Ellis Hooks
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Ellis Hooks

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The best kept secret in music



Blues man


Entertainment Reporter

Since Ellis Hooks broke out in Europe about a year and a half ago, comparisons to greats such as Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett have become commonplace.

The singer, songwriter and guitarist has been praised as a fiery live performer and hailed as an authen tic bluesman with years of struggle behind him. He's been singled out as the crown prince of soul singers, an insightful writer with sizzling stage presence.

A year later, American music lovers who've been reading about Hooks' exploits are finally getting their chance to hear him for themselves.

With luck and a strong domestic album, Hooks could become a star.

"Uncomplicated," released this week by highly regarded label Artemis Records, might just be that album. It's a warm, expansive set of soul tinged with country, rock and blues. It's mellow, heartfelt music that seems tailor-made to springtime on the Gulf Coast -- and this shouldn't be completely surprising considering Hooks' background.

If his luck holds, Ellis Hooks could get to be a household name.

Even here in Lower Alabama, where he was born, just up the road in Baldwin County.

Truth and beauty :

Hooks' first dance with fame came in late 2002 and early 2003, when he began playing jazz and blues festivals in Europe.

Critics latched onto both his music and his legend. Hooks is proud of the music, but professes embarrassment about the legend. Both emotions are richly justified.

Because as good as Hooks' story is, the tall tales that took sprouted in Europe and were imported wholesale by some American music writers are a little bit too good.

It its more overwrought versions, the legend of Ellis Hooks makes latter-day Mobile sound like a Mississippi Delta backwater circa the Great Depression. Consider the following paragraph, from the liner notes to one of his prior albums:

"Ellis Hooks was born 29 years ago in Mobile, Alabama, to a full Cherokee mother and a father of African American descent. The third youngest of 16 children, he didn't have a pair of shoes until he was eight, and wasn't permitted to know the meaning of fun. 'We weren't allowed to play after

school or on Saturdays because we'd be picking peas for the white folks,' Ellis explains, 'and we'd spend all day Sunday in church.' His strict Baptist family had nothing but disdain for secular music, so when the fourteen-year-old Ellis heard the radio and lost interest in leading the church choir he was thrown out of his household."

To anyone who knows that Mobile is a city of at least 200,000 people, that rings a little false. Especially when you consider that the time period it talks about is the '70s and early '80s, by which point even the poorest Southerners could be counted on to wear shoes to church.

A story like that probably plays well with European aficionados of American music. Such a pedigree can authenticate a blues artist, assure that the music is in his blood and he's paid his dues. However much it might have helped him in those early days, though, Hooks seems eager to distance himself from it now.

"They add onto 'em. You know how stories get," he said. "Like, some of 'em said I didn't have any shoes. They just build up and, like, artists, we can't stop 'em, you know."

Some facts:

Hooks grew up in Bromley, a community a few miles north of Spanish Fort. He really is one of 16 children in his family, and all 16 are still living. His father died when Hooks was young; his mother, Lucy Hooks, died at the end of 2003, a day or two after Christmas.

Bay Minette -- where Hooks said the family shopped -- is big enough to be on most maps, and is thus easier to explain. But for those who can't grasp the finer points of Alabama geography, Mobile is a handy point of reference.

"You have to say 'Mobile,'" Hooks said, "'cause up North nobody knows what Bay Minette is."

Hooks did grow up on a family farm. It's still there, populated by siblings and other kinfolk. It's not far off the beaten path; and as in much of Baldwin County, the beaten path is getting closer and closer as more big new homes are built on lots that used to be either cropland or scruffy pine woods.

As for the hardships of clawing a living from the earth, Hooks demurs. It was a family farm, not hell's half-acre.

"It's just a common thing to do, right? It's not like it's bad, or anything," he said. "It was just a normal country life."

The church where Hooks sang, Magnolia Missionary Baptist Church, still stands.

"It was a church on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere," as he remembers it. And it probably was, though the road is paved now, and the church grounds are well kept.

"I didn't get kicked out of church," Hooks said. "I don't know where that came from."

Nor, he said, did he get kicked out of the household. He did leave at age 14 or 15, by which time he already had quit school.

"It was time for me to spread my wings and go," he said. "The wind was callin' me so hard, man."

What followed was a time of real hardship, a time which Hooks is not so eager to discuss. He ended up playing on the streets of New York City, refusing to compromise his musical dream with a day job.

"Oh, man. That part, I don't want to go through that s--ever again," he said. "There were days I wished I could have died. A lot of people have been through that. Speaking for myself, I don't want to go through it again. The best thing about it, I never did anything wrong, I never hurt anybody, I never stole anything ... I went through what I had to go through. But I stayed focused."

He was paying "bags and bags of dues" but getting no breakthroughs. "I didn't get a job, and life was kicking my a--," he said.

Early in 2000 he had a chance meeting with Jon Tiven, the record producer who also now serves as his manager. That encounter changed everything.

If they'd never met, Hooks said, he might well have soon thrown in the towel. He would have come back home and looked for work.

And he never would have gotten over it.

"It would have been like a ghost behind me all the time," he said.

On the verge:

Tiven said he has no trouble believing that Hooks was about to give it up.

"I know he was," Tiven said. "He was pretty frustrated when he came in."

Tiven is a man familiar with the ups and downs of the music business, and one with a keen eye for talent. He's worked as a songwriteand or producer for Chrissie Hynde, Robert Plant, B.B. King and many others. He wrote and produced on Wilson Pickett's award-winning late-'90s comeback album "It's Harder Now."

After working with people of that stature, he wasn't looking for anyone like Ellis Hooks. Frankly, he didn't think there was anyone like Ellis Hooks.

"If you have standards set by those people, if you're used to working with people that great," he said, "... I really didn't expect to find a person like that under age 50."

But in Hooks, he said, he found "someone who has potential on the level of anyone I had ever worked with, in terms of greatness."

At the time, Tiven had a multi-album production deal with an outfit called eMusic. Part of the deal called for him to produce an album by a complete unknown, and he decided Hooks would be the one.

They went into the studio in late 2000 and early 2001 and recorded more than enough material for an album. But Universal bought eMusic, and the corporate shuffle put the album in limbo for a while.

No matter. They kept recording. A deal with an English label, Zane Records, led to the European release in late 2002 of "Undeniable."

After September 11, 2001, Tiven had moved from New York to Nashville. Hooks began visiting him periodically to record. But realizing that "Undeniable" was getting a strong response, Tiven took Hooks on a shoestring European tour.

"It was great, it was just a whirlwind of excitement," he said.

"What I saw in Europe was beautiful," Hooks seconded. He especially liked the way the audiences at big festivals consisted of whole families, with multiple generations accepting music that might be pigeonholed for certain demographics back in the States.

On the home front, Hooks was establishing a beachhead in Tennessee.

"Nashville really embraced Ellis," Tiven said, with performances at key showcases and favorable coverage.

By and by they had material for "Uncomplicated," the album released on Tuesday. In retrospect, the title may be ironic.

The lingering eMusic album eventually was licensed to Evidence Music, which released it as "Up Your Mind" in late 2003. Technically, this is Hooks' American debut. It's also his oldest material, though "Undeniable" hit the street first, at least in Europe.

Given that "Undeniable" is due for American release this spring, that'll make a somewhat murky picture for newcomers: Three albums, all fairly new on the shelf, all with titles beginning with the letter U. Even Tiven has a hard time keeping them straight. (And the brand-new "Uncomplicated" was also released in Europe this week, in slightly rearranged form, as "The Hand of God.")

The two most commonly available discs are easily distinguished. "Up Your Mind" is more oriented toward rock-blues. It's the oldest Hooks material on record, and it suffers by comparison with "Uncomplicated." It's also the disc with the apocryphal liner notes quoted above.

The blues-rock field is thick with practitioners who are competent but not particularly distinctive, and the Ellis Hooks heard on "Up Your Mind" is one of these.

"Uncomplicated" is a different matter. It's a showcase for Hooks' abilities, particularly his songwriting and singing. Both glow with a warmth that proves all those comparisons of Hooks to past greats of soul music are more than just empty talk.

"I'm not trying to sound like Otis Redding. I'm not trying to sound like Sam Cooke," Hooks said. "They're my influences, you know. I'm not trying to be a legend that's already been. I just admire what these guys left behind as pioneers. They inspired me, but I'm not trying to be them."

