Blues Chips

There is no middle ground for Melio. Although he started recording albums as a sideman right around the time an underage Ellis was playing his first Broward keg party, he didn't step out as a solo artist until 1995. By that late date he was firmly committed to his roots. His solo debut, Top of the Blues, with guest performances by pianist Pinetop Perkins and long-time Muddy Waters drummer Willie "Big Eyes" Smith (who tours with Melio and will perform with him at Cheers), is the epitome of old-style Chicago blues. Sparse, airy rhythms and clean, biting guitar tones dominate its sound. The album, credited to the Tony O Blues Band, seems more a product of 1965 than 1995, a time just before Jimi Hendrix worked his feedback-laden voodoo on guitar players everywhere. In this case keeping the flame of old-style blues alive is a matter of professional ethics.

"There's no more traditional blues around," Melio notes, speaking by phone from a tour stop in northern Florida. "That's all gone. People who were holdin' it together like Willie Dixon and people like that, they're all gone. There's very, very little traditional blues. That's why I gotta keep doin' what I'm doin' and keep my soul goin' out to the legends and the people who love serious blues. I'm not gonna change my style."

Musical styles are important to Ellis, too. He just likes to stir them up a little. "It's sort of like a mixed drink," he observes. "You put a little of the mixer in and the shot of whiskey or whatever. And you can make it stronger or weaker. It's really a blurred line. The idea is to hop back and forth across the line. That's what I try to do."

Mixing, hopping, and playing the blues -- it's a simple remedy, really. Admit it: You're feeling better already.

The Tony O Blues Band performs at 10:00 p.m. on Thursday, April 23, at Cheers, 941 E Cypress Creek Rd, Fort Lauderdale; 954-771-6337. Admission is free. Tinsley Ellis plays at 9:30 p.m. on Friday, April 24, at the Backroom, 16 E Atlantic Ave, Delray Beach; 561-243-9110. Tickets cost $10.

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