A chat with Theodis Ealey
The text of Shack E’s chat with with The Stand Up In It man, Theodis Ealey.
Depending who you’re talking to, you’d be called The Bluesman Lover, Blues guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, producer, entertainer. Which describes you the best?
I’m a songwriter, performer, producer and arranger, i’m just a Bluesman. I just love to play the Blues, I write songs and I also produce songs. I consider myself Blues and Soul.
When I hear R Kelly do his Blues influenced tracks like Step In the Name Of Love, he reminds me of you.
It’s strange you would say that, a friend of mine said the same thing about him years ago, said when he heard R Kelly, he thought it was me, that’s quite a compliment.
So let’s go to the start, Mississippi native, from a family of 11, you used to be in a band with your brothers as bass player?
I carried on with the music after the band broke up with my brothers. I got a job, I could also play guitar, so I switched to the guitar with a local bass group called Eugene Butler & The Rocking Royals and i’ve been playing guitar ever since. I guess I was about 17 years old, I was in senior high school.
It took you a while to get into singing, it wasn’t until you had established yourself as a guitarist. So why didn’t you do it originally?
Most of my jobs I got was with people who already had work and most of the people I had to work with were singers who would need a guitar player. But I soon learned that in order to do something in this business you had to create your name so I started singing, to be more independent.
You’re part of the Southern Soul movement along with the likes of with Calvin Richardson, Millie Jackson, Denise LaSalle and Willie Clayton. What is Southern Soul?
Southern Soul music to me is just Soul music, someone decided to name it Southern Soul and it stuck, that’s what I think. I believe that Southern Soul music is no more than straight up old Soul music that’s still being produced today, Soul music with Blues and R&B and church music all mixed up together. The majority of the artists that are known for it live in the South East, Louisiana, Arkansas and Alabama.
You were in the Air Force, stationed in Hawaii for 6 years, what did you do after the military?
After I got out of the military, I stayed there because I married my first wife, a local Hawaiian girl and my two children were born there. I had a band called The Highspeed and we started the Sunshine festival before Buddy Miles and Santana ever played there. It started as a local thing featuring local bands, us and another local artiste by the name of Jessie Morgan. We actually started that festival but then Buddy Miles was the one that really put it on the map.
Tell us about the Mississippi Juke Joint spirit.
Most clubs in the US and around the world are either Blues clubs or Jazz clubs or Country & Western, they tend to specialise in a certain type of music. In a Mississippi Juke Joint, when I was growing up, you could hear James Brown, you could hear BB King, Hank Williams, you would hear all types of music. Great music was being played and I got all confused because I like all those types of music, I like Blues, I like Soul, I Like Funk, I like Country. So what I do with my show, I tend to represent all those genres of music, there’s a bit of all of them in me.
That versatility must be the reason you’ve been able to cross music genres, you featured on the “On Da Grind” single from rappers Ghetto Mafia ?
That was a lot of fun working with my young people, the young rappers. To me rap is just another form of modern Blues, young black artists expressing what’s going on in their day and time. The same thing that Robert Johnson was doing in his day and time. To me rap is another form of modern blues, I don’t know if the rap guys would want me to say that. ..I just got to doing a song with a young rapper out of Oakland California by the name of Mani Draper, I did a song with him that’s called The Distant Son which is out now.
You have your label IFGAM (I Feel Good About Myself ) Records. What do you find are the challenges running your own label?
Biggest challenge is having the funds to really promote your music the way it needs to be promoted. I have my own studio in my house, a very nice studio so it doesn’t cost me much to record. It doesn’t look very pretty but I get a really great sound. All my music is live, I set up the drums up in one corner of my basement and man, I get a great drum sound man. My last two albums were recorded right in my basement. I have other people that I have recorded and signed but like I said I don’t have the budget to promote them like I really would love to so i’m that one that really carries the label on….. I have a guy by the name of Lebrado, then I have Willie Hill who used to have a group called Willie & Anthony, I did an album on him. I also have my two brothers, Y.Z. and Bubba, I did an album on them. I’m currently working on an artist, a friend of mine, Larry Griffith, I just released his first single. In the US, the music business is so political, unless you’re connected with the right people…
What’s Atlanta like?
I’m in the suburbs of Atlanta, i’m in Stone Mountain, Georgia. Atlanta’s a great place, we’ve got a lot of great musicians here man, we have some awesome musicians here, I like it here.
You’ve also been a part of Hollywood films like Fighting Temptations (alongside Beyonce), how did the film gigs come about?
They came to Atlanta to film and they needed a part for a Blues man. I’m somewhat popular here so whenever something comes up that they need a Blues man for, most of the time somebody recommends me, that’s how I get the parts.
Raunchy lyrics on a lot of songs, is it you or is it Southern Soul as a whole?
That’s me, I like to play on words. What happened was when the so-called Southern Soul was just being developed I did this record called ‘Stand Up In It’ (# 1 US Billboard). That record got the attention of all the young R&B artists that wanted to do something but couldn’t make it in R&B. All of them had little computers and stuff, that’s why sometimes I don’t like to be too associated with Southern Soul because a lot of the stuff is not quality recordings. It’s better now but years ago when I did ‘Stand Up In It’, people would go on their computers and come out with songs and because I did good with being raunchy on ‘Stand Up In It’, they figured that they could do it so now just about everybody out there that’s so-called Southern Soul is doing it.
Stand Up In It has been adopted by women as an anthem, what was your thinking when you were writing it?
Do you know what stand up in it means?….
Are you at a computer?…..
type in www.ifgamrecords.com….
Click on ‘online store’…..
Click down to the T -shirts
Make the one that says ‘Stand Up In It’ a bit large….
Look at that picture
(Kerching! Laughter erupts!)
Y’know when I do concerts, women buy that T-shirt.
How about songs like ‘Let Me Put the Head In It’?
(Theodis’ non-stop mischievous laughter answers the question).
Do you have problems getting radio play with those lyrics?
Yeah I do, I have to do somewhat cleaner versions.
Have you ever played England?
I’ve never been to England, I would love to come to England, i’ve been all over Europe, France, Italy, Netherlands, doing shows. I was with a wonderful company, Ichiban Records when I used to travel to Europe. It was owned by John Abbey, a very nice guy from England.
What’s a Theodis Show like? If you came to England to do a show, what should the people be expecting?
If I came to London and could bring my band, you would get a Mississippi Juke Joint experience, a little bit of Funk, a Little bit of Soul, a little bit of Blues, a little bit of Jazz. My guitar player Victor Hart is one of the most excellent jazz players there is in the world. My show that I do, I developed over the last 15 years, it’s not something that you could just up and play, my show is well rehearsed with my band. But If I didn’t bring my band, i’ll probably just play a lot of good ole straight ahead Blues cos they’re easy to get together with a band, y’know what i’m saying?
What’s next in the pipeline for Theodis Ealey?
I’m currently working with an organisation here called the Jusblues foundation and I just recorded a live album the proceeds of which i’m donating to the Jusblues foundation. They’re doing a documentary on me, they’re gonna go back interview me and my brothers. It’s gonna be a video and an album released together and it’s called a Modern Day Mississippi Bluesman, matter of fact i’m going into the studio to mix and master the first single today.
For more on Theodis Ealey, check out his official website: www.theodisealey.com
Special thanks to Bob Davis at www.soul-patrol.com