A Conversation With Robert Ellis


I am late to the party.

Robert Ellis released his 3rd CD, The Lights From The Chemical Plant, in February 2014 and much to my eternal shame and chagrin, I first heard it only a week ago.  That’s right, 7 days ago.  I don’t know if cultural exasperation, generational pull , or old age caught up with me, but I didn’t hear The Lights From The Chemical Plant until it blew out its first birthday candle and appeared on every Best Of 2014 List this side of gravity.  I’m still signing my checks with the date 4/1/14, but I am constantly reminded by those with higher IQs and a greater number of firing neurons (okay, my wife) that it’s 2015 and it’s all downhill from here.  Seriously, where in the hell have I been?  Put mildly, I am less than delighted with my performance.         

Maybe if I had listened to The Lights From The Chemical Plant for the past year, my 2014 wouldn’t have resembled 365 miles of bad road facing the south end of a northbound horse.  Maybe if I had pulled my head out of my ass, my charmed and glamorous life wouldn’t have spun so completely out of control.   Every day, I met myself coming and going and not once did I like what I saw.  My entire year looked like a third-grade math test with the words “NOT YOUR BEST WORK” written at the top in red ink.  Yea and verily, it was insufficient.

And it was nobody’s fault but mine.

However, I have learned my lesson:  shut up and listen.  Get in on the ground floor.  Songwriters should not become accustomed to yelling into a bottomless void of nothingness.  If they dare to stare into the abyss, please stare back.  Pay attention.   If someone cuts their heart out and bleeds all over the stage, the least you can do is sit back and enjoy the show.  Buy the ticket and take the ride.  Maybe you’ll find your way.  Maybe you’ll find some kinship and peace.  Maybe you’ll find you.

Because that’s what Robert Ellis has given me for the past week.  Me.

The Lights From The Chemical Plant is full of life—the real kind, not the beer and candy commercial country radio has designed to convince you that unicorns are real and you are irrelevant.  Not that oneI’m talking about real life—the one we live in.  It’s dirty, bent, broken, and messy.

And coincidentally, so am I.

So I may be late for the party, but I come bearing gifts.

To you, dear reader, I humbly offer this conversation with Robert Ellis.

To Mr. Ellis, I extend my gratitude, thanks, and apologies for sweet-talking and railroading him into graciously donating his time and simultaneously putting up with an unyielding litany of my crap.  Don’t try this at home, kids.  We’re professionals.


Robert:  How you doing?

Michael:  Doing good, man.  Where are you today?

Robert:  I’m in Austin, Texas, doing radio promo in advance of this tour.  I’m about to drive out to Ray Wylie Hubbard’s place and do a radio show with him.  

Michael:  I was in Austin about a year ago.  It was my first time in Austin.  It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.

Robert:  I love it here.  I’m a Houston guy and so I’ve been coming here for a while.  I like it a lot.

Michael:  Well, I’m in Bowling Green, Kentucky.  Are you living in Nashville now?

Robert:  I was for about a year and then I relocated to New York City and most recently I’ve been back in Houston.  I love [Nashville].  I loved living there.  The reality is, I was on tour 300 days last year, so I lived there for a small percentage of the time.  But I have so many good friends there.  A lot of people I work with and people I admire are there, so I enjoyed it.  

Michael:  So when you moved from the Houston area to Nashville a few years ago, you cut all your hair off and went all clean-cut.  Is that right?  That’s the Willie Nelson recipe for success in reverse.

Robert:  (laughs)   Well, the timeline’s a little off.  I cut my hair when I was in San Marcos, Texas, outside of Austin.  I lived there for a year after I moved out of Houston, out in the country.  The haircutting was not really symbolic of anything, it was just…a little change, something different.  I like to put myself in a situation where I’m slightly uncomfortable as much as possible, you know?  It’s just a way to stay creative—outside of the hair element—and the same thing with moving.  That’s why I’ve been moving around so much.  It’s to get new experiences and not to feel like I’m getting stuck in any sort of set pattern.  

Michael:  Do you think you rise to a higher level of creativity if you force yourself to become uncomfortable?

