Jazz musician Ellis Hall already had a very successful career when he met Ray Charles in 2001 and soon after became his protege. The Savannah-born legend is now helping keep his mentor’s greatness alive.
B .B. King’s Blues Club in Universal City Walk in Los Angeles, California is packed to the rafters, literally. All three floors groan from the weight of a capacity crowd, raucously salivating over the deliciously rib-sticking soul food and the prospects of steaming, soulful musical offerings by Ellis Hall and The Truth.
From the downbeat, Hall and company own the stage, the crowd and the house. They rip through “Boys Night Out,” a tune Hall wrote as the vocalist/keyboardist for Tower Of Power, as well as a string of high-energy originals and covers. His powerful tenor vocals carve deftly through the intricate weave of blazing hot guitar and keyboard riffs, as a tight horn and rhythm section lay a foundation of throbbing funk that keeps the dance floor packed the entire evening. By the end of the night, both the band and crowd collapse limply into their seats, every last ounce of get-up wrung from their tired but smiling souls. “I consider music my circulation. It’s in my blood. I’m a music man,” Hall says of his passion.
Son of the South
Born in Savannah, Georgia in the early 50s, Hall came into this world dancing and singing, according to his mother, Arvanna Hall. A medical oversight shortly thereafter set a chain of physical developments into play that caused her to notice clouded corneas, formed as a result of congenital glaucoma in her infant son. But both parents dedicated themselves to giving Baby Ellis, as his grandmother called him, as normal a life as possible. By the age of 5, the inevitability of blindness prompted doctors to recommend Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts, notable for its most recognized student, Helen Keller.
It was at Perkins that Hall was introduced to the piano, and thus starting him down the long and rewarding career path he still travels. His musical talents and drive manifested themselves early on, first as a precocious street performer at age 8, then as a budding drummer playing on a makeshift kit of odds and ends with other musically inclined classmates. After a string of solo and collaborative musical efforts, Hall eventually formed his first professional band, the Ellis Hall Group. This band struck a chord, developed a loyal following in the New England area, opening for Donny Hathaway, Earth, Wind & Fire, The Spinners and Tower Of Power.
The energy and musical prowess Hall displayed when opening for Tower Of Power impressed the band so much that they asked him on three separate occasions to join them on the road. The third time being the charm, he accepted their offer to helm the keys and bring his vocal pyrotechnics. From 1984 through much of 1988, he toured with them across the U.S. and throughout Europe, and produced and wrote for much of the Power album, released in 1988.
To read more on Ellis, pick up the latest issue of South magazine!
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Tags: Best Kept Secret in Funk and Soul, Ellis Hall, Jazz, William "BC" Carr
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