Carlos Elliot, Jr: How a Colombian Discovered the Blues

Carlos Elliot Jr at the Crossroads
Carlos Elliot Jr at the Crossroads

Check the bottom of this post for a FREE MP3 from Carlos Elliot Jr’s new album!

Growing up in Colombia some 2200 miles away from Clarksdale, Mississippi, didn’t stop Carlos Elliot, Jr. from feeling a mystic connection the first time he heard Blues music. Elliot was on a quest to find the pure root of music and credits a “conspiracy of the universe” for leading him to the likes of T-Model Ford and Big Jack Johnson.

During his visits to Clarksdale, he felt such a kinship with the Mississippi Blues artists he met there, he recorded his debut CD, Mystic Juke-Joint Blues with The Cornlickers. Those of you fortunate enough to have spent an evening at the infamous Red’s Lounge will be familiar with The Cornlickers as the resident band of that revered juke joint. The group also served as the backing band for the late Big Jack Johnson.

Appropriately enough, Red’s Lounge will be the setting for Elliot’s CD release party on Thursday, April 11th, during Juke Joint Fest. In an exchange of emails, Elliot shared his excitement about the recording project with American Blues Scene as well as his upcoming U.S. tour. His English is so remarkably good that we left his answers largely unedited so his enthusiasm would shine through in his own words.

Stacy Jeffress for American Blues Scene: Please tell me about the place where you live and where you have grown up – is it a city or a town or in the country?

Carlos Elliot, Jr.: I live in a town call Pereira in the central mountain region of Colombia and I grew up in a pretty small town near, it is kinda rural and small population. There we had two little rivers running through the town and I used to hang out there many times during the days and nights, just a couple of blocks away from home. That’s why its name is 2-brooks, I guess.

ABS: What music did you listen to growing up? Did you have brothers, sisters, parents who listened to music? If so, what did they listen to, and did that have an influence on you?

I heard music from records; I never liked radio stations. I have changed a lot my musical taste. I had contemporary cousins that lived in the Capital city and they were up-to-the-date of what was on. We heard all kind of Rock music when I got there once every year from Seattle 90’s Rock to 80’s hard Rock. At Home mom heard 60’s Rock and Father some kind of popular folk Colombian Music. Then with the time I found Prog & psychedelic Rock, 60’s and Blues Rock. Somehow I know that all of what you hear influences you.

How did you become aware of Blues music? Did you like it immediately, or did you have to get used to it and learn more about it?

I found Blues when I kept exploring music itself and somehow I was expecting to find something like The Blues. I was amazed when I really found it, and I said yeah! This is the thing! You know! cos’ I was looking for the pure root and when I found it, I just got that Blues respect, love and passion since then. I really believed that I found myself in Blues roots when I saw that deep spiritual connection that Blues itself has, from “Spirituals” and “Gospels,” an unconceivable mystic connection that some skeptics never would believe.

When did you start playing an instrument? What was your first instrument?

I learned how to play some chords on the guitar when I was 13 years old and I kept playing since then. I used to meet with cousins and friends to play ’round together and learn new things from each other. I learned to play flute at 19 and I quit playing guitar for 5 years when I fronted my own band to sing, play flute and fife. I picked up guitar to just write new songs and show others how to do some things but not on stage. I learned to play harmonica and I’ve played some too. Six years ago I got back to my guitar and play alone by myself and keep learning things from Bluesmen in the Delta and in Hill countryside of north Mississippi and well, you keep learning whoever you play with.

Are there other Blues musicians where you live?

Well, Yeah! Blues music is universal and when you play certain kind of Rock, you got that natural sensitive Blues fiber; well I can’t say that many people real involved but sure there are some doing it.

Who do you share your passion for the Blues with at home? Have you turned your friends on to Blues music?

Oh yeah! We all know Blues music is contagious and when people get to know the Blues they just can’t help to love it, you know!

How did you get to know Blues musicians in the US? When was your first trip to the US, and where did you go?

Well I just was sneaking into jams and juke joints in some cities all around, from north to south with my guitar and getting to know people around. I came to US like 4 years now and I’ve been in Detroit, Chicago, Memphis, New Orleans, Arkansas and Mississippi.

I first met you at Juke Joint Fest in Clarksdale a couple of years ago. How did you learn about Juke Joint Fest? What made you decide to attend that?

First time I went to Clarksdale, Mississippi I met people who I played with in town and we kept talking. I was invited to play at the Juke Joint Blues Festival for the year after so I was just so pleased to being part of a Mississippi Blues Festival in the Delta.

What American Blues musicians have you met? Who have you been able to play with?