At times the material sounds like songs Robert Cray might have been happy to claim. A couple of songs call to mind Counting Crows, minus the pretentiousness. But it all sounds like the work of an artist who has found his viewpoint and his voice.

"I'm singing from my soul," he said. "I'm singing from God, and I'm singing about things that happen to me in my life, that happen to everybody in one sense or another, and there's always a way out."

It's an attitude that comes directly from his years of struggle. And it, as much as his talent, has earned Tiven's high regard.

"We're best friends," Tiven said. "I have nothing but great feelings and great respect for Ellis as a musician and a person. And it's mutual.

"The great thing about Ellis is, he's a guy who has lived a life full of tremendous adversity ... He never let it deter him from what he wanted to do," Tiven said. "He took every negative experience he ever had and turned it into something that would motivate him."

"Things happen for a reason," Hooks said. "Don't give up on your dream. I'm a dreamer and I like to make some of those dreams come true."

The future depends largely on how well "Uncomplicated" does. Having broken out in Europe and had successful Canadian tours, Hooks is itching to play for American audiences. (His touring band, incidentally, includes phenomenal rock bassist Muzz Skillings of Living Colour.)

"Now I'm ready to hit my country," Hooks said. "I wanna get out in America and let 'em know what's going on with me."

He "can't wait" to play somewhere close to home, he said, probably Mobile. No plans have yet been made, however.

Hooks has no illusions about his lack of notoriety here. He began his performing career after leaving, so Alabama has had little chance to form an impression of its native son's abilities.

"Oh, they don't," he said. "They have no idea who I am or what corner I'm in."

What is sure is that for a young artist, Hooks has had an extremely prolific recording career. Both he and Tiven said they've got dozens of unreleased songs already in the can.

"Most of them are really, really good," said Tiven.

"We have a tremendous wealth of material, which is a great feeling," he said. "We could come out with a record tomorrow that would be as good as anything we've ever done."

"We're seriously thinking of making the next album a two-disc set," he said, one that would show "sides of Ellis no one's ever seen."

"He's a very gifted songwriter," Tiven said. "There's very few of them out there."

With so many ships coming in at the same time, a performer in Hooks' position could easily be overwhelmed.

Hooks, though, sounds like he's ready for whatever comes next.

"Right now I'm handling it," he said.

And if he does achieve some recognition in the land he came from, he won't be taking it for granted.

"That would be nice," he said. "That would be very nice."

- Mobile Register


From the Cradle: The Arrival of Ellis Hooks
By Thom Jurek

Even if the music of Ellis Hooks weren’t so utterly compelling and unusual, his story might warrant novelistic treatment by Walter Mosley or James Baldwin—or at least might personify some folk tale that traveled up north from the unfathomable South via the underground railroad. At a well-traveled 29, the soul singer-songwriter embodies the bluesman’s legacy.

As evidenced by his three recordings, all produced by the venerable Jon Tiven (Frank Black, Nick Lowe, B.B. King), Undeniable (on Europe’s Zane label in 2001); Up Your Mind (from Evidence Music in 2003); and Uncomplicated (from Artemis in early 2004)—Hooks has one of the most original voices to come out of R&B since the heyday of the great Memphis soul scene. And though deeply influenced by Wilson Pickett, Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, Hooks sings with his own unique phrasing and delivery; he writes songs that resonate deeply in the human heart’s broken depths. And they come from an experience beyond his years. “I’ve been all over, from my upbringing in Alabama to Europe on the streets to New York City and everywhere,” says Hooks. “And one thing I know is that the music I make seems to get to people wherever I get to sing; it’s about the things we all have in common.”

Hooks is referring to a life that’s been spent, until the last couple of years, wandering the globe playing his music for anyone who would listen. Born in a small Alabama town between Mobile and Montgomery as the third youngest of 15 children, Hooks worked on his family’s [Au: changes okay/correct?] farm from the time he could walk. He was raised in the Southern Baptist church and by the age of nine was a soloist in the choir. A year later, at the age of 10, his father passed away. Hooks’ early music education came from hearing rock, country, R&B and gospel music blasted out by the nearby radio stations into the early hours of the morning. He just couldn’t get the music out of his head. He decided he had to make music for himself, so he left home at 15. Hooks first wandered the country, doing whatever odd jobs he could and playing street corners. Eventually, he ended up in Europe, busking on the streets of Paris and Amsterdam before coming back to the States and settling in New York.

He was “discovered” by Diana Ross while singing in Central Park. The soul diva set up a session for him, but Hooks never showed up. “I wasn’t ready,” he states matter-of-factly, weary of the topic. “I didn’t have my songs together at the time. That’s all old stuff.”

Later he met Tiven, who had just finished producing Wilson Pickett’s comeback record, and a partnership was born.

“I was still living in New York at the time,” says Tiven from his home in Nashville. “I had given a young woman my card and she was coming over to play me some songs. Ellis was with her as a chaperone. Her music, which was pretty much the pop stuff that gets played on the radio, had nothing in it I could work with. Then I asked Ellis what he did. He was mad because I turned down his friend and he answered abruptly that he sang. I told him to, and he picked up a guitar and blew my mind.”

“I was angry,” admits Hooks, laughing. “I thought at the time, he just wanted to get with this girl, and when he turned her down, he asked me, nasty-like, ‘What do YOU do?’ I told him, ‘I sing,’ and when he told me to do it, I was thinking, ‘OK, I’ll show you about singing.’ It was like a challenge, and I took it.”

Tiven began working with Hooks immediately. The pair, along with Tiven’s bass-playing, songwriting wife, Sally, began composing and rehearsing together, working on a new sound that was all Ellis.

“The more I heard Ellis’ stories from his life,” Tiven recalls, “the more I wanted to get the feel of them in his music. He already had a voice that conveyed everything he’s been through; we wanted to create material that reflected what was in his singing. We began to write a lot of material, only recording when it felt right, and getting the best songs down. We made Undeniable on my dime and shopped it. I was working on a deal with E Music and was supposed to give them six albums by known artists and one by an unknown. A large portion of Up Your Mind—that eventually ended up on Evidence [Records]—came from those sessions. We still have a ton of music in the can, and the vast majority of it is great. We craft albums from the songs we cut; we don’t just put them out there to have something out. We clicked really quickly; I make it easy for him to do what he does.”

“Working with Jon,” says Hooks, “the music I was making really came together. He doesn’t force me to do anything I don’t want to, and he understands what I am trying to do. I love Sam Cooke and Wilson Pickett, and these guys were my influences. I don’t sing like them, I make my own sound. I am trying to make music that gets people in the heart, hits them in the same place that great music hits me. That’s why I sing soul; my music also has gospel, blues, country and rock’n’roll in it—it all comes from black soul music anyway … anything to make the music come out honest, like the handclapping in church ….”

Since Hooks teamed up with Tiven he’s played sold-out clubs, received rave reviews and garnered laudatory praise from audiences ranging from the Montreux Jazz Festival (as Bonnie Raitt’s guest), Italy’s Poretta Festival (with Carla Thomas’s Big Band), and the JVC jazz festival. At this point he’s more than an up-and-comer—he’s arrived. “It’s been easier in Europe,” Hooks explains. “There they treat you like family. They’re immediately ready to accept you. Here it’s been harder. You have to fight for your audience, but that’s what we’re doing and it’s working.”

Hooks definitely knows his muse. His three recordings mix tough, raw Southern soul with elements of other musical genres, but he never strays from the notion of groove, the feeling of direct emotion, the sound of longing. For example, Up Your Mind’s “Man of the Blues,” written by Sandy Carroll, Tiven and Hooks, encapsulates Ellis’s autobiography, and in it you hear every lonely night on the road. “I brought that song to Jon and told him I wanted to record it. It was already a tune, but I added my own thing to it. Jon helped … and we made it mine. That song is my story.” A blues-drenched funk tune, “Riding With Fire” spells out the dangers of a transient existence. “Eight Months Ago Today” follows the tradition of great Memphis blues, with its slow, sensual pace and Tiven’s ringing guitars, and every line drips with heartache. But it’s the deep soul of “Controlling Picasso” that contextualizes Hooks’ trademark soul sound with that of his forbears and points toward an R&B for the future. With Todd Snare on the trap kit and Tiven’s languid acoustic and electric guitar parts providing the sonic canvas, Hooks spins the tale of Picasso and his mistress. It becomes a metaphor for the creative freedom an artist must be allowed in the world.

