Twenty-four-year-old Lindsay Ell is a true triple threat. Not only is she an accomplished guitarist who can go toe to toe with the big boys, but she's also a unique vocalist and gifted songwriter.
Growing up, Ell honed her craft in bluegrass camps until she was discovered at age 13 by BTO/Guess Who guitarist Randy Bachman. Ell soon found herself becoming immersed in the power of the blues and sharing the stage with the likes of Buddy Guy and Keith Urban.
Ell is traveling the globe as the opening act for the Band Perry’s We Are Pioneers World Tour. Her hook-laden single, “Trippin’ On Us,” impacts country radio on December 16 [It's available on iTunes now]. Her debut album is expected early next year.
I spoke with Ell after a recent European show about her music and gear. She also offers good advice for any guitarist, male or female.
GUITAR WORLD: Is there anything special you've discovered about European audiences?
The fans over here love country music so much. A lot of them might not have heard of me before, but by the time the second chorus rolls around they're singing along. It's amazing how quickly they get into it. When they love your music, they become fans for life. It's a really neat experience. Music is the universal language.
Let's discuss your new single, "Trippin' on Us."
I wrote it with Vicky McGehee and David Fanning, two good friends of mine from Nashville. It started out with a melodic guitar riff and the song just evolved from there. The cool thing about country music is that the lyrics really need to tell a story and I love the challenge of finding something that's going to hit home with fans.
Can you give us an update on your debut album?
We've cut half of the songs for the record and I'll be going back into the studio at the end of January to finish it up. It's a perfect mold of showing that I not only play guitar, but am also a singer/songwriter as well.
Tell me how you started out playing guitar.
Piano was actually my first instrument. I started when I was 6 and took classical lessons, but once I turned 8 I thought it was much cooler to play Shania Twain songs on my guitar [laughs]. I was playing a lot of bluegrass and started listening to artists like Chet Atkins and Tony Rice. Then a few years later, I met Randy Bachman [the Guess Who, BTO].
Randy had learned guitar from Lenny Breau and had a crazy jazz background in addition to his classic rock career. He was the one who got me listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton — genres I wasn't used to listening to. As a guitarist, it completely opened my mind up to a whole new vocabulary and really helped hone me as a performer.
What was practicing like for you?
When I was a kid, I was definitely a fan of the "10,000 hour" rule. I loved music so much that it was pretty much all I did. I started out learning a lot by ear and then took about five years' worth of formal lessons. I learned a lot of classic rock solos and then literally sat on You Tube for hours a day learning solos and licks and just listening to as many different types genres as I could.
Who were some of your other influences?
Tommy Emmanuel, Buddy Guy, Robben Ford and Derek Trucks. I love how when you pick apart a lot of the genres on guitar, most of it comes back to the blues and that "back in the day" crossroads music.
What was it like opening up for Buddy Guy?
Getting to meet and share the stage with Buddy was a humbling experience. We were touring Canada with him, and I remember one night I was sitting side-stage watching his set when he turned to the crowd and said, "How about that Lindsay Ell? You know, I might just have her out in a bit."
I had no idea he was going to do that! I quickly grabbed my guitar just as he invited me out on stage. That’s when he looked at me and said, "Honey, we're in G." Those were the first words he said to me, and we've since become really good friends. He's so infectious when he picks up a guitar and will always be a huge inspiration to me.
Did you have any challenges being female in sort of a "male dominated" instrument?
It's a big thing for me to show that girls can play. In rock, there are a lot of female guitarists, but there hasn't been many in country. I want to lead the movement in that and show that girls can play guitar solos too.
Tell me a little about your setup.
I mainly play Les Pauls. I have the Goddess, which was a run Gibson made a few years ago. They're chambered and a lot lighter. They also have one tone pot and one volume pot. I'm also playing the Midtown (a model Gibson made this past year) as well as a Standard. For amps, I've been using 3rdPower. They're a company from Franklin, Tennessee, that originally started out with two amps, the American Dream and the British dream. They have a new model called the Dream Weaver, which combines the two and puts them into one combo. Jamie [Scott] is such a great amp tech who loves building them, and I love using them.
Is there a reason you prefer the Les Paul over the Strat?
Growing up, I played a lot of Strats and used a few of them on the new album, but I love playing a Les Paul live. I love the warmth and harshness you can get out of it. You can really lean back and dynamically dig into them.
Any advice you can give to aspiring female guitarists?
You may get a lot of push-back initially being a female guitarist, but stick with it. It takes a lot of courage to go and stand out on that stage with a bunch of guys. Also, surround yourself with people who can play better than you, because it challenges you to be a better musician and pulls you forward. Keep working and follow your heart. Know what you want, then go out and get it.
Photo: Jessica Wardwell
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.