Musician Tinsley Ellis will never forget hearing blues master B.B. King in Miami, when he was a starry eyed 14-year-old with blues on his mind. Even with a liberal arts degree from Emory University, hearing the growling lyrics of soul music was his siren song.
On June 17, Ellis brought a few friends to the Cox Capitol Theater to play selections from his recently released album, “Red Clay Soul,” and to pay tribute to King, the man he credits with influencing his lifetime of music.
Although he was on the Capricorn Records label for less than two years in the early 2000s, Ellis’ Macon fans still like to hear his indelible guitar playing, which has been described as “dazzling” by Rolling Stone magazine. He has been quoted as saying, “A musician never became famous by staying home,” and his schedule for this year confirms he will be spending at least 150 nights on the road, playing throughout the country and in Canada.
Restaurants filled up early on that Friday evening before the show, and Diana Blair and Rosanne Harrell, who had never met Ellis, had the good fortune to bump into him as they were leaving the Downtown Grill headed to the Cox for his show. It was a perfect photo-op moment for grown up groupies.
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The resonance of Ellis’ Dobro guitar, which he used on the B.B. King tracks, paired with the sonorous richness of his voice evokes the sounds of Jimmy Reed or Muddy Waters. “Red Clay Soul” was recorded on the label he founded in 2013, Heartfixer Music, a reminder of the name of his first band in 1979.
According to Ellis, the finest blues musicians come from the South, known for the red clay that stretches from Georgia to Florida. As a devotee of Southern blues and rock, Ellis’ departure on the track, “Estero Noche,” is an instrumental Latin surprise.
THE INSPIRATION OF CAROLINE AIKEN
Caroline Aiken and David Herndon, a fellow guitarist from Athens, opened for Ellis with songs from her soul searching, heartrending album, “Broken Wings Heal.” The album is a tribute to her daughter who, like so many of her peers, hit a rough patch in the road that derailed an honor student and her dreams for a prosperous future. But the album cover, designed by close friend and prolific painter, Michael Pierce, also from the Athens area, with an empty gilded cage near an open window, metaphorically tells the happy ending for a young woman who has prevailed over her demons and is headed for greatness.
Aiken’s latest album is an exhilarating and emotional ride from the melancholy of the title track, written by Boo Ray, to the raucous rock and roll of “Cry Wolf.” However, before she left the stage, the audience was wowed by her rendition of “40,000 Headmen,” written by Steve Winwood and originally recorded by the band, Traffic. So powerful was her performance, the medieval sound of the flute in the first recording was not missed. One man in the audience said if he closed his eyes, Aiken and Herndon sounded like they were accompanied by a full orchestra.
Originally from Georgia, Aiken has taken a circuitous route to Athens after living and working in New York, moving back to Atlanta, directing the Atlanta Dogwood Festival for 12 years, mentoring singers and song writers and recording her own music with her 12-string guitar.
She has founded non-profits to help at-risk young people, raised money for other organizations whose missions she admires and taught workshops for people who are reticent about developing their talents but yearn to be part of the world of music. Aiken continues to tour worldwide, working with luminaries who know her well as a proficient acoustic musician.
IT’S THAT SEASON AGAIN
Since Len Berg’s Restaurant, once located in the alley behind the Federal Building in downtown Macon, has been shuttered for years, there is no longer the sign, HMFPIC, which everyone knew meant that freestone peaches were in season and that there would be homemade, fresh, peach ice cream on the menu.
But, if you bump into Bob Dickey on the street, he will remind you to visit Dickey Farms, a short scenic drive from Macon to Musella, for the most succulent peaches in Middle Georgia. On June 18, the big warehouse in the heart of this little village was bustling with activity where Kathy Kennedy and Frank Kimball were spotted selecting some vegetables and enjoying peach ice cream before leaving with a basket of the rosy, plump fruit that Georgians take for granted.
All of the peach growers in this area are open seven days a week — time to stock the freezer for another year.