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Do the Blues: The Ellis Kell Band’s 20th-Anniversary Concert, February 20 at Rascals PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Mike Schulz   
Wednesday, 10 February 2010 08:41

The Ellis Kell BandConsidering that the ensemble's front man is the director of programming and education for Davenport's River Music Experience, the decision to instead perform the Ellis Kell Band's forthcoming 20th-anniversary concert at the Moline live-music venue Rascals might seem like an odd one. As Kell himself explains, however, it's not.

"We hadn't played there for a long time, but that's kind of where we owned it," says the blues vocalist/guitarist, who will jam with present and former bandmates on Saturday, February 20.

"We played our first gig as the Ellis Kell Band on February 3, 1990, at Rascals. And before that, most of us that make up the band started playing there as the '& Friends' part of 'Jim Schwall & Friends.'"

But Kell says that when blues guitarist Schwall moved to Madison, Wisconsin, in 1989, "I told the other guys, 'I don't want to do the cover-band thing anymore, you know? I want to start a band, and write some original stuff and record, and just do the blues. For however long I've got left to do this, I want to do it the way I think it should be done.' And everybody said, 'Hey, let's do it.'"

So began the Ellis Kell Band, the local blues favorites who have shared stages with the likes of Willie Nelson, Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker Jr., and Edgar Winter during the group's two decades of performance.

Originally founded by Kell, John Burchett, Rick Stoneking, Dennis "Shineboy" Hancq, and Jeff Clark, the group performed locally for three years prior to the release of its first CD, 1993's Down to the Levee, which boasts 13 tracks featuring music and lyrics by Kell and Stoneking. It was followed by 2000's Ellis Kell Band & Friends, and in August of last year, the compilation CD Moondances Chapter One. (As Kell says with a grin, "I try to do one at least every seven years.")

Ellis KellKell says that the band's current lineup - which finds Kell joined by bassist Burchett, keyboardist Stoneking, harmonica player "Detroit" Larry Davison, and drummer Terry Hanson - continues to work on new songs and covers of established blues hits, even though adding untried material to the band's repertoire "has been a challenge in the last few years. We've added new things, and we're always on the lookout - we probably add, I don't know, maybe a half a dozen, 10 songs a year. Not as much as we used to, but then again, we don't get together as much as we used to.

"We're all doing different things," says Kell. "Terry Hanson has his jazz trio [the Terry Hanson Ensemble] and he teaches. Larry plays with the Avey Brothers. Everybody's busy with work. So we all have different things, but we all come back together when we can. And we sort of rehearse by e-mail. I'll e-mail Rick and say, 'Hey, what do you think about doing this Little Feat song ... ?' And he'll e-mail and say, 'Okay, yeah, cool, I'll go back and listen to that ... .'"

The band's namesake adds that while he'd like to have more time and opportunities to add to the repertoire, he still truly enjoys playing the songs - such as fan favorites "I Ain't Got No Blues Today," "Lucky Dog," and "Sticks 'n' Stones" - that audiences already know and love.

"You're up there to entertain people," says Kell. "You're up there to play what they want to hear. If you can throw in something new along the way, cool, but first and foremost, you're there to entertain. So I like playing [our band's] old songs."

Especially since, as the musician says, the band's set lists are rarely performed the same way twice. "I think one of the key features of our band is that we're always spontaneous," says Kell. "I don't rehearse a set to death. I don't say anything negative about the folks who do, and I'm all for having a polished show, but I also appreciate, like, what Bob Dylan does. He pisses people off sometimes, because he doesn't always play 'All Along the Watchtower' or 'Blowin' in the Wind' the way it originally went, but he plays it the way he feels it that night. I like that."

Despite the group's local success, however, Kell insists that he never had any real interest in touring with his outfit.

Ellis Kell"We've been up around Chicago," says Kell, "and have played a couple different private things. We went and played in Des Moines. One time we played a big convention in Tempe, Arizona. But I never liked the idea of living out of a suitcase. I like going home at the end of the night."

Kell's disinterest in traveling, though, certainly hasn't kept him, or his bandmates, from meeting and sharing stages with some of music's most legendary figures.

"The last time we opened for B.B. King at the Adler," says Kell of his band's May 31, 2008, engagement, "he invited me out on stage at the end of the show - not to play, but just to come out and take a bow. And I walked up to him, and we shook hands, and nobody in the Adler Theatre took a picture of it. I mean, I asked people, 'Didn't anybody get a picture of this?!' You know, it's like a once-in-a-lifetime thing ... . But hey, I know it happened."

Yet despite the thrill in performing alongside musical legends, Kell says that he's just as excited about jamming with former and present Ellis Kell Band members during February 20's Rascals event, the first public reunion of past and present members since 2005's 15th-anniversary celebration at the River Music Experience.

"When you play with musicians for years," says Kell, "things happen. People's egos get wounded. But I'm happy to say that all the people that have ever been part of the Ellis Kell Band, we're all as good of friends now - if not better - as we've ever been. We have a great mutual respect, and everybody always looks forward to these things. So I think it's gonna be a riot.

"I've been very fortunate with all the guys that I've played with," Kell adds. "They're good without having to drill 20 rehearsals to get it."


The Ellis Kell Band plays its 20th-anniversary concert at Rascals in Moline (1414 15th Street) on Saturday, February 20, from 9 p.m. to midnight. For information on the evening, call (309)797-9457 or visit; for more on the Ellis Kell Band, visit

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