Only a year ago, 28-year-old Ellis Hooks was singing in the streets of New York, lucky for the occasional indoor gig on Bleecker Street. Since the release of his U.K. debut album Undeniable, his fortunes have changed somewhat. In January he headlined the BBC’s World Music Festival broadcast throughout Europe, brought his band to Holland, Norway, and the U.K. for a series of successful festival and club appearances, and sang in front of Carla Thomas’ eleven piece band as her special guest at the Poretta Soul Festival, and as Bonnie Raitt’s Special Guest at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Just last month he opened the JVC Jazz Festival in Los Angeles at the Hollywood Bowl, playing solo acoustic in front of 17,000 fans of Stanley Clarke, David Sanborn and The Crusaders.
Of course, it makes it easy if you receive rave reviews like these:
“The best soul album of the year. Hot, steamy and Muscle Shoals styled. Voice -- huge, aching and blistered.”
--Time Out U.K.
YOUNG, GIFTED and black, one of the strongest debut albums of the year.
Now Evidence Music is planning to release a completely different but equally compelling “debut” album by Ellis in America. Titled Up Your Mind, and due to an October 28 street date, the album is a blend of Ellis’ authentic soul/blues roots with a contemporary approach that puts it in a league all its own. “There is no one out there like me, with my life, my musical background,” Ellis says, “so don’t go looking for other artists to compare me to.” He claims Sam Cooke and Muddy Waters as primal musical influences, but Hooks’ music -- all self-composed with musical help from producer Jon Tiven -- defies categorization.
Tiven discovered Ellis when a young female artist came by to audition and felt she needed a chaperone -- but soon discovered that the only danger she was in was having her thunder stolen by chaperone Ellis Hooks. “To find an authentic artist with such depth and emotional weight was enough,” admits Tiven, “but on top of it he has a one-of-a-kind and a personal appeal that’s hard to ignore. As a rule I’m not particularly interested in producing new artists and developing them from the ground up -- it’s simply too much work. But Ellis’ talent is so obvious, so strong, I couldn’t not give it a try.”
Ellis will perform various dates with his band (featuring Nashville notables Duane Jarvis, guitar; Billy Block, drums; and Muzz Skillings, bass) and solo acoustic around the United States to support the record.