“I’m really proud of that song,” Hooks says. “We got that one right … the drums play kind of a hip-hop line, and the melody is all blues and soul, and the guitar parts just send it over the top. But man, the lyrics are true—he was always caught between people who wanted things from him, and his own needs for things, and still he was able to rise above it and paint. The artist was free.”

And freedom—along with faith, love and mercy—has arguably been a recurrent theme in Hooks’ songs since he started writing, reflecting a deep-held faith that comes from his upbringing in the church.

“Sam Cooke was my number-one idol. He was in the church and sang there for a long time. He made himself singing in the church and when he left, the church seemed ready to forsake him for ‘backsliding.’ But he brought his faith with him. It’s in every song he sang. I try to do that. I said many times when I was alone on the road and in Europe, “God, my life is in your hands. I was taken care of because no matter what happened, music never left me. Spirituality is part of my singing; it can’t be gotten out, because it’s part of me and I think it’s what sets me a little different in the music of today. It used to be part of all the music you heard on the radio—from country to rock’n’roll and R&B. Now, in hip-hop and a lot of other popular music, that spirit is missing. I can’t feel it.”

Hooks takes a giant leap forward, both a singer and songwriter, with Uncomplicated. Songs like “It’s Gonna Take Some Time” and “40 Days & 40 Nights” are drenched in deep-blue soul. They cry out for transcendence of earthly and spiritual circumstances. The protagonist has been to the edge of the abyss, looked over and returned to tell about it. Hooks’ blend comprises elements of roots rock and funk this time out. He soars above the raw, dirty grooves—laid down by the band Tiven carefully assembled—but first he lifts the whole thing up out of the cellar of human emotions with the power of his voice. “Never Give Up On Your Love,” “Hand of God,” and Slide the Gun” are songs Jagger and Richards might salivate over. The minor-key blues strut of “M’baby,” is one of the more brazenly sensual love songs to come down the genre’s pipe in a decade. And the late Eddie Hinton, a fellow Alabamian, lived for a Muscle Shoals soul tune like “She Locked the Door.” Hooks belts the song—of a man still chained to a past love while yearning for the one right in front of him—as if it were the last love song on earth. The backing gospel chorus’ call-and-response gives the profane a sacred touch. “Can’t Take This No More” might very well be the best song Rod Stewart never sang (likely a perfect fit for the Faces), while the funky “Ready This Time” would inspire envy even in the likes of James Brown.

Hooks and Tiven both view Uncomplicated as the fullest realization—thus far—of Hooks’ vocal power. “Ellis has so many stories from his life,” Tiven says, “you could never hear him tell all of them, but they do get told in part in his songs. … That’s what makes those songs so powerful. No one has made an album as great as Uncomplicated in 20 or 30 years. It has everything in it, and Ellis, with his raw energy, is not specific to pop music fashion. His songs and his sophisticated [yet] unpretentious way of delivering them allow him to connect with audiences and other artists. He’s one of the best ever.”

Hooks, too, feels optimistic about his career. “This album is the best one I’ve done. I think it’s really getting started. Now that it is, I don’t just want to keep going, but to keep getting better, to reach as many people as I can playing, because I am not going to quit playing anyway. … The records are great—I love making them—but the records are what get you in front of an audience, and that’s where we all get together and I do my best work.

“For me it’s been a long road, but it feels like it’s just starting. … People have stood by me from Japan to America. I’m lucky, because usually, if you aren’t singing for the radio today, or on the radio, people aren’t feeling you. I think people are feeling me out there.”

- PASTE magazine


USA/UK – ELLIS HOOKS “The Hand of God” Zane Records ZNCD 1021, 15 + 2 bonus tracks, 1:03:10 timing.
The USA/UK titling is my clumsy way of saying US artist UK label. This is the second release for Zane Records – proud moment for Zane and the UK record industry as a whole. This album is on Artemis Records in the States, and takes its title from another track notably “Uncomplicated”. As I write Ellis’ last album “Up Your Mind” on Evidence Music is in the running for a W.C. Handy Award. Every disc Ellis brings out I envisage him going huge and mainstream, such is magnitude of his work – his voice, song-writing and energy. No one can fail to be impressed by Ellis and his manager, Jon Tiven’s work-rate, with quality album after quality album spewing from an apparent bottomless pit. The album is stirring, rockin’, and as Ellis proclaims he is a total individual writing & singing from his own unique experiences I will bow to his integrity and not liken him within this review. “The Hand of God” is a total original score that was recorded in both NYC & Nashville, with legendary Dan Penn mixing five of the tracks. When Ellis sings there are rock, soul, gospel, blues, country plus R&B going on; which makes his muse very accessible – and very marketable. I’d get used to seeing articles in newspapers, magazines, radio & TV on Messrs. Hooks, such is the vibe inducing wave this recording induces. Soul with a rockin’ chassis, songs with rooted meaning. The brave is on the war-path, better hitch up your pony you are in for one helluva ride….Billy Hutchinson
- Blues Matters

"Zane Bio"

In For Mation
Zane Records
ZNCD 1018
Released 9th September 2002 DISTRIBUTED BY PINNACLE

Ellis Hooks was born 28 years ago in Mobile, Alabama to a full Cherokee mother and a father of African American descent. The third youngest of 16 children, he didn't have a pair of shoes until he was eight, and didn't know the meaning of fun. "We weren't allowed to play after school or on Saturdays because we'd be picking peas for the white folks," Ellis explains, "and we'd spend all day Sunday in church." His Baptist family had nothing but disdain for blues and rock music, so when the young Ellis heard the radio and lost interest in leading the church choir he was thrown out of his household at age fourteen.

Hitch-hiking his way across the United States, he finally landed in New York four years later after learning a variety of odd jobs. Supporting himself by singing in the streets, Ellis was approached by Diana Ross one day. "I was singing in Central Park and she came walking by in a yellow dress and told me she loved my voice and wanted to put me in the studio. She set up time for me at the Power Station but I wasn't ready, I didn't have any of my own songs. I was so freaked out I never showed up. I was too young." Ellis travelled the world singing in public places, living for awhile in Paris and Amsterdam, but eventually settled back in New York when he was twenty-five. He tried putting bands together, but never found the right people to play with him. "I was ready to give up," Ellis offers, "I had sung in front of so many people and never had a record out, I figured it just wasn't going to happen for me."
Then quite by accident, a female friend of his dragged him along to meet with producer Jon Tiven who had produced Wilson Pickett's comeback album 'It's Harder Now' which won three W.C. Handy Awards and was nominated for a Grammy. Tiven liked what he heard and over the next six months worked with Ellis to produce his debut album 'undeniable'. With Ellis are drummers Todd Snare, Simon Kirke, (Free) Anton Fig and Martin Ditcham, (Sade) along with Tiven and wife Sally (on guitar and bass
respectively), Mason Casey (harp), and Marvin Floyd (piano).
So what have we here? Definitely a voice full of soul, a soundtrack to a period in the life of Ellis Hooks, some hurt, but also joys. All of the music has the indelible stamp of a totally unique vocalist/
songwriter the likes of which doesn't come around too often. "I just want to make music that moves people," Ellis explains, "and I just sing what I feel. If you want to categorise it, you can but I don't. I just do it, that's all! " Ellis embodies all of the finest aspects of Southern musical traditions and shows his roots like a lazy bottled blonde. Otis and Sam are his idols and he's proud of it … but most importantly he is himself 100% Ellis.
Undeniable is the debut album from released on
ZANE RECORDS, ZNCD 1018 - distributed in the U.K by PINNACLE.
For further Info contact: Peter or Diana at Zane Records
Tel 0118 957 4567 Fax 0118 956 1261
undeniable ellis hooks 9th September 2002
- zane

"Artemis bio"

Ellis Hooks knows all too well about the bumpy journey of life. Born in Bayminette, Alabama, he was the thirteenth of sixteen children to an African-American sharecropper and his Cherokee/African-American bride. Hooks left home at the age of fifteen and like a modern day Woody Guthrie hitchhiked around America performing odd jobs and often times relying on just his voice and acoustic guitar for meals and a place to spend the night. After three years of sleeping everywhere from graveyards to playgrounds and doing anything from baling hay to gutting fish, Hooks ended up in New York City playing music in Central Park with the occasional club gig on Bleeker Street.