I been blessed having the experience to play and learn from some of the still living and deceased Mississippi Blues Legends as T-Model Ford, R.L. Boyce, Little Joe Ayers, Terry Harmonica Bean, Cadillac John, Pat Thomas, Mr. Tater, Big Jack Johnson, Robert Bilbo Walker and Watermelon Slim beside others.  I’ve played also with some of the new Hill Country Blues artist like Kenny Brown, Kent Burnside, Lightnin’ Malcolm and Sean Appel. I also have had the opportunity to play around in Chicago with some guys like Billy Branch and now I’m playin’ with Junior Kimbrough’s grandson “David Gray Kimbrough” and also with the Big Jack Johnson’s band “The Cornlickers”.

You just finished a CD recorded with The Cornlickers. Tell me how this came about – how did you meet them, how did you decide to work together?

We met each other one night at Red’s Lounge in Clarksdale, Mississippi. We jammed then they invited me to join them the next night, and we made a simple live recording. A couple of months later, Bobby sent me the songs. I wanted to publish them, but then we thought, why not making a studio record? And it just happened and energy flowed and keeps flowing. They like my music and I like how it sounds with them.

Tell me about the music on the CD – are there any originals? What covers do you perform, if any, and how did you decide which ones to do?

It is a beautiful album with that Mississippi Juke Joint Blues party sound. It has eight of my original songs and we did one cover from Junior Kimbrough. We all love Junior Kimbrough and we just wanted to include one of his songs in our album.

Where was the CD recorded? Why did you choose that studio?

We made our record at “Right Coast Recording Studio,” a state-of-the-art vintage recording studio in Pennsylvania. It is just awesome, unbelievable! It is the studio where Bobby Gentilo (from The Cornlickers) works with Dave Natale (Rolling Stones sound engineer for 25 years now) and Dave Wilkerson (YES sound engineer for 23 years now). I didn’t choose! The Good Lord does! The Cornlickers recorded the last three albums with Big Jack Johnson in there as well as Terry Harmonica Bean’s. We made it in the old vintage way on magnetic tape and analog process, and even the reverb effect was an analog plaque. There wasn’t a single digital process made except for the analog to digital conversion to send master to CD Factory. It ain’t commercial at all so we hope you like it!

What are the challenges of recording a CD in the US when you live in Colombia? How did you do planning with the band?

It ain’t easy at all! Otherwise many musicians would do it. I need to do my regular job to pay for travel expenses and that’s the only way I got to do it. I’m not a rock star; I ain’t got money. I’m just a hard working man that plays Blues at night. The deal with the guys was just that they run with recording expenses and I with production expenses, and that was it!

When will the CD be released? Are you having CD release parties? When and where?

We start promotion March 15th and I begin a year-long CD release tour in all Colombian territory and in the US in Chicago, Detroit, Nashville, Memphis and Mississippi from April 4th through the 16th. We are having U.S. CD launch party in Clarksdale, Mississippi at the Juke Joint Blues Festival in April.

Your English is very good – how did you learn to speak and read English so well?

Well I do my best. I’ve been interested and I just like it! I never learned how to sing and write songs in my own language, for me it ain’t easy, and I’ve tried but couldn’t so I just have had a good feelin’ with English and I like to learn, that’s it.

Do you have any plans to move to the US?

Not really, I got a good home down in Colombia, but if God wants me to move up north I’ll be pleased too.

Is your family supportive of your being a musician? Do they prefer that you keep your engineer job?

We do have a strong bond and we care about each other and the decisions we make in our life. Yes, they wanna see a more stable job for me but they been a support for everything in my life anyways.

What are your goals for this CD?

This CD might be heard here there and everywhere. I know it ain’t commercial but in the Blues scene I hope people like it and everywhere I go in all my gigs I’ll sell some.

We have talked about the possibility of your participation in the International Blues Challenge.

We must start working on it, that needs paper work and I got an institutional support in here and we hope we can make it happen.

What should people know about Carlos Elliott, Jr?

Well, I just feel this deep relationship with the Blues and music itself as a spiritual connection. I’ve being naturally pushed to sing the Blues and I’ve been dragged to gospel churches in the Mississippi Delta. I believe that Blues itself is a natural cryin’ of the soul, prayin’ to the Good Lord for the pain relief, so it does not matter where it is played at.

You did something that I think was very smart (and I have suggested to other international artists) – you got a Clarksdale phone number so people in the U.S. could call you easily and cheaply. What other strategies have you used to make it easy for people in the U.S. to be in touch with you?

I made my webpage first and for me being in touch with these guys in U.S. is really important. You got another bill to pay but it’s worth it.

What do you have to say about your music?

I play Mississippi Hill Country Blues, a close relative of the Delta Blues linked back to African dance traditions and I combine it with different elements of Rock and all my backgrounds, that’s it!

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