The Magic Of Don Lee Ellis

:: Cabaret ::

:: Yellow Days ::

:: Long Ago And Far Away ::

:: Satin Doll ::

:: Stella By Starlight ::

:: Misty ::

:: El Cumbanchero ::

:: Poinciana ::

:: Edelweiss ::

:: Willow Weep For Me ::

Do you believe in magic? The other day on my lunch break, I decided to take a little walk, and something inside my head said, "Hey, Tony, now that you've firmed up your thighs a little, why not take 11th Street back and hit the Salvation Army? I bet there's something nice there for ya." Now, believe me, I don't always listen to the voices in my head, but this seemed a reasonable detour. And of course it was. Two typically musty boxes of albums, no doubt rescued from the basement of a dead person, awaited me. One was full of mostly budget label Classical stuff, so that didn't even require a look-through. The other contained some interesting nuggets; a few regional or self-released albums by artists I'd never heard of, but exactly the kind of albums I love to run across.

Two of these records were by a man named Don Lee Ellis, autographed for someone named Betty. I was expecting to find nothing on the Internet about him, but instead I found a short film about him. I encourage you to watch the film (conveniently digested in three small portions on YouTube,) but the short story is that Don Lee Ellis is a magnificently busy organ player with as much flair as talent. He toured Europe, sponsored by the Hammond organ company, in the late 50's and early 60's before settling down in Southern Califonia and starting a family. He put out 7 albums between 1969 and...well, it would appear that the last one came out some time in the 70's.

There's something otherwordly about his instrumental organ playing, madly happy while at the same time sounding sort of like it could be used for a nightmare sequence in a movie. Maybe because it stirs the same kind of mood that Nino Rota's soundtrack for Fellini's Juliet Of The Spirits does in me? Maybe because I am afraid of Hammond organs? Could be. The combination of sounds the Concorde and the X-66 make under the frenetic influence of Mr. Ellis' frantic hands really are sort of hypnotizing.

I searched Ebay today, on the off chance someone might be selling another of his albums, and as luck would have it, there was one. And yes, I won that shit. So here's some selections from the two albums I already have. All are instrumental, save for Misty. Dig it.

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Friday, June 15, 2007 10:37:00 AM

I've been visiting your blog for a while now and always REALLY enjoy your narrative surrounding the music you enjoy. Thanks so much for sharing. I especially love these organ pieces, and yes, I too am illogically frightened by Hammond organs!

I am not too bright when it comes to vinyl, but listening to these tracks I have to ask, were they played at the wrong speed when you recorded them? They sound impossibly fast. How could any keyboardist move their fingers so quickly? If Don Lee Ellis really DID play that quickly, then he truly is the king of organ trickery.

Thanks again!!
Kevan Johnson
Salt Lake City, Utah    

Friday, June 15, 2007 10:47:00 AM

Arg, I spoke too soon, at least for one of the albums. Sorry about that. After re-listening, it sounds like only the "Share My World" tracks are played too fast (listen to El Cumbanchero for example). The "From the Top" tracks sound correct.

Don't get me wrong, the fast-sounding tracks are awesome as they are, and who doesn't occasionally love playing their records at the wrong speed intentionally?

I'm just curious as to whether Mr Ellis can really play that fast, programmed the keyboard to play some sequences very quickly, or whether the record was just on the wrong speed.

Thanks again, loving your blog!    

Friday, June 15, 2007 11:04:00 AM

Oh no! Those do sound too fast. What a dope, I am if so. I had to record it twice because it didn't work the first time -- maybe I hit the 45 button and didn't notice. Here I thought it was just a joyride of a romp on the X-66. How mortifyin'. Well, I won't find out until I get home.

"Chipmunks Punked My Organ"    

Tuesday, July 03, 2007 12:57:00 PM

Hey Tony:
What happened to the trax on "Share My World" (the X-66)?
They ain't there!!

Friday, December 06, 2013 1:12:00 PM

I just found this message board and I know some time has passed, but I want you all to know that my father Don Lee Ellis was a musical genius. His hands would magically glide over those keys. And yes that is my father playing, and no the records were not, and never sped up. I know he would laugh at that comment. My father recently passsed away August 12th, 2013, and right up until his death he was playing music, and his Grand piano. He would play the Grand piano so beautifully that his neighbors never minded and they often asked him to play
More often. He is so missed!    

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