Last summer, Savannah music fans were treated to the return of acclaimed Atlanta-based blues guitarist Tinsley Ellis when he performed at Tybee Post Theater after having not played any shows in the area for over ten years. Now Ellis is returning to River Street where he cut his teeth in the 80s playing at the former Night Flight Café with his early band, The Heartfixers.
Savannah Music Festival is presenting Tinsley Ellis at District Live for the first concert of a year-round series. Ellis is just embarking on a long tour to promote his first all-acoustic album, The Naked Truth.
“I’ve been sitting on it for about half a year, so I feel kind of like I’m about to explode, but it’ll be in the first week of its release when I’m performing there, so that’s a good thing,” said Ellis. “The Savannah Music Festival knows what they’re doing when it comes to roots music, that’s for sure.”
Ellis is known for his feral and fiery electric guitar playing, which has often been compared to Texas blues legend Freddie King, or Southern rock royalty, The Allman Brothers. For The Naked Truth, however, Ellis has turned down the amplifiers and gone all-acoustic, something he has been wanting to try for years.
“I’ve always wanted to do an acoustic album,” said Ellis. “In 2013 I had always wanted to do an all-instrumental album, and there’s been two times in my career where I wanted to do a live album, so doing this kind of different specialty type album is, I think, a luxury that I’ve had by having 21 albums out.
“I’m very fortunate that Alligator Records is taking a chance on something different, and I got to tell you, the response has been very favorable and opening some doors that were always closed to me — closed by things like loud guitar and Wawa pedals and stuff like that. It’s hard to get out in a show called ‘acoustic café’ when you have those elements in your act.”
For this album and tour, Ellis has taken advantage of a beautiful 1937 National Steel resonator guitar.
“I suppose at the time there was this Hawaiian Music craze and it’s got etchings of palm trees and a canoe and a volcano on the front and on the back,” described Ellis. “What I think happened is Blues got a hold of it because it makes a lot of racket. We declared it a Blues instrument even though its roots are to play Hawaiian Music.”
While Ellis’ previous album, Devil May Care (2022) was deeply indebted to the blues rock of his friends, The Allman Brothers (with whom he performed with several times over the years), The Naked Truth is inspired by Delta blues legends like Son House and Muddy Waters. A few songs are also inspired by (or covers of) folk guitarists like Leo Kotke and Burt Jansch.
“Even Jimmy Page’s acoustic playing really influenced it,” said Ellis. “Jimmy Page is a master of open tunings.”
Ellis wrote hundreds of songs during the pandemic, a few of which appear on The Naked Truth. There are nine original compositions and three covers including the Son House song “Death Letter Blues,” which was produced by Atlanta musician Eddie 9V.
The Naked Truth was released Feb. 9 from Alligator Records and physical copies including a beautiful gold vinyl edition will be available for purchase.
Fans of Ellis’ blazing electric guitar chops will get to see a different, but not necessarily softer side of him at District Live on February 15.
“Well I’ll be honest with you, when I launched this whole thing I was worried about whether people would feel disappointed not to have the danceability of an electric band, but I played some festivals in this format in front of thousands of people and I get the foot stomping and keep it up-tempo and people have been dancing to it, so I haven’t had hardly any naysayers which makes me think maybe I should have done this years before. I think it’s gonna raise an eyebrow and I think that’s a good thing. It’s not that much of departure. It’s not like a polka album or a klezmer album or anything like that. It’s pretty much the same style of music with just more earthiness to it.”
If You Go >>
What: Savannah Music Festival presents Tinsley Ellis ‘The Naked Truth’
When: 8 p.m., Feb. 15
Where: District Live, 400 W. River St.