Robert:  I definitely think so.  There’s some quote—I don’t remember who it is—that says as soon as a writer thinks he’s good, he’s not making good work anymore.  That’s the mindset I like to be in.  It’s like, “Okay, I did that and I’m glad I did it”, but looking back I hope to always progress and move in some semblance of a direction moving forward.

Michael:  Now correct me if I’m wrong, but you were raised in the Houston area.  Is that right?

Robert:  Uh-huh.  About an hour south of Houston in a town called Lake Jackson.

Michael:  Is that a really small place?

Robert:  Well, Lake Jackson was about 20,000 when I lived there.  It’s the town over that I actually grew up in.  It’s just separated by a road, but it’s much smaller than that.  The surrounding area is only an hour away from Houston, so there’s a lot of people in the area.  From the time I was 15 or 16, I was driving up to Houston and going to shows.  Trying to get out as much as I could.  

Michael:  And did you grow up in the shadow of a chemical plant, as the case may be?

Robert:  Yeah, Dow Chemical Company is seated in Lake Jackson, Texas.  It’s the reason everybody lives there.  They had the first housing project when they were opening the plant in the 1930s or something.  That’s why my grandparents moved there.  That’s why my whole family is up there.  

Michael:  I’ve seen some other interviews with you and you mention that you grew up playing the piano, taking piano lessons.

Robert:  Yeah, my Mom’s a piano teacher.  

Michael:  I took ‘em when I was a kid, too.

Robert:  I love it.  I wish I had been more interested in it now, but the guitar quickly became my main instrument.  Now I spend a lot of time trying to make up for lost time on piano.

Michael:  Did you have to do those Czerny and Clementi exercises and scales?

Robert:  Oh, yeah.  

Michael:  I still do them in my head.

Robert:  I still do those.  It’s really important.

Michael:  It absolutely is.  And it works.

Robert:  Yeah.  I mean, getting just the dexterity in your fingers and knowing when to cross your thumb over and be able to do runs effectively.  It’s not stuff you would intuitively do, you know?

Michael:  And you know, what I enjoyed the most—and helped me the most—was Bartok’s Mikrokosmos.  Have you encountered those?

Robert:  I haven’t ever played that, but Bartok is amazing.  That’s great.  This is going to be a good interview.  (laughs)  

Michael:  My Mom forced me to take piano lessons when I was a kid, and I hated it when I first started because kids would make fun of me.  But as time went on, I figured out that’s a good way to get girls.

Robert:  Well, it depends on whether you’re playing Bartok or rock ‘n’ roll.  (laughs)  I agree in some regard.  

Michael:  Well, was the piano first for you, and then the guitar?

Robert:  Yeah, piano then guitar, then drums around guitar.  And since then, it’s been anything I can get my hands on.  

Michael:  “Bottle Of Wine” sounds like an old saloon piano my Grandma used to have in her basement.

Robert:  Yeah, that’s actually a 1930s—it was a gift that I got for my wife—beautiful upright cabinet.  I wrote it on that piano, and then the producer Jacquire King and me were at my house just talking and I said, “Man, can we just set up a rig in my house and just record it here live?”  And that’s what we ended up doing.  I just loved the sound of it.  It’s about a half step out of tune, so when we added the sax to it, he had to transpose and slightly change his tuning a little bit to suit the piano.  I think that’s what gives it the live feel, you know what I mean?

Michael:  Yeah, the imperfections of it put it closer to perfection.

Robert:  Uh-huh.  That’s something I’ve been really into lately.  

Michael:  The saxophone solo in the middle of “Bottle Of Wine” is a nice surprise.

Robert:  Well, thank you.  I’ve actually taken a lot of shit for that.  

Michael:  Really?  Why?

Robert:  Yeah, I’ve read a couple of reviews that say it’s out of place, but in my opinion people are going to have their own idea of what everything should be.  When I wrote that song, that’s what I imagined, and once it was done, I was like, “This is perfect”.   I’m very proud of it.

Michael:  Well, if it was good enough for Ray Charles, it’s good enough for me.

Robert:  That’s what I’m saying, you know?  People have weird ideas these days about what’s right and wrong in music.  

