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Artists > Inspirational Guitarists > Ellen McIlwaine


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Ellen McIlwaine

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Ellen McIlwaine, born in Nashville on October 1, 1945,  is a singer, songwriter and slide guitarist who also plays piano and harmonica.

She was adopted by missionaries and raised in Kobe, Japan giving her exposure to multiple languages and cultures. Her first training was simple spiritual piano, but in her teens she moved to guitar, beginning a stage career in Atlanta, Georgia in the 1960's.

In the mid-1960s she had a stint in New York City where she played with a young Jimi Hendrix, traded influences with him, and unsuccessully attempted to put together a group with him. She returned to Atlanta to form the band Fear Itself, a psychedelic-power band.  After recording one album, McIlwaine went solo, recording two highly-regarded albums for Polydor, Honky Tonk Angel (1972) and We the People  (1973), the latter featuring a hit single, "I Don't Want to Play".  Those albums, and most of her work since, have featured McIlwaine's innovative approach to acoustic slide guitar.


McIlwaine's career has been irregular, plagued by what she has often described of conflict with her record producers who wanted to change her sound.  She once remarked of the 1978 album "Ellen McIlwaine", "It could have been any other female vocalist, and next time it will be."

As a female vocalist who mainly plays acoustic guitar, her music tends to be classified in the folk sections of record stores, despite her strong roots in blues, soul and rock music and her cover versions of songs by artists such as Isaac Hayes, Stevie Wonder and Browning Bryant. She has also recorded several covers of songs by Jimi Hendrix and "The Secret of This Lady's Heart", one of her most popular original songs, was written as a tribute to him.

By the mid-1970s McIlwaine was highly regarded as a guitarist and one track by her was included on the best-selling various artists compilation The Guitar Album.

McIlwaine's most critically acclaimed album is The Real Ellen McIlwaine,   (recorded in Montreal in 1975).  A 1982 project, Everybody Needs It, was also very successful, and featured bassist Jack Bruce, an artist who influenced her strongly and whose songs she has covered on several of her albums.

In 1980 she made her first tour of Australia after being spotted by Australian singer-guitarist Margaret RoadKnight, who was one of the co-promoters of the tour. She returned to Australia in 1984 and during this tour was the last performer to appear at Sydney's famed Regent Theatre, an opulent picture palace that was illegally demolished soon afterwards.

Since moving to Canada in 1987 (first Toronto, later Alberta), she has recorded for Stony Plain, which has also re-released her early vinyl material on CD.  Her most recent CD Spontaneous Combustion features Taj Mahal and is on the German Tradition und Moderne label. In spite of debilitating arthritis in her hip, she undertook a third tour of Australia and New Zealand in 2003, which reunited her with Margaret RoadKnight. McIlwaine has since successfully undergone hip replacement surgery.

Ellen has long favoured Guild brand guitars. She plays Guild S-250 and S-300D electric guitars; when performing solo, she often played her electric guitar through an octave multiplier effects unit to give a fuller sound.

Her main acoustic guitar, which she now plays almost exclusively, is a venerable and well-travelled Guild instrument, purchased for her in New York by a friend in 1967. This guitar has a unique history, being a former Guild company company "loaner" which was used by leading artists including Mississippi Fred McDowell while Guild repaired their own guitars.

Ellen can really play the guitar. She plays slide, fingerpicking and even manages some kind of spanish fast riffing funky style that is difficult to replicate properly. She was in Guitar magazines top 10 guitarists circa 1976.

From Wikipedia, the free-content Encyclopedia.


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