Get this crazy baby off my head!


Ellen McIlwaine

Ellen McIlwaine - Everybody Needs It - 1995 - Stony Plain

"She's a tough one to pigeonhole...her music uses the blues as a spring-board,spanning reggae, funk, rock, etc., mixing them in a steaming spicy melange. Being a wickedly sharp slide guitarist is only part of it." © Winnipeg Free Press

A great album from Ellen McIlwaine, the brilliant singer/songwriter from Nashville, Tennessee . Ellen was playing the New York clubs in 1966 as a supporting artists like Muddy Waters, and Howlin’ Wolf. Her music is deeply based in the Delta/Chicago Blues tradition . However, "Everybody Needs It" is an album of many styles. There are some terrific rock, blues, jazz, and soul sounds here. A wonderful eclectic mix of songs and styles. Ellen is a brilliant vocalist and slide guitarist. She covers songs by Curtis Mayfield, Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson, Tim Hardin, and Danny Bryant as well as five of her own compositions. Her great back up band includes the legendary Jack Bruce on bass, and vocals. Buy her "Looking For Trouble" album, and enjoy more of this great blues lady's music


1 I Want Whacha Got (Boston Song) McIlwaine 2:54
2 Say a Single Word McIlwaine 3:48
3 Everybody Needs It McIlwaine 3:13
4 Come Sit Down and Tell Me McIlwaine 2:40
5 Danger Zone Mayfield 4:16
6 Nothing Left to Be Desired Watson 3:17
7 Regretting Blues Bruce, Power 2:24
8 Hang on to a Dream Hardin 3:44
9 Cure My Blues Bryant 4:10
10 Keep On McIlwaine 3:35

N.B: There is a track "Temptation Took Control" on the original Blind Pig 1982 vinyl release. It is excluded from the 1995 Stony Plain CD reissue, which is posted here. The 1995 issue also includes her 1975 album, "The Real Ellen McIlwaine"


Ellen McIlwaine - Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals
Jack Bruce - Bass, Vocals (bckgr)
Howard Levy - Piano, Organ (Hammond)
Paul Wertico, Jeff Thomas - Drums
Kim Cusack - Clarinet
Larry McCabe - Trombone


Of the many great female voices in the early days of Rock. Ellen McIlwaine is one of them. She would also blast those pretenders right off the stage. Ellen was playing in the New York clubs in 1966 as a support act for many of the greats – Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf etc. Her music is routed in the Delta/Chicago Blues axis. But like many she uses it as the form on which to build new textures. In 1972 and 1973 the excellent "Honky Tonk Angel" and "We the People" were released (now reissued on 1 CD). "The Real Ellen McIlwaine" followed in 1975. Each of these albums contains a cover of a Bruce/Brown song from the "Songs for the Tailor" album. ‘Weird of Hermiston’, ‘Never Tell Your Mother She’s Out of Tune’ and ‘He the Richmond’ are magnificent and distinctive interpretations of difficult songs. In 1982 Ellen organised a recording session with "one of [her] heroes", Jack Bruce. It was a meeting of eclectic, idiosyncratic talents. The result is unique and one of the best albums either of them have released. I saw Ellen in 1982 at a theatre in Sydney. She was great – the voice powering out with that wide range (no whining upper registers from her!); swapping between acoustic, electric slide, piano and solo voice. I can still visualise her standing on stage in long dress, long thick red hair and playing that battered slide guitar (actually an acoustic with a single coil pickup over the sound hole) through a small combo. The sound was incredible. I almost leapt out of my seat when said she said she had just recorded an album with Jack (a few of us applauded at the mention of his name). They actually released it in Australia soon after her tour. In producing (yes she does that as well) this album Ellen took full advantage of Jack’s talents. She sensibly let him play lead bass against her vocals (now who else would dare do that!) but kept his voice for a few backing vocals only. Her slide guitar is somewhat restrained but still potent when she lets loose. It’s well worth a track by track review.
I Want Whacha Got (McIlwaine)
Slide guitar opening quickly answered by Jack. Ellen singing over a tight call and response guitar/bass line.
Say a Single Word (McIlwaine)
Vocals and piano. A beautiful song with Ellen exclaiming her independence even in love:
"I’ll be damned before I’ll say
All those words that it would take for you to stay"
Everybody Needs It (McIlwaine)
Full band doing a rocker on the subject of bar pickups. Jack does some backing vocals.
Come Sit Down and Tell Me (McIlwaine)
Aaaah, that slide guitar and Ellen vocalising in harmony. Classic solo McIlwaine.
Danger Zone (Curtis Mayfield)
Opens with drums and bass. Ellen joins, singing in soul/jazz mode over funky backing. Excellent drums from Paul Wertico. Voice, drums and that Jack Bruce bass guitar – few could pull this off, let alone try!
Nothing Left to Be Desired (Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson)
An up tempo ‘jazzy’ interpretation with Ellen double tracking guitars, one with wah-wah. Jack does a multi-tracked backing chorus. A gem.
Regretting Blues (Bruce/Power)
Her obligatory Bruce cover. Ellen on slide, playing one of Jack’s typically angular blues. A tasty, too short, slide solo.
Hang On To A Dream (Tim Hardin)
Voice, piano, drums and lead bass. Jack takes a superb solo. Arguably, the definitive version of Tim Hardin’s finest song. It was great live, even just Ellen alone.
Cure My Blues (Browning Bryant)
Another soulful blues tinged with jazz. Her voice really stars with Jack and Ellen doing chorus background vocals.
Keep On (McIlwaine)
Unrequited love, the topic of so many songs. Ellen does it as well as the best without being maudlin. Jack and Ellen do some more background vocals with the addition of clarinet and trombone an unexpected touch.


