I was born and raised in Duluth Minnesota. My love for the land and fishing and the mystery it holds, came from my father, who first took me fishing when I was three. We would stop at Jims Bait for chubs n suckers and head up to Rice lake, where he would rent a boat, put a rod in my hands, and row us about. This was my
baptism in the outdoors, the love of fishing, and the pursuit of the ultimate hookset.
A block and a half from my home, was Chester Creek, where from the age of eight on, I spent many days exploring, fishing and hiking to Chester Bowl and back.
After graduating High School, in the early sixties, I attended the Minneapolis School of Art, which is called the Mpls.College of Art and Design now. I was trained as a Printmaker in the fine arts of hand lithography, etchings, and woodcuts. Painting, and sculpture were other interests of mine. It was those early art school days where I learned six chords on a friend’s guitar. My next birthday, dad bought me a used, cheap Stella guitar, and immediately began learning cords and songs off the- radio, like Johnny Cash and Hank Williams songs. Little did dad know, how that seed would sprout over the years, and little, did I know The Elliot Bros. began forming.
Like another Lithuanian Jew from northern Minnesota, moving to the big city of Minneapolis Saint Paul, played an important part in feeding me, in the arts and music arena. I sought out other musicians from all over the area, and began discovering unheard music from the Minneapolis public library, stuff from the 20’s and 30’s. Where had this music come from I wondered. During this period at art school, I met Dave Lynas, where we both got hooked on the same type of music, and formed a wonderful art/music bond of friendship until this day. Music like the Carter Family, Jimmy Rogers, old time traditional music, bluegrass, and many old black blues-men and women from another era. Many were blind and actually still alive. Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Reverand Gary Davis, whom I was able to see in 1966 in New York City. Others were Blind Willie McTell, Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Willie Johnson, Mance Lipscomb, Josh White, and too many others to note here. I also found old 78rpm from the library of Jugbands from the 30’s, like the Memphis Jugband. What I didn’t know, was that this music, mostly from the south, was being discovered by many others all over the world, truly a renaissance revival of sorts; and mostly discovered by whites, who took it and began playing it. During this discovery of old music, Cajun, Jugband and home-made instruments, I made my first wash-tub bass, bought an old wash-board, jug, and ever since, have had them around my house where every my home was.
The Annual Battle of the Jugbands, held in Duluth each May, is a celebration of this type of music, and the joy of playing it. A number of jugbands come to partake, and vie for the coveted Yid-wegian Krumkake Award. It is held each Memorial Day Sunday, in conjunction with a Salute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Kids bands are welcome, as there is no intimidation here to sound perfect. A wonderful feeling of camaraderie fills the air, and people hearing this for the first time, get to hear, poor mans jazz, a variety of ‘ugband music.
Over the years, thru various people, I have learned a number of instruments. Not to be an expert on them, but to play them enough to sit-in with others at jams. I could play the Mandolin, Autoharp, Harmonica, Wash-tub, Washboard, Flutes, Slide-guitar, Banjo, Button-box, Piano, and most recently, the Finnish Fiddle, or Jouhikko. Altho I have recorded on old reel to reels in the sixties, I began studio recording in the eighties. I have done sound tracks and background music for fishing videos, TV programs and documentaries, and began playing out more regularly. Open stages, nursing homes, county jails, coffee houses, schools, folk festivals, weddings, funerals, and of course, for my own children.
I was married with children from the late 60’s thru the 80’s and was living on 31 acres ten miles north of Duluth, with a live off the land as much as possible attitude. From about 1973 or so, I have primarily supported the family as a Portrait Artist. Sketching at Art Festivals, Renaissance Festivals, County Fairs, Senior Parties, Re-unions and Bar-Mitzva’s.
During the early 80’s, Lynas and I re-connected, after nearly 20 years apart raising the family, and living back on the land. Over the years he also expanded his musical horizons somewhat by playing in a local Polka band, and meeting many other musicians in southern Ohio.
How did de Elliot Bros. start? In the mid-eighties, I had a portable 4-track recorder, and began recording old time jugband songs along with original music, and “holy geez Toivo”, it sounded like a BAND, when it was just me. So, thusly de Elliot Bros. was born, from that small seed my dad planted in 1962. In actuality, I am Bert and Ethel’s kid. My first tape was Steelhead Blues, recorded in my own simple home recording studio, now called Icehouse Studios. I still make a living as a Portrait Artist, and travel a lot on weekends to festivals in the upper midwest.
For the last ten years or so, I have had Wed. nite jams here at my home, many are potlucks and celebrations with music. Dave Lynas, a great Illustrator, and Potter, has been jamming with me since the mid-eighties. Most recent members of the group are Tom Hollenhorst and his wife Karin Kraemer. She plays washtub, jug, fiddle and mandolin. and is also a potter who makes her own jugs. Tom plays washtub, washboard, mandolin, and banjo. Dennis and Stephanie Hanson from Sandstone Minnesota, about an hour and a half away, come fairly regularly along with a few others who come and go. Dennis plays mandolin and Stephanie is hot on the washtub bass and G-twang, a one gallon paint can with a yardstick bolted on its side, and a weed-wacker cord strung thru the middle of the can.
The basic band is made up of four to seven people. Lynas plays most everything; diggery-doo, clarinet, flutes, banjo, slide-guitar, washtub, and guitar. We have had as many as 10 people show up for music. What a gas. At the homemade jams, we play a variety of music. Mostly folk, blues, gospel, country-blues, 60’s du-whop and old standards. Our jams are easy going, and very non-intimidating, and easy to be a part of. Kids can easily be a part of this kind of music. We don’t play out too much, so when we do, be sure to catch us, You want to know about the Funny-cheeks masks we sometimes wear? Well, that’s another story.
Elliot gets a plug on the radio from Garage Logic. To hear Joe talk about Elliot, click here.