Arkansas State University


Sara McNeil
Gina Bowman

(870) 972-3056
fax (870) 972-3693

More information:

Links to News Releases
& Announcements

KASU Public Newsroom
KASU Local News

Campus Calendar
Public activities at ASU

About ASU
Overview, history
and more

KASU's Blue Monday-Paragould presents William Lee Ellis Oct. 18

October 13, 2010 -- KASU presents William Lee Ellis at the next Blue Monday-Paragould on Oct. 18 from 7-9 p.m. at the Red Goose Deli, 117 N. Pruett Street, downtown Paragould. The concert is free and open to the public, but seating is limited.

Acclaimed Americana/blues guitarist William Lee Ellis was raised in the deep roots of American music. Named after his godfather, legendary bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe, Ellis grew up in a musical family – his father, respected banjo composer Tony Ellis,Acclaimed musician William Lee Ellis was named for his godfather, the legendary bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe. was one of Monroe's Blue Grass Boys.

Growing up in the Kingsport-Bristol-Johnson City cradle of country music, Tennessee native William Lee was immersed in roots music heaven at an early age – some of his earliest memories include trips with his father to visit old-time music master Tommy Jarrell, and being bounced on his godfather’s knee. It was only natural to take up the guitar, and Ellis spent his adolescence backing his fiddle-and-banjo-playing dad at bluegrass festivals and contests across the country.

In college, Ellis took his musical studies in a new direction, spending the better part of a decade playing classical guitar and earning a master’s degree in classical performance from the University of Cincinnati-College Conservatory of Music. While there, Ellis chanced upon a musician who would change his life: Piedmont blues giant Reverend Gary Davis. Folk-blues revivalist Andy Cohen introduced Ellis to Davis’
intricate finger-picking style, which fascinated the classically-trained guitarist. “Davis was both a brilliant sacred musician and bluesman, and that’s a mix I love dearly in pre-war traditional and folk music,” Ellis says, “A combination of the heavenly and the hellish, full of tension, drama and gut-hitting emotion.”

His discovery led Ellis to other bluesmen – Blind Blake, Lonnie Johnson, Blind Willie Johnson, and Willie McTell. Soon, Ellis had a band of his own, the Midnight Steppers, an acoustic Delta/jug band/rockabilly group co-led by longtime collaborator and compadre Larry Nager. In the late ‘80s, the Steppers performed regionally at festivals and on such national radio and TV programs as NPR’s Mountain Stage and TNN’s Nashville Now.

Along the way, Ellis learned to combine Davis’ finger-picking technique with his classical performance background and the bluegrass-infused memories of his youth. Yet it’s clear that he’s no revivalist – Ellis writes his own unique music, using old blues forms and apocalyptic gospel themes as a vocabulary to express contemporary experiences. In his quest to capture the timeless appeal of pre-war traditions, and to make the music’s message live for today, Ellis has created a brand of Americana/roots music that’s all his own.

Ellis’ recordings have been hailed by the international press from Billboard to the London Times: his five albums include 2000’s The Full Catastrophe; and 2003’s Conqueroo, picked as one of the year’s best records by Acoustic Guitar magazine.  Most recently, he recorded God’s Tattoos with acclaimed producer Jim Dickinson.

Ellis resides these days in Memphis, and recently ended a nine-year stint as the pop music critic for the city’s daily, The Commercial Appeal, in order to focus on his music career while working towards a PhD in ethnomusicologWilliam Lee Ellis, Americana/blues musician at home in Memphis.y at the University of Memphis.  Among Ellis’s writing honors are a 2002 Keeping the Blues Alive Award for print media and a 2004 first place Arts and Entertainment win in the Missouri Lifestyle Journalism Awards, the oldest and best-known feature writing accolade for American newspapers. He also co-produced with Larry Nager the Handy-nominated album “Big Joe Jumps Again!” by Cincinnati blues piano master Big Joe Duskin.

Ellis is an avid world traveler – recent European tours include Italy and Germany, Austria and Switzerland – and teacher, having instructed blues guitar at the prestigious Common Ground on the Hill workshop as well as Jorma Kaukonen’s Fur Peace Ranch. With his banjo-composer father, he’s also played Cuba and Belarus for the U.S. State Department, the Kennedy Center, MerleFest and The Late Show with David Letterman in a performance with actor Steve Martin. Summer saw Ellis traversing the US in support of God’s Tattoos, with dates scheduled on the West coast, the Southeast, and the East coast.

Admission to the Blue Monday-Paragould concert featuring William Lee Ellis is free thanks to sponsors Bibb Chiropractic, MOR Media, Inc. and KASU, but seating is limited. Listen to William Lee Ellis's "Northern Lights" and other performances on YouTube.

KASU 91.9 FM is the 100,000 watt public broadcasting service of Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. For more information, contact KASU’s development director Todd Rutledge at 972-2807.

                                                       # # #

  NewsPage:  |  Back to TOP  |