Michael:  Of all the Paul Simon songs to choose from, what is it about “Still Crazy After All These Years” that made you want to do that one?

Robert:  That song, to me, was really important.  That whole record, actually, was really important in influencing the Chemical Plant record.  And that song in particular, I think it’s the perfect example of really good storytelling narrative songwriting with a really interesting modern arrangement by a lot of the best jazz players of the time.  Like Michael Brecker and Steve Gadd and Phil Woods, just amazing jazz players in their own right coming together to complement this story-song.  So that record was really important to me when I discovered it and I just wore it out.  And that was the hope with Chemical Plant—to do a similar thing.  A lot of these songs are pretty traditional in some ways, as far as the storytelling goes, and they’re rooted in folk music.  But I felt like it was obvious and boring to just give them a folk treatment with banjos and mandolins and harmonically simple structures.  I didn’t really want to do that, because as a player and a sideman that’s not really where my heart is.  So I used “Still Crazy After All These Years” for what can be done—how to do stuff that’s harmonically and instrumentally interesting without overshadowing the story.  The last record I did was decidedly country and I felt like putting a Paul Simon song on this record was a way of priming the listener to associate me with some different influences that weren’t just George Jones and Willie Nelson.  I love that stuff, but…

Michael:  My favorite version of that song—up until now, when you’ve made me rethink it— is probably the Willie version off the Space Cowboys soundtrack.  You’ve really made me reevaluate.

Robert:  I love that version.  Willie is another one that has just managed to…  He is country music, but he’s just Willie Nelson, you know what I mean?  When we did a little tour with him, every night he did a Django Reinhardt song called “Nuages”.  And he put all sorts of interesting jazz tunes and pop tunes in his set.  Everybody left there saying “I love Willie Nelson and I love country music”, but if you dig a little deeper, what he’s doing is such a mixture of everything that he loves.  He seems like a really passionate, avid listener.

Michael:  He’s taken all those lines that we use to delineate genre and stomped the shit out of every one of them, because he does not see the difference.

Robert:  Yeah.  Totally.  He’s one of my favorites.

Michael:  So you’ve met Willie?

Robert:  I didn’t get to meet him.  I was very nervous.  It’s an interesting story—before we toured with Willie, we did a tour with George Jones.  And he was amazing, just incredible, a dream come true.  I got to meet George and talk to him.  I built up in my mind, meeting George Jones and opening for him.  But you know, he wasn’t very well.  Meeting him was really special, but there was a part of me that liked the George Jones of my childhood, the illusion more than the reality of talking to him.  Not saying that would have happened with Willie, but there was a part of me that was like, “If this happens organically and I happen to talk to him and we hit it off or something, so be it”, but I didn’t want to extend myself too much, because that guy…he’s fuckin’ Willie Nelson, you know?  He’s got a lot more important things to do than talk to me.  There were a number of times he was standing four feet away from me and I just never said anything.  At some point, maybe it’ll happen.  If it doesn’t, I have a bunch of magical memories of opening for him and watching him.  I became pretty tight with some of his band members on that tour.  It was just a really special experience.

Michael:  I was listening to “Houston” and—especially the guitar at the end—I’m hearing some influences you don’t normally hear in country music.  That guitar solo at the end sounds like—I don’t know if you’re familiar with James Blood Ulmer…

Robert:  Yeah.  God, I love James Blood Ulmer.  

Michael:  …or Sonny…

Robert:  Sonny Sharrock, yeah.  I’m so glad you pegged that.  The end of “Houston” was really inspired by the Sonny Sharrock record Ask The Ages.  It’s a record he did with Elvin Jones and Pharaoh Sanders in the ‘90s.  It’s a great record.  Just the guitar tone and the whole vibe of that record is elements of free improv, elements of fusion, and this hipster rock around it.  Kelly Doyle is the guitar player that plays that [“Houston”].  He and I are really close and he plays with me all the time.  We’re both fusioners and free-improv jazz guys and we really wanted to incorporate a lot of that on the record.  So I wrote that outro to “Houston” as a way to give him some space and be himself.  I was amazed.  We did a couple takes of that—everything was different and that’s just the one we went with.  Kelly Doyle is a gem and a great collaborator.  You know, I work with him on everything.  This new record we’re going to do, he’s going to be way more involved on.  

