The immediate impression one gets from David Ellis is that of a man at peace, and for someone who wakes up every day to do what he loves, it is easy to see why. For nearly forty years Ellis has been an active member of Henry County’s music scene, both as a performer and as an educator, but it has only been within the last ten years that Ellis began pursuing music as a full-time vocation. Prior to his full-time music career, Ellis worked in the transportation industry and before that, retail. The turning point came in 2009 when Ellis made the decision to walk away from his job in transportation and fully embrace music as an occupation.
“It was that still, small voice in my head telling me I had to jump and make the change,” says Ellis. “The minute that happened, I called up the vice president of the company and gave him my three-month notice.” And the rest is history.
“Cedar Hill,” “Shaky Jane,” “Red Clay Poets,” “The Mark Miller Band,” “More Whiskey, Less Wine” — are just a few of the bands of which Ellis is currently an active member. As a multi-instrumentalist, Ellis is able to combine both skill and experience to deliver an epic performance no matter what genre he finds himself in. Ellis’s repertoire of instruments includes fiddle, guitar, banjo, mandolin, bass, ukulele, resonator guitar, and even the cello. When asked where his love for such a variety of music comes from, Ellis immediately credits his upbringing: “Mom and dad. Growing up they took me everywhere possible to hear music and talk with fellow musicians. They bought me my first instrument. They have always invested in me. We even had a family band at one point called Windy Creek. Dad played rhythm guitar, and Mom played upright bass. I taught them both how to play; we had a blast together.” Early influences for Ellis include popular musical acts such as Flatt & Scruggs, The Dillards, and a myriad of classic rock bands, and yet perhaps most significantly were the musical mentorships and friendships Ellis formed locally: “When I was fourteen years old, Arlene Veasey got me started out on the banjo. After she taught me everything she knew, she sent me to study with Jim Adkins. Steve Standley taught me my first guitar lessons; Jim Rutherford taught me to sing; one of my oldest and dearest friends Al Smith inspired me to become a multi-instrumentalist; Bill Turpin, the founder of Real 2 Reel studios, would call on me to play ‘pick up’ gigs. I have so many people that I’ve drawn influence from and who have mentored me… it’s hard to narrow it down to just a few.”
Highlights over the last decade for Ellis include performing with Atlanta BlueGrace in Moscow, Russia through the Global Missions Project, performing for U.S. troops in Singapore through the United Service Organization, and most recently opening for The Bacon Brothers, a musical duo consisting of actor Kevin Bacon and his brother Michael. So yes, one may say that Ellis is now of the privileged few who is only one degree from Kevin Bacon, and if you are fortunate enough to know David Ellis, that puts you at only two degrees.
However, Ellis’s musical career is not wrapped up solely in performance. Ellis has also been a constant light in the educational sector of music, providing mentorship and instruction to hundreds of musicians across a vast array of instruments and concepts, including music theory, music composition, and voice. Ellis describes the most fulfilling aspect of teaching as “seeing the light come on for a student… music is a means of communication and expression, so when you are able to communicate that means of expression to another person, and they are able to understand what you are imparting to them, that’s when you know you have succeeded as an educator.”
For aspiring musicians, Ellis offers this advice: “We all have work that we do. Sometimes that work is mundane work that we do for a particular time in our life. I met my wife Judy at one of the transportation companies I worked for, so God orchestrated that; it was meant to be. But when I left the transportation industry and started full-time as a performing musician and teacher, it was an entirely different level of satisfaction and peace. Somewhere along the line, you are just going to have to say ‘this is my gift; this is what gets me going through the day” and pursue that. No matter what happens you can’t let go of that. It’s both a blessing and a curse. Being a musician, whether it is a full-time or a part-time thing, is hard work.”
For aspiring music educators, Ellis advises the following: “Learn as much as you can learn about a student early on, but always remember that everybody always looks at things from a different perspective. You have to figure out what type of music each student gets excited about. What inspires that person? What gets them going? These are the questions you have to ask if you truly want a student to succeed.”
Ellis resides in Stockbridge, Georgia, and continues to be a pillar in the thriving music scene of Henry County. Along with the mentors and influences previously mentioned, Ellis also gives special thanks to Bob and Fred Maclsaac, Bard Laird, Buddy Ashmore, Steve Ward, and above all his family. When asked what his vision is for the Henry County community, Ellis expresses his desire to see the county continue to grow in its artistry and for residents to continue pursuing their individual God-given gifts.
As a final point of wisdom, Ellis provides this closing remark: “You can always earn money. But there is more to life and more to work towards than just that. You have got to work on your character, your giving, and who you are as a person, how you relate to others. That is still the most valuable thing, and that will never change. You are becoming who you are going to be.”