Editor’s note: Tinsley Ellis survived the “scariest drive” of his life on Sunday and the 7 p.m. show at The Saint in Reno will be held as planned.
With five guitars and a cell phone, Tinsley Ellis is rambling about on his most extensive West Coast tour in a musical career that began in the mid-80s.
That’s impressive considering he’s called “The Highwayman” for his alacrity to hit the road, no matter the number of miles, to play for his blues-rock fans.
Ellis will perform Sunday, March 15, at The Saint in midtown Reno, in support of his 18th album: “Ice Cream In Hell.”
“I’ve got a lot on my mind,” Ellis said. “I guess. I like to inflict my life upon others in songs.”
The cellphone is an omnipresent traveling companion. Ellis has a penchant for catchy, thoughtful and often humorous phrases. When he hears or thinks of one, he will put in his phone’s notes app.
“I’ve got six or eight in my phone right now and they will become songs if this tour ever ends,” he said. “I have 60 concerts to open the year. That’s as much as I’ve had in some entire years. And I just was invited to the Chicago Blues Festival.”
Ellis, 62, is a native of South Florida. He earned a history degree from Emory University in Atlanta, which he made his permanent home base. But he very much belongs at the Chicago Blues Festival, which he last played in 1997, backing Son Seals before fronting his own set.
At the start of his career, Ellis played in a band fronted by Chicago Bob Nelson, a Southerner who played harp Chicago style. Ellis was inspired by Chicago great Sons Seals – “He’s part of everything I do.” Seals was the subject of Ellis’ biggest hit, “A Quitter Never Wins.”
Most of Ellis’ records have released on Alligator Records, out of Chicago. Seals was the third artist to record for Alligator. But the very first was Hound Dog Taylor, and Ellis pays homage to him on the new album by playing in his style on the new album on “Sit Tight Mama.”
“Alligator is coming up on its 50th year, so this is somewhat of a full circle,” Ellis said. “Bruce (Iglauer, the label’s founder and president) helped me with the mix. It’s a tribute.”
More than half of the 11 songs from “Ice Cream In Hell,” released Jan. 31, have been broadcast on radio, leading to Ellis receiving his fifth Blues Music Awards nomination, this one for Blues Rock Artist.
A BMA is long overdue, as is a Reno appearance. Ellis has played numerous times in the last 15 years in the Lake Tahoe area.
The last time Ellis performed in Reno was at The Garage in the Hilton.
“I was sorry to see the venue go,” Ellis said. “But all good things come to an end. Even The Beatles broke up and they were doing pretty good.”
— Tim Parsons
When: 7 p.m. Sunday, March 15
Where: The Saint, 761 S. Virginia Street, Reno
Tickets: $15 LINK