It was a street corner in that Park where Ellis Hooks encountered his first real fan in passerby Diana Ross. The soul legend was immediately struck by Hooks’ gravel and honey voice and quickly offered him recording time in the Power Station studio. Unlike many street musicians, Hooks didn’t jump at the seemingly golden opportunity and skipped out on the sessions. “I just wasn’t ready,” he explains. “I really wasn’t comfortable with my own songs at that point. You know, fate and destiny are like cousins, and it just wasn’t my time yet, but it did kick my confidence way up there.”

Ellis Hooks did not wallow in any lost chances, though. Instead he took off for Europe, honing his craft along the way. “I was buskin’, playing on the streets, walking up to people’s dinner tables and performing for them. I hit the tube stops, and just played and played. I was addicted man, but that’s what it takes to get better,” Hooks says of his time spent in Paris, Amsterdam and Milan. Hungry to parlay his talent into a successful career as a professional musician, Hooks returned home to New York City and struck gold when fate and destiny appeared once again. This time the street corner was a strip club and Hooks was not even present when his winning cards were dealt out.

Taken out by friends on his birthday to a famous gentleman’s club, producer Jon Tiven was approached by a stripper claiming to possess an extraordinary singing voice. Tiven, who has worked with Wilson Pickett and B.B. King, set up an appointment for the woman to audition her vocal skills. She arrived accompanied by a chaperone. When she failed to ignite any interest in the producer, Tiven turned to the chaperone in leather pants and cowboy boots and asked, “What do you do?” Ellis Hooks grabbed a guitar from Tiven’s wall and answered the man with a song, and the rest, as they say, is history.

In 2002, with Tiven on board, Hooks began recording his debut, UNDENIABLE (Zane Records). Released in Europe to rave reviews, The London Times listed UNDENIABLE as “one of the strongest albums of the year,” and described Hooks as a young Wilson Pickett. Time Out (UK) awarded the record “soul album of the year,” calling Hooks’ tunes “hot, steamy and pure Southern soul.” Not long afterwards, the BBC inivited Ellis to headline its World Music Festival on New Year’s Day (2003) where he quickly organized a band to back him featuring Glen Matlock of The Sex Pistols. Ellis and his band (dubbed The Stax Pistols) wowed the British audiences, and
set the stage for a barnstorming tour of Europe. Ellis and his crack band (with Muzz Skillings of Living Colour on bass) played venues as small as Amsterdam’s Paradiso Club one day and then the next day opening for Terence Trent D’Arby in front of 40,000 soul afficionados, often playing two gigs a day. He attracted the attention of Carla Thomas, who invited Ellis as her special guest on the European festival circuit where he won over new fans at the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival and Poretta Soul Festival. Along the way he picked up fans and admirers in Solomon Burke, Bonnie Raitt, and Queen guitarist Brian May, who said of the musician, “Ellis rocks. Must’ve done it from his cradle, because that kind of stuff can’t be learned!”

Hooks followed up his excellent debut with UP YOUR MIND in 2003 (Evidence Music) which featured a duet with soul king Freddie Scott. The All-Music Guide gave it four and a half (out of five) stars, and in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Nick Cristiano gave it three and a half (out of four) stars, saying “throughout this strong collection of original songs, the 29 year old singer/guitarist brings a rock-infused fire that gives him a killer presence all his own.” The Nashville Tennessean’s Peter Cooper chose the album as one of the 20 best records of 2003 to come out of Nashville, even though Ellis neither recorded the album in Nashville nor lives there (he played the town five times in 2003 and recorded most of UNCOMPLICATED there). Most recently, the Blues Foundation nominated Ellis as
Best New Artist for the prestigious W.C. Handy Awards, which will be given out in late April in Memphis, Tennessee.

After winning over crowds all over Europe, Hooks returned to America in late 2003 to finish the recording of UNCOMPLICATED, a modern record forging a style which Ellis likes to call “Americana Soul.” Paste magazine’s Tom Jurek characterizes it as “a giant leap forward as both a singer and songwriter…one of the most original voices to come out of R&B since the heyday of the great Memphis soul scene. And though deeply influenced by Wilson Pickett, Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, Hooks sings with his own unique phrasing and delivery; he writes songs that resonate deeply in the broken recesses of the human heart.” UNCOMPLICATED recalls the Stax-Volt and Muscle Shoals production style that Ellis grew up on, but the fifteen songs conjure comparisons to Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, and Little Richard as easily as the obvious soul prototypes. “It’s all about remembering to live for today, not caring about tomorrow, and just enjoying life,” Ellis Hooks says of his third record, UNCOMPLICATED. “Oh yeah,” he adds, “have fun with the one you love and your dog. That’s the feeling of my record.”

- artemis

"Various reviews"

HITS, August 15, 2003, Weakend Planner
Ellis Hooks Takes L.A.: An old-line, gutbucket-smooth soul singer. This is where the spark of Muscle Shoals and Stax/Volt has been igniting for the last 10 or 20 years. Songs about life, lust, ache, want and gittin' bizzy, Hooks reminds us about the core of music: sweat, blood, cum and a sense of taking life by the throat before getting throttled by the way it can be. A voice, moxie and a will to throw down—this is the real deal in a world where people think they're funky but chic. Check him out—two chance this very weekend in the City of Angels: the Temple Bar in Santa Monica Saturday (16) at 9:15; Hollywood Bowl Sunday, opening the prestigious JVC Jazz Festival at 6. Both sets are solo. —Holly Gleason

HITS April 4 2003 Weakend Planner
Ellis Hooks, Undeniable (Zane U.K.): The buzz on Hooks was deafening when he turned up in Nashville this winter. But the buzz is nothing compared to this low-dough, gutbucket old-school soul workout produced by onetime rock critic Jon Tiven. Ain't nothing smooth on here, just a lot of sweat, grunt and grind—definitely worth the search on that too real tip that's more about where you live between your ears and between your legs than the zip code you're postin' in. —Holly Gleason

A new soul man bucks the cliches
ELLIS HOOKS/Dingwalls BBC Radio 3 London
Review by Gavin Martin (The Independent)
07 January 2003
The first day of the new year is not noted for being a particularly auspicious one in the live-music calendar. But the European concert debut of Ellis Hooks, an incendiary, 28-year-old soul singer songwriter from Mobile, Alabama, departed from this sleepy tradition.
The final act of a string of shows on Radio 3's World Music Day, Hooks bounds on to the stage in skin-tight, zebra-striped trousers and strikes into the gorgeous, aching title track from his album, Undeniable. At first, it's hard to believe that he's for real – having been lampooned to the point of tedium, the soul-man archetype now seems, all too often, to be a refuge for either washed-out old-timers or karaoke-bar regulars.
But Hooks gives the lie to accepted record-industry wisdom with his irrepressible performance, his emotionally exacting songs and his heartfelt tributes to his forebears.
The conviction of his unabashed, heart-on-the-sleeve performance is rooted in a remarkable past. The son of a Cherokee mother and an African American father, Hooks was the third youngest in a family of 16. He didn't own a pair of shoes until he was eight years old, and he spent his early years sharecropping. Raised in a strict Baptist family, he sang in church and found an easy affinity with the late, great Sam Cooke and Otis Redding.
Cast out of the family home when secular, rather than Gospel, music became his obsession, Hooks busked across America and was spotted playing in Central Park, New York, by Diana Ross. Feeling that he wasn't ready to record, Ellis passed on Ross's offer of free studio time. A few years later, however, he was introduced to the producer Jon Tiven – by a lapdancer.
Even then, a major label takeover left his first album in still-unreleased limbo, and it took the small British independent Zane to bring Hooks' music to the world. But the songs he played on New Year's Day proved that the Deep South soul he draws on is, in the right hands, as potent as ever.
With a band that includes Tiven (now his songwriting partner and manager) and Sex Pistol Glen Matlock, Hooks shimmies and gyrates across the stage and into the audience, putting in a show that shames his contemporaries. His set includes spirited cover tributes to Cooke, Redding and – on the 50th anniversary of his death – Alabama homeboy Hank Williams. But on "Blaze Up the Town", "I Been There" and the brand-new "Slide the Gun", Hooks' ability to mine his own past is as electrifying as his presentation.
"A star is born," announced the evening's MC, Andy Kershaw, when the sweat-drenched Hooks took his final bow. For once, the old showbiz cliché seemed entirely fitting.

