"If you're not swinging, he's gonna make you swing."
March 31, 2010 4:58 PM   Subscribe

Guitar legend Les Paul once said of the good humored, generally accessible guitar great Herb Ellis "If you're not swinging, he's gonna make you swing. Of the whole bunch of guys who play hollow-body guitar... I think Herb Ellis has got the most drive." R.I.P to the smooth player, and sometime standards composer, who was pianist Oscar Peterson's "rhythm section" from 1953 to 1958, dead of Alzheimer's, at 88.
posted by paulsc (18 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

posted by Smart Dalek at 5:00 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Herb Ellis. Damn.

posted by fourcheesemac at 5:04 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

posted by Saxon Kane at 5:41 PM on March 31, 2010

A great loss: another wonderful Texas git-tar player, maybe the best of all.
posted by rdone at 5:43 PM on March 31, 2010

I discovered Herb Ellis through Joe Pass (my favourite jazz guitarist) with the album Joe's Blues. I highly reccomend it, as it showcases great playing from both of them, a great loss and a piece of jazz history...
posted by ACair at 5:45 PM on March 31, 2010


Check out Nothing But the Blues (Verve, 1957)—wonderful stuff.
posted by languagehat at 5:50 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

That man was a great musician. Thanks, paulsc.
posted by Mister_A at 6:15 PM on March 31, 2010

I discovered Herb Ellis through his "Texas Swings" album around the time it came out—what, 10 years ago? No, apparently it came out in 1994. That can't be right. Anyhow.

First time I listened to it I was scratching my head wondering why I had never heard of this guy before. A great talent.

posted by adamrice at 6:18 PM on March 31, 2010

Herb Ellis' last public performance was in 2000, before his Alzheimer's was generally recognized. And while his wife of 53 years, Patti, and family are undoubtedly greatly saddened by his passing, it's tragic that such a gentle, pleasant brilliant guy had to go that way.
“There have been changes in jazz and new styles come along. I play straight ahead, what you might call mainstream, jazz," Ellis told the Columbus Dispatch of Ohio in 1996. “That's what I played when I started and that's what I still play. I wish everyone else good luck and God bless, but I've found mine and I'm going to stick with it."
I got to know Herb Ellis's work as a kid, because of my Dad, who, as a young Navy guy, got stationed briefly in San Diego in the early '50s, and, for reasons no Nebraska boy such as he could ever articulate, picked up a pedal steel guitar. Dad actually got pretty good on the thing, in weird Hawaiian tunings, and his interest in jazz followed along. So, by the late '50s, and early '60s, Dad had a bunch of Oscar Peterson Trio records, with Ellis on guitar, and he'd listen to them, and pick out alternate melody lines on his steel, as I laid around on the floor between Dad's amp and the hifi, counting Ellis' rhythm lines with him, out loud.

And as an adult, I got to see Ellis at the Charles Hotel's Regatta Bar, sometime in the late '80s, swinging, as he always did, with a smile on his face, and an ear to his fellow band mates.

What little I know of melody and rhythm, I learned watching my Dad grin, picking his steel, as Herb Ellis, Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown swung gently behind me, on the hifi...
posted by paulsc at 6:59 PM on March 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

posted by snsranch at 7:21 PM on March 31, 2010

posted by jefeweiss at 7:44 PM on March 31, 2010

A god, simply a god. Damn few understood a groove like him.
posted by eriko at 10:47 PM on March 31, 2010

posted by smartyboots at 11:10 PM on March 31, 2010

posted by lukemeister at 8:23 AM on April 1, 2010

I assumed he passed away years ago. Oops.

Here's a tribute from (yet another dead) guitarist, Emily Remler:
Blues For Herb.

He'll be missed.
posted by lothar at 8:51 AM on April 1, 2010

Many moons ago he and Joe Pass caused me to put my distortion and delay pedals on hiatus. Alas, I could never swing like that. He's just so tasteful and tasty. Sweet Georgia Brown, 1986. Fortunately, every jazz guitarist still playing has got some of Herb in there somewhere.
posted by barrett caulk at 10:36 AM on April 1, 2010

posted by LeLiLo at 1:00 PM on April 1, 2010

Holy cow.....what a genius... :(
posted by Nicholas West at 6:42 AM on April 2, 2010

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