cream of the crate #23 : ellen mcllwaine – we the people

 

 

cream of the crate #23 : ellen mcllwaine – we the people
[CLICK to enlarge]

 

This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site. 

"The first notable female slide player . . . displays a more aggressive free form slide approach . . ." [Guitar Player Mag. California] "

This is number twenty three in the series of albums I’m featuring as part of an on-going retrospective of vinyl albums in my personal collection. The series is called, “Cream of The Crate”, and they represent vinyl albums that I believe are of significant musical value, either because of their rarity, because they represent the best of a style or styles of music or because their is something unique about the group or the music.

Think about white women music artists in the early 1970’s, and you get to Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Carly Simon, maybe Laura Nyro. The odds are you will not name Ellen McILwaine, in fact, you may very well have not even heard of her!

Album #23 is by the Ellen McILwaine and is titled “We The People”.

It’s an album that showcases her amazing talent for both guitar and her voice. It was released on the Polydor Label [ PD-5044] in 1973.

cream of the crate #23 : ellen mcllwaine – we the people
The album label – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

Born in Tennessee, she moved with adoptive missionary parents to Japan when she was only two. She was very fortunate to be exposed to everything from Japanese Folk and Classical Music through to American Rhythm & Blues featuring greats like Ray Charles, Fats Domino and Professor Longhair – all on Japanese radio.

In addition she was exposed to the music of the Grand Ole Opry as well as European Classical Music on American Armed Forces Radio. All this whilst growing up in an International Community of families from India, Pakistan, the Middle East, Eastern and Western Europe and Asia.

She was playing “World Music” before it was called World Music!

Like most guitarists she started out on acoustic guitar, moving to Greenwich Village in 1966 and playing in a variety of clubs.

Very quickly she was considered good enough to open up for many blues greats.

During her stay in and around the Village she became friends with Odetta, Richie Havens, Mississippi John Hurt & Jimi Hendrix to name but a few.

She dabbled with a group in 1968, but it wasn’t until she returned as a solo artist in 1970 and cut two albums over a two year period, did she start to gain a major ‘cult status’. In 1972 she released ‘Honkey Tonk‘, and in 1973 the album under review, We The People.

cream of the crate #23 : ellen mcllwaine – we the people
Ellen with her Guild guitars. – [CLICK to enlarge]
 

 As a result of this an album she was invited to appear on a 1974 album titled, “The Guitar ” which was a compilation of all the guitar players on Polydor in 1974: Link Wray, Rory Gallagher, John McLaughlin, Roy Buchannan et al.

Ellen was the only female player!

 

 

The track “We The People” really showcases her voice, its range and power, and along with some stunning guitar work remains in my mind, among best work. It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but when it comes to music and musicians surely a ‘3 minute’ track is worthy of replacing thousands of words!

We the People

But the great music does not stop with the title track, and I do encourage you to explore her musical style. Track 3 Side 1 is a fantastic slide guitar composition, not surprisingly called, “Slide Guitar”.

Slide Guitar

“Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven (But Nobody Wants To Die)” is a reflective, somewhat philosophical piece, but sung with the gusto that Ellen constantly provides the listener.

Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven (But nobody wants To Die)

Everybody wants to go to heaven. Nobody wants to die.
Everybody wants to know the reason without even asking why.
Everybody wants to be the one to laugh. Nobody wants to cry.
Everybody wants to hear the truth but people keep on telling lies.
Everybody wants to know the reason without even asking why.
Everybody wants to go to heaven. Nobody wants to die.

Everybody wants to be the winner. Nobody wants to play.
Everybody wants to live tomorrow but nobody likes living today.
Everybody wants to go first class. Nobody wants to pay.
Everybody wants to get all the love they can. Nobody gives any love away.
Everybody wants to be a winner. nobody wants to play.
Everybody wants to live tomorrow but nobody likes living today.

Everybody wants to be a light. Nobody wants to shine.
Everybody wants to borrow the car, but nobody wants to pay the fine.
Everybody wants to be in love. Nobody wants to stay.
Everybody wants to buy a house, but nobody’s got any money.
Everybody wants to borrow the car, but nobody wants to pay the fine.
Everybody wants to be a light, but nobody, until right now, and you just might be ready to shine.

The final track being mentioned is “Jimmy Jean“.  