In the basement, Feb/April 2003
Dingwalls,London - 1/1/03

Ellis Hooks, on his UK debut, had a lot to live up to; voted 'Newcomer Of The Year' in the Times; his cd, 'Undeniable' vying with Solomon Burke for 'Soul Album of the Year' in 'Time Out' ; championed to death by Andy Kershaw to the point where the BBC flew Hooks and his writing partner,Jon Tiven, over for a Radio 3 session and this gig the following day. Would the live show live up to the praise and the promise ? A crowd large enough to fill the venue was waiting for the answer and, in this writer's opinion, the answer was a largely unqualified 'Yes!' However, those who like their music in clearly labelled plastic bags - 'soul', 'blues', 'singer/songwriter', rock' - would have probably come away gnawing on their frustration.

Ellis likes to show his roots, in Jon Tiven's memorable phrase "Like A Lazy Bottled Blonde", which meant we had a serving of Otis -'Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa', plus two from one of his other heroes, Sam Cooke. However, the instrumentation here - electric guitar,bass,drums, occasional acoustic guitar from Ellis - meant this was a long way from a routine soul workout. This could at times have been Elvis with Scotty Moore et al, a not-too-far-fetched comparison as the band slipped in a brief 'Hey Good Lookin', to mark the death of Hank Williams exactly fifty years to the day. Then again, Ellis' writing partnership and live interplay with producer and guitarist, Jon Tiven, invokes something of the spirit of Redding/Cropper some twenty years later. Ellis' voice is almost pure sixties vintage soul but the main inspirations for his writing seem to come from a later period when (mainly white) writers like Dylan,Van Morrison and Jagger/Richards were churning the soul imperative together with a more European pop and folk tradition. So 'Blaze Up The Town' nods to Van the Man,'I Release You' adds a Jaggeresque swagger to a classic Motown beat, 'Burnt By The Flame' aims for a classic pop hook (and doesn't quite make it) whilst
'I Been There' is Hooks' own life story set to a Howlin' Wolf guitar riff.

Despite a brief rehearsal time with Glen Matlock (bass) and Martin Ditcham (drums), Hooks and Tiven didn't shy from trying out a few new cuts. 'Slide The Gun', part written by Shemekia Copeland, would have pleased the blues buffs whilst the Dylan-flavoured (complete with rack-harmonica from Tiven) 'It's Not Me' augured well for the next cd. The band even had the cheek to close on a brand new song -the storming 'Forty Days' - before hastily called back for (what else but?) 'Twisting The Night Away'. Andy Kershaw was on hand to see in the new year with his protege'. He must have been well chuffed at the crowds reaction to an artist in whom he has invested so much of his own time and reputation. Similary gleaming in the gloaming were Peter and Diana from Zane Records, who have had the foresight and intelligence to sign a potentially major artist to their developing label.

Harry Lang

Nashville Scene 1/29/03
Undeniable Soul
Ellis Hooks brings his gritty R&B to town
Ellis Hooks is a rarity in 21st century American music: a genuine soul singer. His voice has that wonderful blend of church fervor, blues ache and country sensibility often missing from the vocal styles of many neo-soul types. Unfortunately, what he doesn't have is an American label deal, something that's limited his exposure here at home. He's already a celebrity in England, where his current disc, Undeniable (Zane), and his live shows have led critics to tab him the next great R&B star.

Undeniable spotlights a powerful, distinctive artist, someone deeply influenced by such giants as Otis Redding, Sam Cooke and Hank Sr., but far from a generic imitator. Hooks can ease delicately into a sad tale, rip through an up-tempo track or wail with chilling conviction, as he does on "I Been There" and "Everything's Falling Around Me." He demonstrates his fluency in country and rockabilly on "Last Chance," balancing the track's jaunty beat with his own whimsical delivery.

Producer Jon Tiven, who recently relocated to Nashville, can certainly recognize a great singer, having produced It's Harder Now, Wilson Pickett's best album since his heyday at Atlantic Records. He touts Hooks as a young vocalist with an elder's edge, smarts and vocal tone. Tiven and his wife Sally have co-written more than 80 songs with Hooks over the last two years. They ably assist him on Undeniable, playing guitar and bass, respectively, while being joined by a superb supporting cast that includes pianist Marvin Floyd and harmonica player Mason Casey.

Hooks' life story would make a great soul song. The third of 16 children, he was born in Mobile, Ala., to a Cherokee mother and an African American father. As a youth, his talents were so impressive that he was quickly recruited for the church choir in his staunchly Baptist family's community. But Hooks was more fascinated with blues, soul and country music, and increasingly turned away from traditional gospel. At age 14, he was exiled from his home for neglecting his choral duties; during the next four years, he hitchhiked across the country, eventually ending up in New York, where some of his early auditions were in subway stations and on street corners. After overcoming those obstacles, Hooks seems less concerned with becoming a star than with giving live audiences the urgent performances that make Undeniable such a gem. He plays Feb. 4 at Exit/In as part of the Western Beat anniversary show.

--By Ron Wynn

timeout (uk) Aug. 29, 2002
Ellis Hooks-Undeniable
One of those voices that sounds like it has been dragged up from somewhere deep and dark and sacred and profane. Earthy, soulful and blue, this is vying with Solomon Burke's 'Don't Give Up On Me' as the best soul album of the year. From out of Mobile, Alabama, with a Cherokee mother and African- American father, Hooks is a 28 year old, Baptist raised rebel and wanderer. This is his debut release. And forget fuckers like Ben Harper and Jonny flaming Lang; despite the leather trousers it is no limp or indulgent exercise in showy slickster hype or wank. Nope. This is pure Southern soul. Not Retro or dated, reinvented, puffed or powdered. Just soul. Like it always was and can still rarely be. Music - hot, steamy and Muscle Shoals styled. Voice - huge, aching and blistered. As producer Jon Tiven writes ' During my career as a producer I have worked with some of the true legends of Soul Music--Wilson Pickett, Don Covay, Bobby Womack, Eddie Floyd, and William Bell It has always rankled me that there were no young artists to carry on in their traditions. From time to time you get an artist who tips a hat to the Stax sound, or covers an Otis Redding or Al Green song, but the idea of this kind of artist seemed bound for extinction. Then one day, Ellis Hooks walked through my door and the top of my head blew off.' Indeed. Ross Fortune.

London Times, August 31, 2002
YOUNG, GIFTED and black, Ellis Hooks has the sort of voice that reminds you of the early Wilson Pickett, so it is fitting that this Alabama artist’s first album should be produced by Jon Tiven, who was also in the production chair for Pickett’s award-winning comeback album It’s Harder Now. For a relative unknown, Hooks shows himself to be an accomplished and versatile vocalist who is able to bring that traditional Southern soul feel to an album of accomplished, self-penned numbers. Standout tracks include the funky I Release You, the mid-tempo Your Love is Too Strong and the gently loping Hole in My Heart. Perhaps we could have done with a bit of brass to augment the guitar and drums backing, but this is still one of the strongest debut albums of the year. John Clarke

Ellis Hooks - Undeniable (Zane Records)
When a debut like this arrives, you realise how much raw and
full-blooded soul has been pushed to the margins by rap, hip-hop,
etc. Like all bandwagons, these have tended to roll at the expense of other
musical styles. It seems an age since there was a release like this
with its Wilson Pickett meets Bobby Womack flavour. Of course, you need a
great voice to carry it off and Ellis Hooks has got one. He was
heard singing in a New York park by Diana Ross who bought him some
studio time at the Power Station studios. Completely thrown by
this, he never showed up. Thankfully, the Undeniable CD has shown up.

Jon Tiven is the producer and his track record with some of the
greats (Eddie Floyd, Wilson Pickett, Don Covay, etc) makes him the
perfect choice. He's pulled in the likes of Omar Hakin and Simon Kirke
(ex-Free) on drums but the arrival of such noteworthy talents doesn't
detract from this down home labour of love. The opener, Something 4
Everyone with its excellent hook line reminds me of Don Covay at
his soulful finest. Indeed, the whole of the record is like a stylistic trip down
memory lane.

