Not only does she pose with a guitar, but she plays it well too!
courtesy Dustin Rabin

Songstress breaks down the barriers

Calgary's Lindsay Ell proves that girls can kick it with the cool blues cats too

Publication YearIssue Date 

The world of blues music has the old boys club set-up perfected. The genre is defined by hardened hands picking at tattered strings that belong to a weathered man who knows the ways of the world. Despite this, up-and-comer Lindsay Ell is taking Calgary's blues scene by storm.

The 19-year-old has struggled with the preconceptions surrounding blues for her entire young but growing career. She prides herself on guitar-driven tunes and soulful lyrics chronicling her experiences, something not always associated with someone so young or even with the female musician.

"The typical thing is, 'Oh, you play guitar? You play electric guitar? That's so interesting,'" she says. "It's a really important thing to me to make a strong case that girls can play guitar too. I feel like [females in blues] are becoming more prominent with people like Bonnie Raitt and those inspirations behind us. There are more and more girls picking up guitar and not only playing singer-songwriter choruses, but getting into the music, which is what I really focus on."

Many who have seen Ell in action have picked up on her talent. Most notably, former Guess Who and Bachman Turner Overdrive member and Canadian music forefather Randy Bachman saw Ell's skills as so formidable that he took her under his wing and is now producing her work. Ell says Bachman's involvement has been an invaluable experience for many reasons.

"With Randy having 40 years of experience, he points things out to me that I normally wouldn't see within a song," she says. "Sometimes, simpler is better. We all say it and know it, but when you're heavy into a song, you sometimes forget that. He'll shorten up lines to make them more concise and really pound out that hook. It's just little things here and there, but the little things make all the difference."

With the new songs and the recent attention at this year's Juno stop in Calgary, buzz around the musician is starting to come to a head. Ell says the experience not only enriched her place in the city's growing blues scene, but fostered music in general.

"All these festivals like Folk Fest and Blues Fest have been going on for years and years and years, but recently, with the Junos being in Calgary, I think the music scene is seeing a significant change," she explains. "It's going to be so nice because the Junos and Junofest told everyone that it was okay to go out and see live music again and there are so many venues that opened up and so many other bands playing live shows weekly now."

With a stronger community to play in and develop with, Ell is looking forward to a long future in the music industry and the world of blues. While she's already accomplished a lot in a short time, she still hopes for further growth in the coming years in her music and with that change, more success.

"Music is a huge focus in my life right now and I'm kind of at the point where I've decided to walk down this road," she says. "It's in my heart and my passion and what I want to do for the rest of my life."

Lindsay Ell kicks off the Calgary International Blues Fest on Aug. 7.