On this track Ellen is beautifully supported by congo player, Candido, whose smooth and effortless playing dovetails really well with Ellen’s style. I really enjoy how she allows her voice to track up and down the scale while singing the refrain.

cream of the crate #23 : ellen mcllwaine – we the people

It’s a real toe tapper I’ve included it for you to check out.

Jimmy Jean

In a review of this album, Mark Allan (writing on lost albums of the seventies) wrote:”Nashville-born Ellen McIlwaine was adopted by missionaries and raised in Japan, Ellen was “diversity” embodied. Gigging in Grenwich Village she befriended the young Jimi Hendrix and opened for blues greats like Muddy Waters.

We The People is a veritable patchwork of Gospel, Blues, Jazz, Funk and Folk hard-driven by almost Zeppelin-esque slide guitar work. Her ‘Jimmy Jean’, with its delicious scat yodel, was a Patrick Forge and Gilles Peterson Acid Jazz staple and was even reissued under the auspices of that scene. We The People is this funky mama’s strongest disc and well worth a listen.”
[http://thequietus.com/articles/07782…rom-the-1970s]

cream of the crate #23 : ellen mcllwaine – we the people
Rear Cover – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

All the tracks except three are written by Ellen McILwaine.

Track 4 on Side 1 was written by Jack Bruce (ex Cream) and Pete Brown, Track 3, Side 2 was written by Al Fields, Tom Delaney & Timmie Rogers .

Track 4, Side 1 is a traditional composition adapted by Ellen.

TRACK LISTING

A1
  Ain’t No Two Ways About It (It’s Love)
4:26
 
A2
  All To You
3:07
 
A3
  Sliding
2:53
 
A4
  Never Tell Your Mother She’s Out Of Tune
2:24
 
A5
  Farther Along
3:42
 
B1
  I Don’t Want To Play
3:20
 
B2
  Underground River
3:55
 
B3
  Everybody Want’s To Go To Heaven(But Nobody Want’s To Die)
2:29
 
B4
  Jimmy Jean
2:59
 
B5
  We The People
3:21
 

 

Artists appearing on the album

  • Ellen McILwaine – vocals, guitar, piano
  • Don Payne – bass
  • Don Moore – bass (Side B, track 4)
  • Jimmy Madison – drums (Side A, track 2; Side B, tracks 1-3)
  • Jerry Mercer – drums (Side A, tracks 1, 4)
  • Colin Tilton – saxophone
  • Candido – conga
  • West 44th Street Noise Choir – background vocals (Side B, track 1)
  • The Persuasions – background vocals on (Side A, track 5)

Discography

  • Fear Itself(1969, with Fear Itself)
  • Honkey Tonk Angel (1972)
  • We the People (1973)
  • The Real Ellen McILwaine (1975)
  • Ellen McIlwaine (1978)
  • Everybody Needs It (1982)
  • Looking For Trouble (1987)
  • U From The Skies (The Polydor Years) (1998, compilation)
  • Women in (e)motion Festival/Ellen McILwaine (1999)
  • Spontaneous Combustion (2001)
  • Live at Yellow (2002, Japanese release)
  • Mystic Bridge, with Cassus Khan (2006)

Compilation inclusions

  • Saturday night Blues (20 years) (2006)


Ellen continues to play today. Her web site says, “Her high energy Rhythm & Blues, along with Middle Eastern laments, Indian, Pakistani & West African influences and a capella Gospel numbers all drive her amazing Slide Guitar and Vocal Acrobatics to make for a dynamic show.

Anecdotes & stories from her forty-some years in the business add warmth and humour to her unforgettable performances.”

There is nothing in this statement to challenge! Even today she remains dynamic and dedicated to her music.

cream of the crate #23 : ellen mcllwaine – we the people
Ellen in 2011

 

You are probably not going to go and rush out to buy this album, unless you are a collector of vinyl and realise that your collection can never be complete without a McILwaine album.

If this is the case you cannot go past We The People. It’s available on vinyl and at between $25 and $40.00 with postage, I think it is a must!

 


VIDEOS:

While there are a good number of clips of Ellen playing live, there are, sadly, nothing from this album.

So here are two clips that show how talented this woman is.

Ellen demonstrating her ability to make the slide guitar really rock

 

Stunning playing with a form of scat singing