Personal favourites are Blaze Up The Town, I Been There, Hole In My
Heart, Burnt By The Flame Of Love and To Get Close To You. But
really, it's hard to split out specific tracks. Take Wilson, Bobby,
Eddie, Don, all of those guys. Throw 'em in a pot and stir in the Stax and
Muscle Shoals recipes from the 60's and 70's. Add the character of
Ellis Hooks and you've got the sort of wonderful soul record that you
dreamt had gone for good.
Steve Henderson

Juke Blues no 52

Ellis Hooks arrives with an earthy Southern album 'Undeniable' full
of vitality and upfront songs penned by Ellis in conjunction with
Sally Tiven and producer Jon Tiven. With a Cherokee/African -
American upbringing in Mobile, Alabama, this 28-year-olds's gritty
no-holds-barred vocals spit out the lyrics on the tuneful 'Hole In My
Heart' and expresses a degree of urgency on the pounding 'Your Love
Is Too Strong'. The insidious hook of 'Blaze Up The Town' recalls a
latter-day Eddie Hinton whilst the typical Southern soul swayer
'Burnt By The Flame OF Love' closes proceedings on a strong note. The
lack of horns and occasional rock-orientated production takes the
edge of what would have been an excellent release steeped in the traditions of Pickett, Covey,Womack, etc.

Ray Ellis

Nashville Tennessean December 14, 2002
No longer scuffling, soul man Ellis Hooks is the toast of R&B-loving Europe.
Staff Writer
''I've never met one person who reminded me of myself,'' says Ellis Hooks, who has met a lot of people in his 28 years.
Hooks is an R&B shouter whose Undeniable album is earning raves in Europe (the only continent on which the album may currently be purchased in stores). Still an unknown in his own country, he's been trumpeted in the UK as a new-millennium savior of the old-school sounds embodied by long-gone legends Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Sam Cooke.
The London Times has registered its approval, as has UK soul bible In the Basement magazine. BBC Radio One disc jockey Andy Kershaw has declared Undeniable the finest R&B album of the past decade, and a New Year's Day show in London will find him performing with original Sex Pistols bass player Glen Matlock. In July, Hooks is scheduled to play Italy's Poretta Festival, an event dedicated to the memory of Otis Redding.
Nashville gets its first taste of Hooks Tuesday night at 9 when the singer performs on Billy Block's Western Beat at Exit/In.
Consider that all of this hubbub comes after decades of scuffling. Two years ago, Hooks' audiences were the passers-by who wandered through New York City's Washington Square Park. Hooks strummed a guitar, singing and playing Bob Marley songs, Sam Cooke songs, even Conway Twitty's Linda on My Mind.
''It was like an open rehearsal, every day, all day long,'' he said, speaking by telephone from his New York City home. ''I think it made my voice stronger, and if you have the talent and charisma — no matter where you're at — there's going to be an audience. Now, I was starving . . . don't get me wrong. The cold and rainy days, you can't make cash.''
If Hooks' music is rooted in Southern soul, his life has been grounded by hard blues. Hooks left his Bay Minette, Ala., home at, he said, ''age 14 or 15,'' embarking on years of hand-to-mouth living. Hope was a late addition to the Hooks equation, and his ''missing years'' involved turmoil that's only hinted at in his songs.
''Slept on many highways, cemeteries and old barnyards,'' he sings on I Been There. ''So don't you look at me like you've been living hard.''
''I was living on a farm in Alabama,'' he said. ''My mom has 16 kids. My dad died when I was 10, and there wasn't much to do but work on the farm. I just hit the road. If I had to do it all over, I wouldn't do it. I'd just stay home. I went through hell, man. It was too scary.''
By the turn of the century, Hooks was depressed with his New York situation. Several supposed music business opportunities had fallen through, the streets were rough and performances at a club called The Oasis weren't garnering appreciable progress.
''I was ready to pack it up and get out of New York,'' he said. ''But . . . I was playing this club, and I'm the type of artist that if someone in the audience wants to sing, I'll let them sing when I'm on a break. So, this beautiful Mexican girl was in the audience. I let her on, and she was terrible, but she was so beautiful to look at that it sort of made up for it.
He became friendly with the woman (a stripper, it turns out), who soon met producer Jon Tiven and — intending to further her own career — arranged an audition.
''She said, 'I met this producer, but I'm a little nervous about going over there to audition.' So, I went with her.''
Tiven, who has worked on albums by B.B. King, Wilson Pickett and others and whose songs have been recorded by artists including Huey Lewis and the News, Koko Taylor and Robert Cray, was none too impressed with the woman's vocal skills.
''She started singing, and he cut her off,'' Hooks said. ''He was pretty blunt. Then he looked at me and said, 'What do you do? Do you sing?' I said, 'Yeah, I sing.' And he said, 'Well, sing me a blues.' ''
Upon hearing Hooks' voice, Tiven now says, ''The top of my head blew off.'' The two began writing together (with Tiven's wife and fellow musician, Sally Tiven), and Undeniable — an extraordinary fusion of classic soul and rock sounds melded with Hooks' atypical lyrical style and beyond-expressive vocals — came into being.
Zane Records put the album out in Europe, and Tiven (who has since moved from New York to Nashville) is currently seeking an American record deal for Hooks. Meanwhile, Euro-jaws continue to drop upon first listen.
His is a strange and sordid story, the particulars of which only he can detail or fully appreciate. But things are nice now, and they're getting better all the time. So much better that he rethought his prior statement, the one where he said if he had it to do all over, he wouldn't do it.
''When I was sleeping on the side of the road . . . at that moment, you want to be home,'' he said. ''But maybe it's good that I did that. It makes you a better artist. And now, these songs of mine are real experiences, man. You appreciate life more when you get through stuff like that.''

CD Review
Ellis Hooks
(Zane ZNCD1018)
reviewed by Gordon Baxter

Ellis Hooks may only be in his late 20's but he has been plying his trade as a singer and songwriter for several years. For his debut album, "Undeniable," Hooks was teamed up with producer Jon Tiven, the man who brought success back to Wilson Pickett with "It's Harder Now." The links to the great soul singers do not end there either, since Hooks' label (Zane) was also the home of the late (and great) soul singer Eddie Hinton (who like Hooks was from Alabama), and both vocally owe a debt to the mighty Otis Redding.The opener, "Something 4 Everyone," hits you right between the eyes. It is a very powerful, hard hitting tune, that sounds like an oldie, but like all of the tunes here was penned by Hooks along with Tiven and his wife, who also play guitar and bass. Hooks is equally home on gentler, more subtle material such as the ensuing "Everything's Falling Around Me" which, like many of the songs here, has a catchy chorus. Most of the album's best moments come on the tracks where things are slightly more restrained. "Blaze Up The Town," "Your Love Is Too Strong," and "Waiting For The Rapture" in particular, are all worthy of special mention. On these songs Hooks' voice is allowed to more
naturally come to the fore, using power and punch only to add
emphasis. Although Hooks' natural territory is soul, there is a brace of bluesier numbers. The autobiographical "I Been There" is fairly straight blues, and features some fine muddy harp courtesy of Mason Casey. In addition, the penultimate track, "Your Last Chance," rattles along at the same tempo as Junior Parker's "Mystery Train," almost veering into rockabilly territory.
The closer, "Burnt By The Flame Of Love," rounds off in style, and leaves you wanting more. This is the sort of song where Hooks sounds most at ease, ad libbing as he goes along, like it was a live show. Pay close attention, however, otherwise it sounds like it ends mid-track. On closer listen, however, there is a subtle keying into the ending just before it happens. Then lean over, and hit the play button again!
Ellis Hooks has to be in with a shout for best male vocalist of the year, being in possession of one of the finest grittiest soul voices around. The rocky edge to several of the tracks may not be to everyone's taste, although it is something of a trademark of Tiven's production style. Several of the songs also need a full horn section to do them justice. These are minor qualms, however, since "Undeniable" rates among the very best debut albums of the year.
This review is copyright (c) 2002, Gordon Baxter and Blues On Stage,
all rights reserved.