Ellen McIlwaine was born October 1, 1945, in Nashville, Tennessee, and was adopted by William and [Frances] Aurine McIlwaine, a Southern Presbyterian minister and his wife, when she was six weeks old. At age two, she was taken with them to their new assignment as missionaries in post-war Japan. For 15 years, McIlwaine lived in Kobe, Japan, and attended a Canadian school with an international student body. Here she was exposed to a wide range of cultures and musical traditions, including those of Asia and India. She started playing piano at age five and also sang in the church choir. Although her introduction to American country music came mainly from broadcasts on the US Armed Forces Radio, the primary musical influence of her early years was New Orleans-style Rhythm & Blues. She picked it up in Japan listening to the frequent concerts and air play of Black American recording stars such as Ray Charles, Fats Domino, and Professor Longhair, and it is still evident in McIlwaine's music today. At age seventeen, McIlwaine returned to the United States with her parents to continue her education, first at King College in Bristol, Tennessee (1964-1965), then at Dekalb College in Clarkston, Georgia (1965), just outside of Atlanta. After two frustrating years, she left school and two weeks later made her first professional appearance in Atlanta where she played guitar and performed in local clubs. In 1966, during a trip to Georgia, singer and songwriter Patrick Sky heard her and invited her to New York City. Sky introduced her to his manager who in turn introduced her to the Cafe Au Go-Go in Greenwich Village. There she played nightly on bills which included Jimi Hendrix (whom she credits with the inspiration for using her voice like a guitar), John Lee Hooker, and Howlin' Wolf, picking up many of her trademark guitar licks along the way. In fact, it was here that she was introduced to the slide guitar style by Randy California and Richie Havens. Returning to Atlanta in 1967, McIlwaine put together Fear Itself, her first (and only) formal group. She said that at the time, women in rock bands were mainly relegated to being back-up singers (or groupies) for male leaders and were never featured as musicians. Rather than be restricted by convention, she started Fear Itself so that she could be both the lead singer and lead guitarist. She gave the group its name saying that "fear itself" was how she felt being the 22 year-old leader of an otherwise all-male rock band. In 1968, she took the band back to New York to record their self-titled debut album. The review in Rolling Stone magazine described them as an "experimental... white blues band" consumed with "driving energy." In 1968, McIlwaine moved to the Woodstock, New York, area and started to play solo again. In 1972 and 1973, she recorded her most popular and more "folk" oriented albums, Honkey Tonk Angel and We The People. Although both were perennial favorites on college and progressive radio stations, neither album resulted in the national break-out that she was working towards. In 1975, she moved to Montréal, Canada, for a year and recorded The Real Ellen McIlwaine with the Ville Emard Blues Band, Québec's popular music collective. This was an album dedicated to mentor Jimi Hendrix and was much closer in spirit to her electric blues roots. It succeeded in capturing the enthusiasm of her live performances more than any of her other releases until 1998's Women In (E)Motion. McIlwaine returned to Atlanta in 1976. A change of managers and record labels resulted in 1978's Ellen McIlwaine, a self-titled, disco-flavored LP on which she was backed by jazz fusion musicians John Lee and Gerry Brown. She called the experience of making it "probably the low point of my life. My self esteem was at such a low ebb that I believed the 'you're doing it all wrong, you don't know what you're doing...' line [United Artists] had and I went along with the hiring of an 'orchestrator' and their selecting the songs (some of which I really liked, but the arrangements and production seemed to me to be a waste of good musicians) and did not find out until they were recording the rhythm beds that I was not going to be allowed to play the guitar at all because 'you don't have the chops!!' By that time I was locked in to making the record. I spent nights in the hotel in lower Manhattan rocking with my guitar in the rocking chair and crying." Despite the disappointment of that album, in a measure of her home-town popularity, Mayor Maynard Jackson of Atlanta proclaimed a special day in her honor in that same year. In 1982 McIlwaine moved to Willimantic, Connecticut and recorded Everybody Needs It with Cream bassist Jack Bruce playing and producing. In 1987, she relocated to Toronto, Ontario, at the invitation of Sylvia Tyson (of the duo Ian & Sylvia) and released Looking For Trouble. Although more controlled in their production, the latter two albums are still strong, gutsy recordings. Since 1992, McIlwaine has resided in Calgary, Alberta. Except for Fear Itself, all of her albums have been reissued on CD and are currently available. She still tours continuously, mainly playing small clubs throughout North America and Europe. A live CD called Ellen McIlwaine: Women In (E)Motion Festival, recorded in Bremen, Germany, was released in 1998. Lately, she has been touring with Taj Mahal and a new CD, Spontaneous Combustion, includes duets with Taj on two numbers. Last Revision: 22. June. 2001 By Joseph Levy, © Joseph Levy, www.laventure.net/tourist/ellenbio.htm