Michael:  Your voice is very bluegrass to me.

Robert:  Yeah.  I started playing bluegrass.  

Michael:  I say that because I was born and raised about 20 miles from the birthplace of Bill Monroe and bluegrass.  I know real bluegrass when I hear it.  You’ve got that.  You speak the language.

Robert:  Well, thank you.  My uncle is a flat-picker and he was one of my first real guitar influences.  From the time I was one or two years old, we’d go to this bluegrass festival every year in Texas.  I just fell in love with it. I wanted to play like Doc Watson when I was six or seven years old.  Those were my very early influences, learning how to flat-pick, learning how to Travis-pick, and to sing like that.  That high lonesome sound is what I was really into for a long time.  And I still listen to that stuff all the time.  

Michael:  I’m also hearing other things in you.  I hear Springsteen, I hear Jackson Browne in you.

Robert:  Yeah, I love all those guys.  

Michael:  In fact, my favorite track on the record is probably “Steady As The Rising Sun” and that sounds to my ears like something that could have come right off For Everyman.

Robert:  Yeah, it’s interesting you say that.  It’s a co-write with my friend Taylor Goldsmith, who’s in a band called Dawes.  They were actually Jackson Browne’s backup band for a little while and they’re big fans of Jackson and I think it’s mutual with him.  I hear a lot of his influence in their music and I think it just sort of naturally happened.  I had written that song and I was just about to can it.  I was talking to Taylor on the phone and was like, “I think I’m gonna ditch that song.  It’s just not working for me.”  And he said, “Man, can I take a crack at it?”  He helped me rewrite the second verse, so we texted back and forth, we finished the song, and I ended up being really happy with it.  But yeah, it’s definitely a ‘70s sort of R&B pop jam.

Michael:  You know, you made me use a term I never envisioned using:  “agnostic bluegrass”.  You know where I’m going with this.

Robert:  (laughs)   Yeah, definitely.   

Michael:  I never thought I’d use the words “atheist” or “agnostic” in the same sentence with “bluegrass”, but there it is.  The song “Sing Along”…

Robert:  Well, that was the hope when I was writing it.  Compared to some of the other tunes, that one’s very traditional in the form and structure.  It has this modal bluegrass feel.  And if I wanted to put a song that was really traditional like that on the record, I wanted the lyric to be juxtaposed in some way.  So that was the goal when I was writing it and I ended up really liking the way it came out.  Needless to say, it hasn’t necessarily found the traditional bluegrass audience that one would have expected from an atheist anthem.  (laughs)  

Michael:  Is that song the direct result from having been from a religious family?

Robert:  Yeah, I grew up being raised Southern Baptist.  I was indoctrinated at any early age and the church was a big part of my life up to a certain point.  And then I got all those satanic influences in my life—like music, women, drugs, and alcohol…

Michael:  Yeah, all the good things in life.

Robert:  (laughs)  Eventually, moving to a big city and being exposed to new ideas and things like that, you come to your own path and realization about what you think.  I reflect on a lot of that childhood stuff.  Some of it was really beautiful, don’t get me wrong.  There’s things from that upbringing that I find really valuable, but hellfire and brimstone [and] indoctrination of people who really aren’t ready to make their own decisions, I still resent a lot of that.  I spent a lot of my life confused and scared.

Michael:  Unnecessarily scared.

Robert:  Yeah, that’s the thing.  I don’t think anybody really has the answers.  And it’s pretty arrogant to presume that you do.  It’s just fear-based.  I wanted to write something that spoke to that.  A lot of us came from this old world that’s changing rapidly and I think if religion is going to continue, it has to adapt.  You look at things like civil rights and gay rights—the church has really got some work to do if they want to stay relevant with the changing society.  

Michael:  Don’t you find that ironic, though?  A really strict religious household inadvertently gives birth to art that questions that strict religious belief.  How ironic is that?

Robert:  Yeah, it’s bizarre.  I don’t know what the right answer is, though.  