Inthebasement magazine-feature review

ELLIS HOOKS-Undeniable
Producer, Jon Tiven, has come in for some stick by readers of this magazine over the last two or three years - although he always comes back verbally fighting! - and, sometimes it seems he has to bear the brunt of criticism for the sake of it. A past personal gripe though has been the fact that the guitar parts played by both wife, Sally, and himself are allowed to intrude too much on the tracks, often by way of a harsh, rock-slanted solo. (Jon's production on Freddie Scott was a particular offender.) Here, Ellis Hooks also plays guitar and that instrument features heavily in the background instrumentation. But, and there is a 'but', this time around there are no flamboyant solos and the songs carry uninterrupted vocals. There is still no pleasing some folks though and already-voiced reactions have still suggested too much of a rock approach has been taken with the set overall. However, those folks said the same about Wilson Pickett's Tiven-produced 'It's Harder Now' cd from 1999, where here it was a 'Star Pick'. So let's get this magazine's downside views over first, viz there's no ballad trackand no horns and sometimes Ellis tries too hard in that he roars out his vocals more than necessary. These matters were addressed in conversation with the Alabama-born (just outside Mobile) and now New York resident, Ellis Hooks. "I like big voices," he said. "I'm very much into that. I'm just attracted to big voiced people. To me that's more soulful, especially if you can understand what's written about and getting the message across. The next cd, which we're working on already, will have some good ballads on it.Horns would be good too; I like to hear saxophones."

'Something 4 Everyone' certainly comes out with all guns blazing but 'Everything's Falling All Around Me' takes a softer line in the backing department. The mid-paced 'I Release You' is a prime example of Ellis going o-t-t to get a point across, which can be a bit wearying, so 'Blaze Up The Town' makes for easier listening. Although penned by the Tivens with Ellis, it could easily be a Van Morrison song and I wouldn't mind betting Morrison has been an influence on the man, alongside Otis Redding, Sam Cooke and Wilson Pickett that he cites as his biggest influences. (I should haveasked him.) Asked when he started songwriting, Ellis, who writes both lyrics and music, said: "Around thirteen. I just started writing what I was feeling. And when you start travelling... You get this sense of loneliness and if you don't write about it you go crazy. That's when I did a lot." It was the travelling that eventually brought Ellis to New York. He had been singing in church and in school and, by the age of twelve, he had made his mind up that he wanted to be a singer. "I couldn't keep my mouth shut in class. I decided singing was what I wanted. I could just feel it. It was what I was supposed to be doing." The idea was cemented when he won a local edition of 'The Gong Show'. "I moved from the south when I was like fifteen and I went to Florida for a while. I got a job on a fishing boat but the sea disagreed with me..." [Unfortunate for someone born under the star sign of Aquarius.] "... so they had to bring me back. Then what I did, I started hitchhiking through the south until I ended upnorth in up-state New York. I got jobs in hotels and motels up there...horse ranches... I did everything I could until I finally got down here in New York City. I played the streets here and I did the club scene at night. That was like a big jam for me, like a big rehearsal. I supported myself doing that for a few years. That did a tremendous amount of work towards developing my voice and getting everything set up for me now."

'I Been There' takes the most blues/rock road of the cd but the mid-tempo roller, 'Your Love Is Too Strong' redresses the balance. 'Undeniable' undeniably impacts but 'Gypsy Head' is another where a little throat relaxation would not have come amiss. Much more melodic is 'Hole In My Heart', one of those songs that never fails to get this reviewer's hands off the computer keyboard and tapping at the knees. It's all somewhat reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt's work with Gary U.S. Bonds and, even if that doesn't please some folks, I'm happy with that. 'Waiting For The Rapture' is another goodie and things actually do try and slow down just a bit for 'To Get Close To You'. By contrast, 'Your Last
Chance' races along with a little too much of a hillbilly sound going on in the background for my taste. 'Burnt By The Flame Of Love', which adds Christa Hackett's violin to the musical line-up, closes strongly this cd from the man of whom Jon Tiven says in the liners: "...the top of my head blew off."

So how did Ellis and Jon Tiven get together? "By accident. It's a weird story... I was playing a little club here called Oasis and, I don't know if I should say this but this strip dancer came by and she became a friend of mine. She wanted to sing so I would let her sit in on my show. She became a singer and she said to me that she had to meet this producer. That was Jon Tiven. She was supposed to give him a tape. She had to go over his house and she wanted me to go with her, so I said 'okay'. He said to me, 'what do you do'. I said, 'I sing'. He said, 'sing for me' and that was it. Next thing I know he wanted to sign me."

NASHVILLE CITY PAPER December 19, 2002
Next great soul singer debuts
By Ron Wynn
Even though he hasn’t yet released a record in this country, savvy music fans know all about vocalist Ellis Hooks. The 28-year-old from Mobile, Al. who now lives in New York City has been the toast of the English soul circuit since his outstanding album Undeniable was released there to unanimous rave reviews. Now Hooks, who’ll be making his first appearance in Nashville tonight at the Exit/In, is ready for some of his music to get some American exposure."We’ve (Hooks and co-producers/writers Jon and Sally Tiven) recorded more than 80 songs over the last two years," Hooks said. We’ve been doing all this material, and it’s really going over great in England, but other than up here (the East Coast) it’s been hard getting the word out. I’m really looking forward to the Nashville gig, and to having the album out all over by next year." Hooks has a bombastic, riveting voice, highly expressive delivery and a creditable narrative style he credits to growing up on a farm outside Mobile and being the 13th of 16th children. "Singing was something that always came natural to me, especially in the evenings outside on the farm. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do, and how I’ve been able to express what’s in my heart and overcome whatever obstacles I faced."In some ways, Hooks life seems like a vintage soul song. His Baptist family had little use for secular music, so Hooks was summarily bounced out of the household as a 14-year-old after becoming so enthralled with blues, soul and country on the radio he lost interest in leading the church choir. Hooks actually hitchhiked across the country as a teen, toiling at odd jobs and singing in roadside clubs and honky tonks. He reached New York four years later, and spent several months singing in the streets and in subway stations. Hooks even spent some time in Paris and Amsterdam, but returned to New York at 25 and struggled trying to keep bands going. A chance meeting with producer Jon Tiven, who’d just produced Wilson Pickett’s comeback disc It’s Harder Now that earned three Handy Awards and a Grammy nomination, led to a working relationship and eventually to the songs on Undeniable.The album beautifully mixes soul feeling, blues elements and country sensibility, something that’s quite normal for a singer who cites Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Conway Twitty, Charlie Pride, Percy Sledge and Marvin Gaye as prime influences. The backing band includes pianist Marvin Floyd, drummers Omar Hakim, Simon Kirke, Anton Fig and Martin Ditcham, plus the Tivens' on guitar and harmonica, along with another strong harmonica player in Mason Casey. But while he’s certainly a classic soul vocalist in terms of approach, sound and scope, Hooks doesn’t want to be categorized in any fashion. "I’m open to any great music. People like Mick Jagger and Phil Collins are also singers I really admire. I’m communicating to the audience things that are real, things I’ve experienced and things that I feel, and I’m at home with any music that has those qualities."

Rhythms Magazine, Melbourne, Australia
Undeniable Ellis Hooks (Zane)
Hooks is a New York based, Mobile Alabama born 28 year old SOUL singer and songwriter in the 60’s/70’s tradition. The kind you don’t find anymore. A bit of Sam Cooke, a bit of Otis Redding and even a touch of Mink DeVille, maybe from time spent in NY.
While the sound of producer Jon Tiven and his Yankee cohorts doesn’t quite have the elasticity of the Muscle Shoals/Memphis guys of old, there is a lot to like about this album from the stripped back sound of real instruments (some horns here and there might have been nice) to the succinct songs all co-written by artist, producer Tiven’s and his wife Sally.
While all formula based soul/R&B workouts they display a contemporary spark maybe aided and abetted by the fact this is a young black artist embracing the hit music of yesterday and that hasn’t happened since well, Robert Cray first came on the scene.
The album also has a warmer ambiance than Tiven’s stone cold sound for the most recent Wilson Pickett album he did and although he has been criticized in some quarters for his work (and also the many co-writes that appear on albums he produces) the question can be asked how many are doing it as well or better than him?
It’s a short list and more a labour of love than a big-time money spinner. That goes for any label that wants to put this stuff out too and UK based Zane are doing a great job with the catalogue of Eddie Hinton and other soul roots.
So Ellis Hooks sounds like the real deal and on tracks such as Blaze Up The Town, Something 4 Everyone and I Release You testifies with the best of them, while the title track, I Release You and down-home slider Your Last Chance show alternatively a tough/tender side and a wider song palette than just a 60’s soul impersonator – that he ain’t.
Keith Glass

