Ellen McIlwaine, slide guitarist with powerful voice, dies at 75
“When we came back to the States and started college in Tennessee, the only piano was in the boys’ dorm,” she said, “so I borrowed a guitar that belonged to to someone, and I loved her. “
She dropped out of college and tried art school in Atlanta, playing clubs while in school. 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 somewhat of a mentor as she honed her guitar playing; once, when she complained to him that she couldn’t play all the notes he could with her big hands, he encouraged her to find her own way. She developed unusual tunings for her guitar and a powerful vocal style which, as one writer put it, “is strong enough to strip paint at 10 steps”.
Ms McIlwaine lived in Woodstock, NY, for a time, as well as 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 Cream’s Jack Bruce played bass; and “In Search of Trouble” (1987).
No immediate family member survives.
Although Ms McIlwaine continued to perform until she fell ill, for the past eight or nine years she had also driven a school bus to support herself, Ms Toews said, something that she loved to do because she loved children. But she might not have needed the money if things had been different during her prime.
“If I had a dime for every promising young white guitarist I have opened over the past 41 years,” Ms. McIlwaine told The Record in 2006, “I would be really rich.”