Michael:  It seems like religion sows the seeds of its own discontent.

Robert:  Well, I think that has to do with how it’s carried out.  You know, every religion is different.  I know kids that grew up casually spiritual, being well-adjusted, and don’t have a lot of resentment toward their religious upbringing.  But the church that I went to was not like that.  It was very hypocritical and condemning.  The whole community, in some ways, didn’t [lend] itself to free-thinkers.  Which is why I very quickly wanted to get out.  

Michael:  I completely understand.  Where I come from, my Dad is a Methodist and my Mom is a Baptist, so I went to church four times a week:  Wednesday night prayer meeting, Saturday night, Sunday morning, Sunday night foot-washing services.  I went to hell 4 times a week, every time we went to church.  Until finally, enough was enough.  It’s time to think for myself now.

Robert:  Same thing with me.  You just get beat over the head enough, you finally have to fight back a little bit.


Michael:  You made the [2014] Top 20 Lists at NPR, Rolling Stone, Esquire, and all points in-between.  How does it feel to know you’ve made that kind of impression?

Robert:  Oh, it’s amazing.  When we made this record, everybody was apprehensive because the world we’d been in was very Americana.  A lot of our fan base in Texas was decidedly country, so it was a big worry.  I thought we’ve got to find the right audience for this and it might not be the one that we have right now.  So it was almost like, “We’ll, we’re gonna have to start all over with this.”  NPR was a big help when they got on board.  I think a lot of people followed suit and started listening to it with different ears.  I can’t be thankful enough for it.  And with my next record, I’m going to do something different and keep trying to grow.  Even though I’m really appreciative, I’m trying not to get too confident in myself.  Because I know it’s such a crapshoot.  There’s so many great records that I feel don’t get their due and we just happened to get lucky on this one.  And it’s still a sort of narrow way—it’s not like we’re a major radio attraction or sell a ton of albums, but I do feel like we found a lot of people that identify with it.   I’m so thankful.

Michael:  Well, you just gave me the segue to my next question.  What’s the next record going to sound like?  Where are you going with this?

Robert:  Well, I’ve been making demos.  I’m trying to push myself lyrically.  I’m getting a lot more comfortable with my mistakes, you know?  With the demos I’ve been making, I’ve been doing one or two vocal takes and then I’m saying, “That’s it”.  I’ve done my work my whole life to become the singer that I am and I’ve just been realizing more and more that my favorite records—whether it be jazz or bluegrass or country—they were mostly done in one pass.  So that’s a big part of it.  Another big part of it is combining a lot of electronic elements.  The demos that I’ve made are mostly all drum machines and synth-based.  And with that, there’s acoustic guitar and piano.  Just whatever the song calls for.  A lot of the stuff has a strange electronic feel to it and that’s gonna be the next step in this progression.  My hope for a few records from now is that after I’ve done this and I keep growing and exploring, I could come back and do an all-acoustic record.  Just a solo acoustic performance, you know?  Or I could do a traditional bluegrass record.  

Michael: Or you could do a Bushwick Bill record.

Robert:  (laughs)  

Michael:  I was going to college when that first Geto Boys record came out and I still love ‘em.  Willie D, Scarface, Bill—I love all three of ‘em.

Robert:  They’re so good.  I don’t know if you follow me on Instagram, but I have some great pictures with Willie D and Bushwick Bill.  They were like childhood heroes.  After we got to a certain level in Houston, we just ended up running into them.  At SXSW this year, Bill was at our show outside of the Continental Club.  We were all just so happy and we got some great pictures with him.

Michael:  He seems like a really good guy.

Robert:  Yeah, he seems awesome.  He’s Bushwick Bill.

Michael:  And it’s not like he’s hard to miss.  He’s four feet tall with one eye.

Robert:  Well, that’s the joke.  My bass player said, “I think Bushwick Bill is out back”.  And I said, “Are you sure it’s him?”  (laughs)  Who else could it be?  

Michael:  (laughs)  Have you ever read Willie D’s advice column?

Robert:  I was just about to bring that up.  He writes that advice column in Houston and I follow him on Twitter and it’s amazing.  

