Monte and Contemporary Music

May 23, 2015

Montie, guitar, Far North canoe trip 179

Monte was an adept musician with a preference for blue grass.  For a long period of his life, he would play at public functions including that of taverns, benefits and old square dances at the Banner Township Hall.  During the later years of his life, Monte did not play as often in the public, but would play music in his home by himself and with his own assemblage of a one-man contraption he built that included drums, a tambourine and a snare, used while he would play guitar and a harmonica.

Betts House, Monte, Kris, Susie, Monte playing music 662 cropped

Often when speaking to his son by telephone and asked what he was doing. he would reply, “Just drinking some beer and playing my music.”

Years earlier while his own Grandpa Ernie, his mother Zelma’s father, was still alive, it would not be unheard of for the two of them to break out their instruments and play music while out in the Ellis’ Monterey, IL yard while standing beneath a large weeping willow tree while others relaxed on a blanket thrown upon the grass.

Monterey, Sharyl, Ernie Fidler, Mom's photos097

Zelma, Monterey 131
Because money was tight in the Monte Ellis family while they were living down at Big Lake, it was not uncommon for Monte to trade up on musical instruments.  One time in a fit of alcohol fueled anger, Monte shattered an acoustic guitar, possibly a Martin, in a room coined the “music room”‘ down at Big Lake.  Sharyl held this over Monte’s head for quite some time when he expressed a desire to acquire another guitar.  If memories are correct, during this period, Monte would have to borrow a guitar from someone else to be able to play.

When it came to contemporary music, later in his life, Monte’s musical tastes changed by growing to enjoy more than blue grass. He was never a fan of people like Ricky Skaggs, thinking people like Skaggs were artificial and excelled during a period of fad-like popularity upon the backs of the masters that came before them.  Those that Monte felt paid their dues, like Ralph Stanley and Del McCoury were more to his liking.

Monte especially grew fond of musicians with an independent streak or artists that showed a great ability to maintain long, creative careers that refused to give into to simple age and presence of those younger that were nipping at their heels.

While previously he was not a huge fan of Neil Young, one night Monte saw a live performance by Neil Young joined by Pearl Jam and relished how a much older man played rock and roll with more fervor than many of those much younger than he.

People like Steve Earle also interested Monte, largely because through his music, Earle proved a fearlessness when it came to illustrating art is to provoke and engage emotion and mean something to those not only exposed to it, but those crafting it as well.

Monte greatly appreciated any musician willing to metaphorically lift a hand and boldly raise a middle finger, such as when Johnny Cash refused to alter the lyrics for network censors when he sang the true lyrics of Kris Kristofferson’s Sunday Coming Down on live, national television.

At one point Monte splurged on a Bose radio.  This was most likely done one late night while drinking and Sharyl was not home because she clearly would not have allowed Monte to purchase such an expensive item.  In the end, this was probably one of his better investments because up until his passing, he would often sit in his kitchen and either play his music or listen to music.

Unk location, Monte, guitar, 043

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