Joel Ellis - Ellis Island
24 hour, 7 day creative experience with soul legend Bobby Womack together with Takashi “Jam” Ohashi, and blues guitarist Jimmy Zolo. Ellis Island is a timeless untreated rock and roll gem, lightening in a bottle comprised of soulful impromptu performances, intoxicating melodies and hypnotic rhythms from players like bassist Phil Chen (Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart), percussionist Larry Abberman (Stevie Ray Vaughn). Spontaneous, raw and emotional like Rock and Roll should be. Ellis Island needs to be in your collection!
The music for the project is comprised of a very unique set of songs captured by professional technique as recorded in the basement studio of a Hollywood apartment building. This old recording room was once just a storage basement which was converted and used by Jimi Hendrix back in the 60s to create.
Jimi was living in this old apartment building near the corner of Highland Ave and Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood while he was waiting for his new studio called “Electric Ladyland” being built in New York City. Jimmy asked the owner of this Hollywood apartment building if he could use the basement as his private studio .so he did for a few years during the mid to late 1960s. After Jimi left Hollywood and went to New York, the studio was taken over and used by many great 60s music artists to create, it was Re-named “TTG Studio”. Frank Zappa recorded his record “Hot Rats” there, Jim Morrison singer of the doors used to read poetry and drink whiskey long nights in that room, Janis Joplin and Big Brother, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and so many so many music artists use that underground room to create and make music away from the public eye.
After being closed up for many many years, a new owner (Michael Momm) bought the room, he left the room unchanged untouched with the exception that he installed a new modern soundboard and tape machines.
When it was ready for use, one night at The Rainbow Club on Sunset Strip Michael asked me if I would like to be the first artist to record or “test out” the room to record new music there. Of course I said yes and immediately I called some very close music artist friends to join me, some of which are legendary musicians.
I was working at the time with one of rock and soul’s patron saints the great soul artist from the 60s named Bobby Womack. Bobby and I became very very close artist brothers being that we were both from Cleveland, Ohio… Bobby used to say to me when fans approached us “Joe.. we’re just two Pisces from Cleveland”.. he was a humble and beautiful soul who lives in my heart for eternity. Bobby had introduced me to The Rolling Stones during their VooDoo Lounge studio sessions, he was making his record “Resurrection” which I creatively joined him in sessions and we were like artist brothers all of us mingling in each other’s writing and recording sessions in the studios of Hollywood as we were all making our own new music.
When I was given the opportunity and started these sessions, naturally I asked Bobby to work with me on the project because I was already working with him on his project “Resurrection”. So I called a few very special artists I knew well who were mostly legendary artists. One was the great Phil Chen the bassist of Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, Chick Corea, many others. another was drummer Larry Abberman who played with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble. There was Hassim Jeffries an Indian jazz bassist, George Shelby a sax player with Sting and Anita Baker, a notorious LA sax player named Spider Middowman who played with “Chuck E. Weiss and the Goddamn Liers” and Tom Waits. There was Cats In Boots guitarist Takashi Ohashi and an LA blues guitarist named Jimmy Zollo (who I still work with today), and the great engineer Barry Sanders of The Moody Blues who engineered these entire sessions. These artists along with several other very special LA music artists.. these people were not musicians they were artists, as I have learned in my career there is a huge difference between them .
Regarding the songs, we had no songs written prior to going into the studio, we only had one day to rehearse together one night before we entered the studio, just to see what we could come up with. We generated a few loose ideas but overall we had no songs written, just some loose ideas in our minds as we went in to record.
My plan was to just go into the studio for seven days as we locked ourselves in. We played and created songs with total stream of consciousness, we recorded the music as it came to us… it was a beautiful and surreal experience, the ultimate in musical expression.. total artistic freedom with little direction other than exchanging ideas that shaped the music… we were a room full of true artists creating music with spirit and mind chemistry from our hearts and playing what we felt while the tape machines recorded everything as it happened and with the genius of Barry at the controls.
It was Long hours, good weed, laughter and discoveries.. sundown to sunrise every night for one week underground in Jimi’s room… just a room full of artists playing as if we were one mind… and these 7 songs are what was captured.
Each separate song has its own story and it’s own unique message… it was also undeniable that the spirits of Jimi and all of those past artists were there in those sessions with us, you can almost hear and feel them in the music recordings… to me it’s very surreal and hauntingly beautiful art.
We used many special and unorthodox analog and organic studio techniques such as the tape machines we used, we experimented with analog tape, variable speeds, and tape saturation techniques, microphone placements, and very unorthodox instrumentation arrangements and techniques. We were professionals and seasoned artists experimenting with song writing but also with a rare creative freedom far from the mundane world of the standard music industry methods… and in a very sacred music room of very cool ghosts ;)
These seven songs that came from this session are what I have named my “Ellis Island” solo record. I feel the reason is because although this was my project and my blessing while I produced it, we all contributed to the artistic chemistry that became the songs you hear now. Also, I know in my heart that no man is an island, so this is why I called the sessions “Ellis island” because all great artists can come to the Island in the future. And also because that studio became a secret underground island hidden from all time, and the music world, and the streets of Hollywood.
This first song is the most special for me it’s called “Lily.. it’s not over”.
Some songs, like great ideas (E=mc2) have always been existed, they weren’t created by any mortal but they choose their gateway mind to enter our world.
This song came to me in the wee hours at 4 AM, the days session was done, I was testing out a very high-end microphone prototype, while my guitarist was in the corner practicing some alternate tuning‘s on a 1959 Stratocaster (the haunted 59 Strat), he was playing a strange melody through a classic old Tweed Amp, our engineer Barry was sitting behind the control board.
I was listening to Jimmy’s melody when out of nowhere the lyrics and the song came into my mind. they hit my mind like a message from another dimension. As it came to me suddenly I said “Jimmy keep playing! and “Barry hit record!” so Barry hit record, Jimmy played on and I began singing the words as they came into my head from beginning to end. This became the song you now hear.. in the first take as it was recorded. we then recorded the eerie slide guitar sound overdub as a 3rd track second guitar part.
“Lilly” took a sound shape of her own, and like a baby we delivered her to the world that night. The overdubbed slide guitar we recorded a very unorthodox way, not with distortion at the guitar amp but instead driving the record levels got into the red and thus creating a tape saturation distortion that adds a very spooky organic texture and depth to the tone….. and this is what you have here in “Lily.. it’s not over”.
I honestly don’t feel that we can take credit for writing this song, instead I know that the song was written through us by an Angel telling its story through us, maybe it is a message meant to enlighten us, I don’t know, but I knew that night and I still believe that it’s a divine message that needs to take flight and to be heard by the world. I suppose it could be an angelic message or a message from God telling us how the world is failing our children, and how it’s the innocence of children who have a destiny in the gardens of Heaven at God’s side.
The other songs from this session are somewhat just as interesting and unique in their ways of creation and recording. I’m looking forward to sharing each one of them with you as we progress.