Michael:  His advice is almost always spot-on.  

Robert:  It’s really good.  He’s a smart man.  I met him recently and had a great conversation with him.  It was just like, “This is so fucking cool.  This guy is just the coolest.”  

Michael:  Have you met Scarface?

Robert:  I have not met Scarface.

Michael:  He recorded my most favorite hip-hop record of all time, The Fix.  I don’t know if you know that one.  Very rarely does a hip-hop record come across as emotionally wrenching, but his voice…

Robert:  Oh, that whole era.  There was some cool stuff coming out of Houston.  They were sampling jazz guitar parts… really melodic beautiful music that they’re sampling and then rapping over.  That shit has a lot of heart.  

Michael:  And ZZ Top rerecorded a rap tune on their last CD La Futura.  The rap group was…DJ…oh, I can’t remember their name…my memory is failing…but it’s a Houston rap group.

Robert:  UGK?

Michael:  Maybe.

[Editor’s note:  It’s not UGK.  It’s DJ DMD Featuring Lil Keke & Fat Pat.  But Robert:  Since you stumbled into a potential ZZ Top/UGK collaboration, I hereby offer my availability to coordinate the campaign to make that shit happen.  Get at me, dog. I see platinum.]

Robert:  That’s Bun B and Pimp C.  Bun B is all over the Houston scene.  You see him everywhere.  He actually made a children’s coloring book last year.  A Bun B coloring book, because he’s like a family man now.  

Michael:  I’ve heard he actually did a show with an orchestra.

Robert:  I wouldn’t doubt it.  All those guys, they’re so creative.  That’s one thing I’m really thankful for.  Houston, being my home, I think it gets a bad rap from people who haven’t lived there.  It is one of the most eclectic music cities.  You’ve got church kids who all grew up playing gospel music, you’ve got a great jazz scene, great hip-hop scene, obviously country, and the songwriter tradition of Townes and Guy, and rock ‘n’ roll like ZZ Top.  There’s this really eclectic mix of inspiration in the air.  And the community there seems to embrace anything if it’s got heart.  So it’s not genre-specific.  Some towns are decidedly a punk rock town [or] decidedly one thing.  What I really love about being in Houston— last week I was there, I went to a really good straight ahead jazz gig on Friday night, I went and shot a video for my song “Chemical Plant” on Saturday with modern ballet dancers, and then Sunday my friend Kelly was doing a free improv show.  It’s great.

Michael:  It’s a hodgepodge of everything.

Robert:  Yeah, and it’s really accepting.  I know rappers there that’ll call me up and say, “Hey, what are you doing?  Let’s go hang.”  It’s just a cool, great scene.

Michael:  Well, let me plant the bug in your head:  you need to put that on tape.

Robert:  Yeah, I definitely want to.

Michael:  I get the feeling that culturally and socially, we think we’re more separate than we really are.  But I don’t think that’s so.

Robert:  Yeah, the song “Houston”— we talked about it a minute ago—but writing a song about Houston, there were elements of the city itself that I wanted to try and incorporate musically.  Some of that was the fusion ending, some of that was the R&B feel of the verses.  I don’t know how many people would ever notice that, but in my mind, if I’m going to write a song about the city, stylistically I want it to represent what I think about it.  That was the thought process when I was writing it.  

Michael:  So you’re on tour right now with Jonny Fritz?

Robert:  We’re starting a band together called Traveller and we’re hopefully gonna make a record sometime next year.  He came down and stayed with me last weekend at my parents’ house, just to write.  We sat in my parents’ RV all weekend and wrote a bunch of tunes.  We’re also getting ready to go to India together, because I’m producing his next record in India in March.  We’re gonna have a documentary filmmaker the whole time with us, so even if the record is a total disaster, it’s a win-win situation.  

Michael:  I think he’s been here in Bowling Green once, maybe twice, before.  But I think he used a different name at the time.  It wasn’t Johnny Fritz, it was Johnny…

Robert:  …Corndawg.  

Michael:  Is this going to be your first time in Bowling Green?

Robert:  Yes.  

