as agricultural labourers. Los Tres Amigos all hailed from the Oaxacan village of Snuviko, or ‘where the clouds descend’ in Mixtec.
As a 10-year-old California boy, Dave Ellis was already working with horses. Soon neighbors were bringing their horses to him. He’d take the buck out of the wild ones and ride them until they could be used for doing a cattle drive. His father worked in the oil fields in Bakersfield and later Ellis would also work in the oilfields. In the 1950’s, as a young working hand, he witnessed the birth of The Bakersfield Sound and saw people like Rose Maddox, Buck Owens and Merle Haggard perform at rough and tumble joints like The Lucky Spot, Trout’s and the Blackboard. “So rough they had steel doors”, he told Jim Pugh. A 5-star Parelli master horse specialist, Ellis’ natural kind of horsemanship evolved out of the Mexican Vaquero tradition almost 200 years ago and that soulful relationship between horse and rider and rider and horse is a beautiful thing to witness. Ellis’ song selection cuts a wide swath and shares the cowboy experience. His songs paint a vivid picture of the cowboy life that still exists in the American West. Dave Ellis is not a drugstore or a movie star cowboy but a real hand and a good guy. The manner in which he depicts this life in story and song is compelling.