Twenty-eight-year-old Mobile, Ala., native Ellis Hooks grew up idolizing
Otis Redding and Sam Cooke and loving anything Muscle Shoals. He’s traveled
the world and is now based in New York City, where he was discovered by
producer Jon Tiven. Undeniable is a startling debut of 13 diverse originals
that draw on tradition without slavishly imitating it.
Hooks¹ raspy, passionate vocals bring to mind a young Wilson Pickett.
Many tracks evoke the glory days of Southern soul, though there are liberal
flourishes of rock and a bit of reggae and folk, as well as two bluesy
tunes: the autobiographical swamp boogie grinder “I Been There” and the
pounding rockabilly raveup “Your Last Chance,” both featuring the raucous
harp of Mason Casey. The title track, a tense shuffle-bump with taut,
stinging guitar, muses upon the vicissitudes of modern romance, as does
“Gypsy Head,” a tale of a mysterious lover performed in the style of early
Tyrone Davis.
Tiven knows how to produce a genuine soul singer, having worked on
acclaimed albums by Pickett, Sir Mack Rice, and Don Covay. Some tunes are
augmented with brightly strummed acoustic guitars, and a few feature
background singers. Though Tiven adds alto sax to a few tunes, I was
surprised by the absence of a horn section. Nonetheless, Undeniable is an
auspicious debut by a major talent. Released on the British label Zane
Records, it could give Solomon Burke’s Don’t Give Up On Me serious
competition for soul album of the year. Sam and Otis would be pleased.

Ellis Hooks:
Dingwalls, London, 1st January 2003 (live broadcast on BBC Radio 3 World Music Day)

Did you hear the one about the girl singer who found the music business too sleazy and took up lap-dancing instead? It's a true story, with a glorious punch line.

One night in New York the dancer met a man called Jon Tiven, who just happened to be a record producer. She told Jon she didn't want to sing no mo', but she knew a man who did. Fast forward a few frames and Tiven's meeting this tall, gangling hairpin out of Alabam', Ellis Hooks, 26 years old, part Cherokee, part African-American.

"Okay, you're a singer - sing something!". The kid opens his throat a little and Tiven is listening to an angel - but an angel who gargles razor blades and washes 'em down with Tupelo honey.

Wind on a few more clicks. Tiven, his partner Sally and Ellis are hunkered down, writing songs for all they're worth. They know they've got something but they're not sure what. This music sounds like Howlin' Wolf took Van the Man out in the alley and beat him up real good; its like Sam Cooke rose from his grave, got his bony fingers round Springsteen's neck and squeezed out every last drop of bombast and pretension; its like the Stones fired Mick years back and gave the gig to Otis.This music is like no music you ever heard before - and its like all the music you ever heard before.

You can see where this story's heading. Ellis's spiritual home has to be the UK. After all, this is the place where Muddy became a star whilst back in Chicago he was still a decorator with a musical sideline. It's where Chuck high-tailed it to after playing the 'Get Out Of Jail' card back in '63. Thanks to a sharp-eared record man in Reading, England, Ellis and Tiven hit the ground running .A rhythm section is found - Glen Matlock (yes that Glen Matlock) on bass; long time Chris Rea sideman Marty Ditcham is on the traps.

Ellis on vocals, occasional acoustic guitar, looks like he sounds, a young Sam Cooke, a rock'n'roll teenager's wet dream. Jon on electric G. and rack-harmonica, head to toe in a snakeskin suit, looking sharp as a cobra's tooth. The heat is on. "Undeniable", title track of the CD, leads the charge, a statement of intent. "Blaze Up the Town" leads into Hooks' and Tiven's response to 9/11 - "Everything's Falling". Naturally there's one from Otis - "Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa" - and two from the Cooke book of soul - "That's Where It's At' and "Twisting the Night..." Some new ones too - "It's Not Me", beautifully crafted ballad; the storming "Forty Days" as a closer.

Suddenly it's over. Andy Kershaw (it's he who arranged the gig, got the Beeb to fly Ellis over) is rolling the credits. The roar of the crowd is like a levee breaking. "A Star is Born!" enthuses Kershaw into the mic, turning it into a prayer, a mantra, a war-cry. Maybe it's a cliché. Maybe some clichés just happen to be true.

Ellis Hooks ''Undeniable" is on Zane Records, ZNCD1018

Ellis Hooks (featuring Glen Matlock on bass)
Dingwalls, London
New Year's Day 2003 - live BBC Radio 3
Set List: Undeniable / Hey Good Lookin' / I Release You / That's Where It's At / Something For Everyone / Sliding / Blaze Up This Town / Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa / It's not Me / I've Been There / Everything's Falling All Around Me / 40 Days and 40 Nights
This was Ellis Hooks' first ever live appearance in the UK, and performing the bass duties was none other than Glen Matlock. Hosted by the BBC, the concert was broadcast live on the radio. Billed as a hot new soul sensation from Alabama, Ellis and his band easily won over an appreciative audience. There's no denying his sincerity and love for the music he performs. While firmly rooted in soul, there was a tip of a stetson towards the pioneers of country music, with the band performing Hank Williams' Hey Good Lookin', to acknowledge the 50th anniversary of his death. As with most accomplished singer songwriters, Ellis Hooks' own compositions are based on personal experience, resulting in some words of wisdom for the audience, "If it doesn't work out, let it go, just move on."
There was a break in transmission during the set, which according to the BBC, was due to the power going off at Dingwalls. With the connection re-established the band continued on unphased with a number of quality songs including Otis Redding's Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa, and my favourite two of the evening, Blaze Up This Town and I've Been There. After the final song was broadcast on the radio, the concert continued for those at Dingwalls.
The sound mixing ensured Glen's bass lines remained both prominent and central to the music. He can clearly turn his hand to any style. Yes, it may seem a million miles away from the Sex Pistols, but is it really all that different? Raw, honest, and yes, energetic.
The previous day Ellis Hooks, again with Glen, recorded an Andy Kershaw session to be broadcast soon on BBC Radio 3.
Review by Phil Singleton
That's my review of the BBC broadcast. Here is a review from our man at Dingwalls!
I must admit that when it got mentioned that Glen Matlock was to play bass for Ellis Hooks my first thought was, who the heck is Ellis Hooks?? Well he's 28 years old, and was born in Alabama , USA. He sang in a baptist choir as a child before getting "the blues".
Dingwalls is packed tonight as the BBC have sent out 500+ invites to those on their mailing list. Glen is on bass and Nashville guitarist Jon Tiven has flown over (he also produced the album) to help out. It does not take long to see why Glen has got involved, as this boy Ellis has got the lot. His heroes are Otis Redding and Sam Cooke and his songs are in that vein.
They play about a dozen songs in a 50 mins set that makes dancing compulsive. It was so great to hear a singer that really projects every word so soulfully and so confidently as well. He was born to sing, that's clear to see, and he loves the stage. He's tall and slim with rock star hips, and spray on trousers that the girls at the front certainly took a shine to. The set was split between classic soul covers and tracks from his recently released debut album Undeniable, which really do make you understand why Radio 3 DJ Andy Kershaw has made it one of his fave albums of 2002. With a couple of decent reviews and help from people lIke Andy Kershaw he could go far. I for one will following his career, that's for sure. Try to give his album a listen if you can.
"Undeniable " is out now on Zane Records via Pinnacle cat number ZNCD 1018 (Glen Matlock does not play on the album).
Review by Ray Morrissey

London Times Dec. 28, 2003 Year In Review Awards
The vocalist Ellis Hooks, emerging from nowhere with a voice that sounded as if it had been forged in Memphis or Muscle Shoals c 1967. His debut album, Undeniable, drew comparisons with Wilson Pickett and Bobby Womack.
- various


Undeniable (Zane UK, 2002)
Up Your Mind (Evidence 2003)
Uncomplicated (Artemis 2004)
The Hand of God (Zane UK 2004)


Feeling a bit camera shy


Ellis was born 13th of 16 children to an African American father and a Cherokee mother, grew up in Bayminette, Ala. Ordained to be a minister at age 8, Ellis discovered soul music and rock 'n' roll and his life was forever changed. He incorporates influences from many genres, but is 100% himself.
A golden voice and a platinum personality.