Michael:  Well, welcome.  I hope it goes wonderful.

Robert:  Me, too.  What should I expect?

Michael:  Well, The Warehouse At Mt. Victor has had a lot of people in the last few years, mainly Americana acts.  You mentioned Ray Wylie Hubbard earlier—he’s played there numerous times.  Billy Joe Shaver, same deal.  There’s been quite a few legendary folks walk in and out of that place—Alejandro Escovedo, Todd Snider numerous times, Chris Knight.  This is right up your alley.

Michael:  One more question before you go.  I always like to ask this, because it tells me where you’re coming from.  What’s on the iPod right now?  What are you listening to just for the sheer enjoyment of listening?

Robert:  There’s this guy Alessandro Cortini, an electronic artist.  I’ve been putting that on intermittently to cleanse my pallet.  And Tim Hecker, I listen to him all the time.  When I was going to bed last night, I was listening to solo piano works, the Ravel solo piano stuff.  Bill Evans is a constant.  He’s got a record called Alone that I probably listen to every two days.  

Michael:  Speaking of solo piano, I’m sitting here with a copy of Bruce Hornsby’s Solo Concerts.  Have you heard this?

Robert:  Cool.  No. 

Michael:  It’s a double-disc of just him and a piano and it is absolutely incredible.

Robert:  Have you listened to Brad Mehldau?

Michael:  I have, yes.  I got turned onto him through a Willie Nelson record.

Robert:  Really?

Michael:  Yeah, you know the record Teatro?

Robert:  Yeah, was he on that?  Whoa.  

Michael:  Yeah, he’s on it.  There’s a version of “Home Motel” with just Willie and Brad.

Robert:  Man, I’ll check that out.  I listened to the record, but I didn’t realize it was Brad Mehldau.  I know it was Daniel Lanois who produced it.

Michael:  Brad might be on another few tracks, too.

Robert:  His record Largo was my favorite record, the whole touring cycle last year.  We listened to that every day.  Modern Music is another good one.  

Michael:  Is Largo the one with the Black Sabbath tribute on it?

Robert:  It’s the one that had “Paranoid Android”, the Radiohead song, on it.  The first tune is called “When It Rains” and it’s just amazing.  I was listening to it this morning.  That whole scene—it’s jazz, but it’s modern classical fused with jazz fused with pop.  I love Robert Glasper and that whole scene with the hip-hop element.    I like all of it as long as it’s good, you know?  

Michael:  One thing I’ve always been confused by is this either/or proposition that says you can either like country or like fill-in-the-blank, but it’s just not like that.  

Robert:  it’s sad.  

Michael:  It is.  Life is not like that.

Robert:  People are very dogmatic about music and it can be frustrating when you’re making it.  

Michael:  Robert, this has been a lot of fun.  Thank you.  I sincerely appreciate it.

Robert:  Likewise.  Thank you so much for doing this.  

At this point, I feel obligated to mention that after consulting with three female co-workers, I have been duly informed that Mr. Ellis is quite an attractive man.  However, I possess neither the chromosome nor the inclination to correctly assess this judgment.   I’m going to have to take their word for it.

I do know this, however:  Robert Ellis is a class act and one hell of a musician.  Buy the ticket and take the ride.

Ellis will be performing with Jonny Fritz at The Warehouse At Mt. Victor on Friday, February 20.  Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Central Tme.

You know what to do.  Go forth and multi-buy:




Photo by David McClister

Courtesy New West Records



Michael Franklin is the Media & Reserves Specialist at Western Kentucky University’s Visual & Performing Arts Library (VPAL). Michael is also a professional musician and sound engineer. He is currently recording his 6th CD with his best friends Screenlast 6.0 and Audacity Sourceforge. He thinks Iggy Pop is the greatest singer in the history of music. If you disagree, you’re wrong. You better ask somebody.


Contact Michael:

Blog: http://pointlessendeavor.wordpress.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/wkumike
CDBaby: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/franklinstapleton

Outlaw Magazine. Country, Rock and Roll, Blues, Folk, Americana, Punk. As long as it is real, it is OUTLAW. Overproduced mediocrity need not apply.