Friday on The Catalyst Sessions, self-proclaimed “hillbilly songwriter” Ronny Elliott took us down the long and winding road of the 1960s in Tampa Bay, when every kid seemed to pick up a guitar, or a pair of drumsticks, and kick-start a band in the family garage.
“Elvis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, those guys were just such gods that I didn’t consider that I could play rock ‘n’ roll like that for a living,” the Alabama native said. “I thought maybe I could play instrumental versions of ‘What’d I Say’ and ‘Money’ all night and maybe make a bad living somewhere.
“But the Beatles changed all of that. There were these four almost kids … that was the real transition between idolizing these gods and knowing what I was gonna do with the rest of my life.”
For a dozen years, Elliott played bass and sang in a string of bands, all of which cut records in small Tampa studios – The Raveons, the Outsiders, the Soul Trippers, Noah’s Ark and Duckbutter (the latter two actually recorded, briefly, for major labels).
There was also a short-lived “country power trio” called Your Local Bear that had the distinction of opening a 1969 Jimi Hendrix concert at Curtis Hixon Hall in Tampa.
Elliott’s clear-eyed memories and his kaleidoscopic sense of humor made this a truly enjoyable rock ‘n’ roll edition of The Catalyst Sessions.
He talked about the motivation, in the early and mid ‘60s, for schoolboys forming bands. It wasn’t money and it wasn’t the lust for fame. It wasn’t a burning desire to “be” the Beatles.
“It was, absolutely, to pick up girls,” he explained. “Whatever was in second place was a long way back.
“I should add, however, that I never picked up a girl.”
A frequent performer on contemporary stages, Elliott has made a dozen solo albums. Bookending the show, he performed two haunting original songs, “Hope Fades” and, appropriately, “Tell the Killer the King is Dead.”
Next on The Catalyst Sessions: Our 40th episode, with Paul Wilborn and Eugenie Bondurant (the first-ever guests, back in March), Tuesday, May 26.
Streaming weekdays at 7 on the Catalyst Facebook page.