Ellen McIlwaine, Slide Guitarist With a Power Voice, Dies at 75

by Msnbctv news staff


“When we came back to the United States and I started college in Tennessee, the only piano was in the boys’ dorm,” she said, “so I borrowed a guitar that belonged to somebody, and I liked it.”

She dropped out of college and tried art school in Atlanta, playing in clubs while studying. The singer and songwriter Patrick Sky saw her there and advised her to go to Greenwich Village, which she did, meeting Hendrix and others who were part of the music scene there.

Richie Havens was something of a mentor as she refined her guitar playing; once when she complained to him that she couldn’t play all the notes he could with his larger hands, he encouraged her to find her own way. She developed unusual tunings for her guitar and a powerhouse vocal style that, as one writer put it, “is strong enough to strip paint at 10 paces.”

Ms. McIlwaine lived in Woodstock, N.Y., for a time, as well as in Connecticut, but eventually settled in Canada, where she was better known than she was in the United States. Her other albums included “We the People” (1973); “Everybody Needs It” (1982), on which Jack Bruce of Cream played bass; and “Looking for Trouble” (1987).

No immediate family members survive.

Though Ms. McIlwaine continued to perform until becoming ill, for the last eight or nine years she had also driven a school bus to support herself, Ms. Toews said, something she enjoyed doing because she loved children. But she might not have needed that money had things been different during her prime.

“If I had a nickel for every up-and-coming young, white, male guitar player I’ve opened for over the last 41 years,” Ms. McIlwaine told The Record in 2006, “I’d be really rich.”



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