I ran into Tinsley, who was free-roaming the venue, before the start of the show. We spoke briefly about his new album Tough Love, and the ideas behind some of the songs. On the cover Tinsley appears stoic, but the lyrics reveal the man behind the photograph. “It’s about tough love…love is tough, man, tough on us.” Considering some of the lyrics he added, “There’s some other stuff there, too. I tried to add a little social commentary on “Hard Work.”’ The aforementioned song, details the trials and tribulations of unemployment, observing, “It’s hard work, baby, when you ain’t got none.”
The crowd of about one hundred die-hard blues fans braved the icy streets to get their fix, and they were rewarded by two solid sets filled with new material, gorgeous instrumentals, and covers of the likes of Freddie King and Bo Diddley. The show was sponsored by the River City Blues Society of Virginia. Their tireless work to preserve American roots music is vital and necessary.
The evening kicked off with a brief introduction by Ellen Foster, President of the RCBS. That was all it took to turn Ellis loose on the crowd. He took to the mic with his trusty Gibson Es-345 in hand, and from there he proceeded to school the audience in all things blues. Ellis seemed to divide his sets by instrument; he played the Gibson for the first set, Stratocaster for the second, and a Gibson Moderne with a slide, for the encore.
From the stage Ellis offered self-deprecating humor between songs, joking, and evoking memories. “I live in the past, which is the reason I remember so clearly,” he said. He then went on to describe his first time playing in Richmond, at Hard Times. “My van caught the edge of the awning and tore it off the building. I vandalized the place before I had even played a note.” Hopefully Ellis will return soon, and do more damage in Richmond, bringing his superb vision of the blues to the River City.
The next day the temperatures, which had been in the teens and twenties, rose up in to the fifties, and hinted at the coming of spring. We needed Tinsley Ellis to bring us in from the cold.