Steve's Blog
Tuesday September 7, 2010

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We begin our concert series this Thursday with a concert featuring Ellen McIlwaine and Rachelle Van Zanten, two Canadian slide guitar divas. Van Zanten is a young musician, with two solo albums since she left the alt rock group Painting Daisies a few years ago. She has just finished performing at the Powell River Sunshine Festival on Labour Day weekend. Ellen McIlwaine has a long history of pioneering music - starting in the 60s when girls just weren't supposed to play guitar, let alone solo on it.

Here is an article from the Georgia Straight, written in 1989 by renowned Vancouver writer and - at that time - Coop Radio DJ, Connie Kuhns. It speaks volumes about Ellen McIlwaine's background, musical roots, and sheer determination. Connie will be at the show on Thursday at St. James Hall, 3214 West 10th Avenue. I agree with her when she says of Ellen: she deserves more fame and fortune than she has received. Way more.

It was a while before Ellen Mcllwaine realized that she was white. The daughter of American missionaries, Mcllwaine grew up in Japan, speaking Japanese and attending an International school: "We were multicultural," she said during a recent telephone call to the Georgia Straight from her home In Toronto. "There was no us and them. It was all us."

Her musical tastes were integrated as well: Japanese classics, American rhythm and blues, and Latin music: "Trio Los Panchos was big in Japan, as were the black American recording artists including Fats Domino, Ray Charles, and Professor Longhair. And then in the South you met the same people and found out they didn't have the same status that they had in Japan. But I always followed their music. Those are my roots."

McIlwaine, now 42, began playing piano at a very early age and was well on her way to developing the famous New Orleans style when her famiIy returned to the U.S. For a woman who referred to white people as "foreigners", moving to Georgia at the beginning of the civil rights era presented some problems. "It was awful," she says. "I hung out with a group of people who were racially mixed, and that was a big no-no back then. We used to get pulled over a lot by the cops because they thought we were outside agitators. When people talked racial slurs I would have to ask what most of them meant. It was unbelievable. I didn't understand where all the hate came from. I became a history major in college. and I learned that what's in the books isn't always what happened. And I was appalled when I found out the things that went down."

But a Presbyterian college was not where McIlWaine really wanted to be. Unable to find a piano she had taken up guitar and was playing rock 'n' roll in the basement of the boys' dormitory. In time, her desire to be a working musician led her to New York City: "People hung out. They played together," she says, referring to the Village scene in the mid-60s. "There was an openness and an exchange of ideas. I didn't feel discriminated against. They were mostly all men, and I still didn't feel any difference. That came later. I felt quite accepted and encouraged."

Although younger than her contemporaries. Mcllwaine played club dates with Muddy Waters, Elvin Bishop, John Hammond, and others. She was particularly encouraged by the young Jimi Hendrix, who asked to sit in on her sets at the Cafe Au Go Go. "He was really nice to me. He was a very sensitive guy, and the main way he communicated with the world was through his music. He listened to everything everybody played. He never put anybody down. It was a real pleasure to play with him. I watched him write 'The Wind Cries Mary', and I learned from him how to use my guitar and my voice like two guitars,"

Mcllwaine is now legendary for her powerful, dual-actlon performing style. She's recorded eight albums. Including a concert at Carnegie Hall and two Canadian-made releases. Everybody Needs It, recorded in 1982 with Jack Bruce, won the award for Best Rock Album In the U.S. from the National Independent Record Distributors. The state of Georgia has honoured her, and Atlanta declared the first day of spring Ellen Mcllwaine Day.

A passionate musician, Mcllwaine plays with wit and wisdom as if guided by ghosts from New Orleans' Storyville and the psychedelic past. "It's a hard thing to come through," she says, reflecting on life in the late '60s and '70s. "A lot of people ended up abusing drugs and alcohol. But I've heard a lot of wonderful recovery stories. I feel like I've been fortunate in my own recovery from alcoholism. We've come a long way as artists and musicians. The more responsibility we take, the better it is for us. You don't have to be high to be creative. In fact, it gets in the way". — Connie Kuhns

Since that article, Ellen has recorded several more CDs, moved to Calgary, and continues to blaze her own, distinctive trail for women in music to aspire to. One of those aspirants, of course, is Rachelle Van Zanten. You can see them playing together this Thursday.

We really need your support for this show. I know it's back-to-school week, but it's been a long, warm summer with no concerts at the Rogue since the end of June, and only one at CBC since then. We reckon you must all be champing at the bit to come down to The Rogue for some real live music for real live people.

You may have noticed that the discount for members has gone up to $4 per show. This is due to the change from collecting GST at 5% to HST at 12% necessitating a price increase. We are rewarding our members with a zero percent price increase as a Thank You for your loyalty and support - which are vital to our continued existence.

So, if you can possibly make it this Thursday, we'd love to see you. And if you can't come, or you don't care for the blues or the guitar, then maybe you know someone who does. Please pass this on to your friends.