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Mike Elliott: Canadian Blues Musician Profile

Mike Elliott (centre) and the band.

Mike Elliott (centre) and the band.

Blues music has always lived in Mike Elliott. He played with a band called Daddy Long Legs for 13 years before retiring the band. He wanted to launch a new band that focused more on “blues swagger” than on the rock-oriented sound of Daddy Long Legs.

“For the Audio Kings, I wanted the sound of the stand-up bass to influence the overall sound," he says. "After a short search, I found Scott Fitzpatrick to fill those bass duties and Fitzpatrick led me to our drummer Jonny Sauder.”

He continues, “We hit the ground running with a new batch of original tunes that I’d written with a few choice covers to even out the set. Now our show is exclusively original tunes. As far as I’m concerned, we’re playing the blues, but lots of folks tell me that they hear elements of roots and early rock 'n roll. As long as they dig it, I don’t mind what they call it.”

Passion, tone and authenticity are all hallmarks of the blues in Mike’s view. He explains, “Blues to me is as much about an attitude and an approach as it is about chord progressions or subject matter. I’m still very particular about what a shuffle, in all its variants, should sound like. My approach to the blues incorporates all of my musical and mental hang-ups. I like to think that I draw on all the music that I have consumed over the years and try to cram it into the blues format.”

In terms of his influences, he cites blues, roots music and rock n’roll as well as early Motown and Stax Records music. Mike adds, “I find new musical avenues to explore all the time. A turn of phrase or a particular groove or chord progression can inspire me to head in new directions.”

Turns of phrase, grooves and chord progressions are the base on which Mike builds his songs. He points out, “Most of my song writing occurs when I don’t even have a guitar in my hands. It usually happens when my mind is free to wander and an idea for a song pops into it. I record it onto my phone and work it out on the guitar later. I can usually hear all the parts.”

He continues, “After I have the song’s skeleton ready, I take it to the band to see if it’s worthy. Some songs die on the rehearsal room floor. If they show potential, we rework them until we feel they are ready to include in a show. In all cases, we try to be mindful of how the song will appeal to the listener. Each song has to have it’s own certain something to make it unique or distinguishable.”

Having a successful relationship with a band is like a marriage in Mike’s view. He says, “The best bands work when you can not only play together well, but also get along off of the bandstand. The longer you are together, the more that relationship evolves and becomes more complicated. We each have to pay attention to how each of our contributions affects the others and how we present as a band.”

He adds, “Playing music together is also a very personal thing. You’re sharing your music with others, in the band and the audience, and opening yourself up for critical evaluation. You have to be open to that and it can be hard sometimes.”

The blues are alive and well in Southern Ontario as far as Mike is concerned. He says, “There are a lot of really good new players out there and soon there will be a changing of the guard. It’ll be interesting to see how the new ‘old guard’ adapts to foster a new generation of younger players and how those new players will interpret the blues. Where will it go in the future? Who knows.”

He adds, “There are varying opinions on how well it’s doing and if the blues is being kept alive, if it’s progressing as an art form or if it’s being diluted too much from its true form. Blues will always have an identity crisis as it strives to move forward while staying firmly rooted in tradition, but it can be done. With each new generation of players, we see that happening.”

Ultimately this is a process that keeps repeating itself. Mike says, “Even players like Muddy Waters were seen as controversial for electrifying Mississippi blues and becoming the father of Chicago blues with songs that reflected the industrial sounds of the big city.”

In the future, he just wants to keep making music and releasing CDs, so that the Audio King’s audience can grow. Mike elaborates, “As our audience builds, new festivals, venues and opportunities will become available to us and we can build on them. I figure that I just need people to see the band play, or hear our music. I know that they’ll like it. It’s good time music with some subtle and some not-so-subtle messages.

He concludes, “Not too many people mention this but I want to have fun playing my blues for people and have them dig it.”

Finding inspiration isn’t a struggle for Mike. He says, “I feel compelled to make music. My mind is filled with blues music, rattling around, waiting to come out. I live my life to a blues soundtrack that constantly plays in my head. I have to get it out. I have to play it. I may be giving away a musician’s secret here but performing music is a bit of an addiction.”

Ultimately he says, “There are fleeting moments when I’m playing where everything sounds the way I think it should sound, I feel that I’m playing at my best and I’m in sync with my bandmates and the audience alike. In that moment, my mind is at rest, free from the worldly noise of everyday life. I feel most like my true self and most content. Once you get that feeling, you’ll play a million gigs in order to get it back and every once in a while, I do."

This profile of Mike Elliott is based on an email interview

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