World-renowned Atlanta-based blues-rock guitar virtuoso, soulful singer and prolific songwriter Tinsley Ellis will release his highly-anticipated new Alligator Records album, Ice Cream In Hell, on Friday, January 31.
Filled with blazing, every-note-matters guitar playing over the course of 11 instantly memorable original songs, Ice Cream In Hell is, according to Ellis, the most raw-sounding, guitar-drenched album of his career. Throughout the album, Ellis’ deeply emotional, lyrical guitar solos perfectly match his fervent vocals. Rolling Stone says Ellis plays “feral blues guitar…non-stop gigging has sharpened his six-string to a razor’s edge…his eloquence dazzles…he achieves pyrotechnics that rival early Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton.”
Recorded in Nashville and produced by Ellis and his longtime co-producer Kevin McKendree (John Hiatt, Delbert McClinton), Ice Cream In Hell is a cathartic blast of blues-rock power. Though inspired by all three Kings (B.B., Albert and Freddie), as well by Carlos Santana, Hound Dog Taylor and others, Ice Cream In Hell is pure, unadulterated Tinsley Ellis. The songs range from the nod to Stax-era Albert King, Last One To Know, to the Peter Green-flavored Everything And Everyone to the Hound Dog Taylor-esqe romp Sit Tight Mama before ending with the hair-raising, slow-burning ballad Your Love’s Like Heroin.
Ever since he first hit the road 40 years ago, Ellis has traveled enough miles, he says, “to get to the moon and back six times.” He’s released 17 previous solo albums, and has earned his place at the top of the blues-rock world one performance at a time. His imaginative songs tell stories of common, shared experiences in uncommon ways, all fueled by his high-octane, infectious, hard-rocking guitar playing. Live, Ellis has captivated and amazed fans in all 50 United States, as well as in Canada, throughout Europe, Australia and South America. The Chicago Sun-Times says, “It’s hard to overstate the raw power of his music.”
Born in Atlanta in 1957, Ellis was raised in southern Florida. He acquired his first guitar at age seven, soon after seeing The Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show. He took to it instantly, developing and sharpening his skills as he grew up. Ellis discovered the blues through the back door of British Invasion bands like The Yardbirds, The Animals, Cream and The Rolling Stones as well as Southern rockers like The Allman Brothers.
On the advice of a friend’s older brother in 1974, Tinsley and his pals went to see B.B. King live, sitting transfixed in the front row. When B.B. broke a string on his guitar, Lucille, he changed it without missing a beat, and handed the broken string to Ellis. After the show, B.B. came out and talked with fans, mesmerizing Tinsley with his warmth and kindness. Tinsley’s fate was sealed; he had to become a blues guitarist. And to this day, he still has the string.
Less than three years later, Ellis, already an accomplished teenaged musician, left Florida and moved to Atlanta. In 1981, along with veteran blues singer and harpist Chicago Bob Nelson, Tinsley formed The Heartfixers, a group that would become Atlanta’s top-drawing blues band. After cutting a few Heartfixers albums for the Landslide label, Ellis was ready to head out on his own.
Georgia Blue, Tinsley’s first Alligator release, hit the unprepared public by surprise in 1988. The Chicago Tribune said, “Tinsley Ellis torches with molten fretwork. Ellis takes classic, Southern blues-rock workouts and jolts them to new life with a torrid ax barrage.” His next four releases — 1989’s Fanning The Flames, 1992’s Trouble Time, 1994’s Storm Warning (his song A Quitter Never Wins, a highlight from Storm Warning, was recorded by Jonny Lang and sold almost two million copies), and 1997’s Fire It Up — further grew his legend as well as his audience.
After releasing a few albums on other labels, Ellis returned to Alligator in 2005 with Live–Highwayman, followed by 2007’s Moment Of Truth and 2009’s Speak No Evil. He self-released four successful albums on his own Heartfixer label before coming back home to Alligator in 2018, releasing the fan favorite Winning Hand. Vintage Guitar said of the album, “He delivers blistering blues-rock, soul romps, minor-key blues, and shuffles – and it all sounds great.”
Now, with Ice Cream In Hell, Tinsley Ellis will again hit the highway, bringing his roof-raising, road-tested music to fans wherever they may be. “A musician never got famous staying home,” says Ellis, who continues to perform over 150 nights a year. “I’ve seen it all,” the Atlanta native says of his four decades on the road. “And a lot of my audience has been along for the entire time. It’s not always easy. But the payoff is the music. That’s the ice cream.”