A.O.O.F.C said...


p/w aoofc

Doccus Rockus Maximus said...

Hey! I know Ellen... did a gig with her maybe 15 years ago now... watta kikass loud gitarist...

Luv to hear this LP again too... one of her better ones...
the review mentioned 'Looking for Trouble"..
It was kinda new at the time and I went and learned it all due to the aforementioned gig.. what did she do but throw all the most obscure R&B standards at me to catch me out :)..not one original! I didn't drop a lick, natch...but...

Love your bl;og..always!
Doc Rock....

A.O.O.F.C said...

Hey, Doccus. Thanks a million for that info. I love to get first hand details like that. It's the kind of news I will never pick up in mags etc. Please keep in touch. Great to hear from an A1 musician. What about "Pretty Lies". I'm listening to that at the moment! TTU soon

Doccus Rockus Maximus said...

Thanx.. I've run into a whole lotta old tapes etc. and have started posting a few on my (virgin fresh) blog ... a kind nod in my direction would always be appreciated!

Regards to AOOFC! frum Doc

A.O.O.F.C said...

Cheers, Doc! You're on my recommended links list. I look forward to more news on your blog. What I've read so far is looking good...TTU soon

d said...

No surprise that I would find Ellen on your site. Thanks!
I saw her back in the early 80s as well, at a small club in Toronto.
She was extremely good and very gracious afterwards. I still have my autographed copy of Everybody Needs It.
I have kept that one and an Etta James album that was signed because of the memory attached to each show and each artist.

d said...

No surprise that I would find Ellen on your site. Thanks!

A.O.O.F.C said...

Hi,brainmatter/ed/s! Only the best on this blog! Thanks for comments. Keep in touch...P

Anonymous said...

While looking for a Bonnie Raitt album this evening, the name Ellen McIlwaine suddenly came to mind. At the time this album was released a couple of my female friends raved about it - and Ellen in general - and though I took note and listened to their copies of her records, I never did get around to buying anything. I found the Raitt album I was looking for and here I am for Ellen! Many thanks for the opportunity to hear this again.


A.O.O.F.C said...

Thanks,Brian. Your friends know good music when they hear it. HNY, & keep in touch...P