Ellen McIlwaine, fiery slide guitarist and blues singer, dies at 75

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Ellen McIlwaine, the fiery, Calgary-based slide guitarist and singer who got here to prominence within the late Sixties, performing with Jimi Hendrix in Greenwich Village and forming what was then a uncommon woman-led rock band, solely to strike out on her personal after she realized her bandmates “anticipated me to do the laundry after we completed onstage,” died Wednesday at a metropolis hospice centre. She was 75.

The trigger was esophageal most cancers, stated her good friend Sharron Toews. She was recognized with most cancers about six weeks earlier than her demise.

Raised in Japan by American missionaries, McIlwaine grew up listening to Japanese people and classical music, in addition to New Orleans soul and blues that she heard on the radio.

She moved to Canada within the late Eighties whereas persevering with to tour the world, ultimately settling in Calgary in 1992.

McIlwaine volunteered at a youngsters’s hospital and drove a college bus, which she embellished for Halloween with a skeleton she named Bob. Partly, she took the driving job to assist herself in between concert events.


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McIlwaine performed the harmonica, accompanied herself on the piano and sang her personal songs with a voice that was by turns delicate and booming, however she was maybe greatest generally known as a masterful guitarist.

She toured with Winter and blues musician Taj Mahal, recorded with former Cream bassist Jack Bruce and befriended Hendrix within the late Sixties, when he was an up-and-coming guitarist performing with John Hammond.

After honing her blues-based fashion in New York golf equipment, McIlwaine shaped the band Worry Itself, which launched its self-titled debut album in 1969. However after about two years on the street, the band broke up.

Resuming her solo profession, she recorded two well-received albums for Polydor and appeared as the one feminine guitarist on the label’s 1974 compilation The Guitar Album, alongside musicians together with Eric Clapton, John McLaughlin, T-Bone Walker and Roy Buchanan.


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She included funk, reggae, nation and jazz into her information, placing her personal spin on songs comparable to Stevie Marvel’s Greater Floor — her cowl was later sampled by Fatboy Slim — and Steve Winwood’s Can’t Discover My Method Dwelling.

McIlwaine developed a loyal following in Canada, the place she lived for the previous three a long time and acquired a 2019 lifetime achievement award on the Maple Blues Awards in Toronto. However stardom eluded her in the USA.

Partly, she steered, her attraction was restricted as a result of she refused to evolve to expectations of how a feminine musician ought to act.

“I don’t wish to costume in nudie garments and jiggle simply to promote extra information,” she instructed Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald in 1980.

She additionally famous — as did critics — that her music defied easy style labels.


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Frances Ellen McIlwaine was born in Nashville on Oct. 1, 1945, and adopted as an toddler. Her Southern Presbyterian mother and father took her to Kobe, Japan, the place she began taking part in piano at age 5 and sang in a church choir.

“We had 200 college students, kindergarten to Grade 12, and 28 nationalities. So I used to be uncovered to world music earlier than it was known as world music,” she instructed Postmedia author Eric Volmers in 2019. “It’s all the time been fascinating to me.”

McIlwaine discovered herself drawn to the music of artists like Fat Domino and Professor Longhair, at the same time as she was instructed, “Rock ‘n’ roll is blasphemy, Ellen, play a hymn.”

After graduating from the Canadian Academy, a world faculty in Kobe, she returned to the USA to review at schools in Tennessee and Georgia.


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McIlwaine was taking artwork lessons in Atlanta when she purchased an acoustic guitar, dropped out of faculty and started taking part in at espresso homes, the place she was noticed by people singer Patrick Sky. Along with his encouragement, she moved to Greenwich Village in 1966. (Sky died final month at age 80.)

In a telephone interview, her good friend Toews stated McIlwaine battled alcoholism and “helped many individuals via habit” after becoming a member of Alcoholics Nameless and getting sober in 1982. She by no means married and had no fast surviving household.

“She would have had 12 youngsters if she hadn’t chosen music — if she had cash,” Toews stated.

With information from Postmedia Calgary


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