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 Thursday, 26 November 2015
Guitarist Mike Elliott Dies at Age 65 PDF Print
Written by Pat Courtemanche   
Tuesday, 27 September 2005
Mike Elliott, a versatile and highly accomplished guitarist revered for his work in jazz and country music, passed away at his home in St. Paul, Minnesota on September 14, 2005 at the age of 65. Elliott had been seriously ill since suffering a heart attack in January 2005. Mike is survived by his wife Francena Elliott, who was by his side at the time of his passing, and step-children Stephanie Noel and Natalie Page of Dallas, Texas.
Mike Elliott 1940-2005

Born May 18, 1940 in Chicago, Mike studied guitar as a teenager in Colorado under the legendary Johnny Smith. His long career included extended periods in the Twin Cities, where he played and recorded with the influential jazz group Natural Life, and Nashville, where he was a studio musician, producer/engineer and songwriter on hit country recordings. During his Nashville years (1982 – 1997) his many accomplishments included serving as music director for the great Nashville producer Jack Clement, contributing a song to John Anderson's triple platinum album “Seminole Wind,” working on staff for Gibson Guitars and writing instructional jazz books for the Hal Leonard publishing company. As a jazz guitarist, renowned critic Leonard Feather considered Mike to be one of the very best. His versatility on guitar led to performances with the Toronto Symphony, road work with Victor Borge, recordings with stars like Johnny Cash and much more. A devoted and brilliant educator, Mike presented guitar clinics with people like Les Paul and taught countless students from beginners to Bela Fleck.

Although Mike had some health insurance, he had spent most of 2005 in the hospital and his family is left with staggering medical bills and other expenses. Donations to help cover expenses can be sent to The Elliott Family, P.O. Box 211256, Eagan, MN 55121-9998. A benefit and celebration of Mike Elliott's life will be held on Sunday, October 16 starting at 3:00 p.m. at the Artists' Quarter, 408 St. Peter St. in downtown St. Paul.

“There was only one Mike, and I'm so fortunate to have had him in my life,” said Francena Elliott, Mike's wife. “I loved him completely. Mike was very soft spoken, but he made a huge impression on everyone who met him. Even though he accomplished so much, Mike was incredibly humble and kind. I adored him and will miss him terribly.” Standing six foot seven inches tall, Mike's gentle nature and sharp wit were all the more striking.

Pat Martino, the Philadelphia-based guitar great and Blue Note recording artist, was a long-time friend of Mike Elliott. In recent years, Mike helped make the introductions that brought Mr. Martino to McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul to work with guitar students. “It struck me that Mike was very much a father figure to the students, and truly embraced by them,” says Martino. “Few individuals are blessed with the ability to transcend their gifts as an artist and a musician and become an intermediary to learning for all around them. Mike was one of those rare individuals. He made the learning environment very comfortable for everyone, including me.”

The Life of Mike Elliott. Mike Elliott was born into a musical family in Chicago on May 18, 1940. His father was a studio musician and his mother was a blues singer. Mike picked up the guitar at an early age, and was playing professionally by the age of 16 in Colorado Springs, CO, where his family had moved. It was also in Colorado that Mike began studying guitar with his mentor Johnny Smith, one of the most influential guitarists in jazz history. Mike became a business partner in the music store that Smith had opened and began teaching guitar himself. Elliott formed his own jazz group around this time and went out on the road in 1964.

In 1966, Mike moved to Minneapolis and by the early 1970s he had co-founded the seminal jazz fusion group Natural Life, whose membership included Bob Rockwell onImage sax, Billy Peterson on bass, Bobby Peterson on piano and drummers Bill Berg and Eric Kamau Gravatt. The group recorded multiple albums and shared the stage with the likes of Charles Mingus and McCoy Tyner. Mike remained in the Twin Cities through 1981, during which time he performed with many high-profile outfits, including the Minnesota Orchestra and the Toronto Symphony (as featured soloist). He also was a busy session musician for albums and TV and radio commercials and taught private lessons and master classes at several universities. From 1978 to 1981, Mike was a clinician with the Gibson Guitar company, traveling the world conducting clinics.

In 1982, Mike moved to Nashville, TN, to become manager of Gibson Professional Musical Services. There, he held clinics with folks like Les Paul, Howard Roberts and Elliot Easton. Mike's other pursuits in Nashville included teaching, session work, engineering, producing, arranging and songwriting. Remaining in Nashville until 1998, Mike worked with notables such as Trisha Yearwood, Chubby Checker, Emmylou Harris and Joe Diffie. John Anderson's 1992 release “Seminole Wind,” which became a triple-platinum seller, included a song co-written by Elliott. In 1996, Mike received the prestigious NAIRD Award for his work as an engineer on Steve Earle's Grammy-nominated album “Train A Comin'.” In Nashville, Mike also founded Magic Tracks recording studio, served as president of Celebration Records and was the music director for legendary producer Jack Clement. As a guitarist, executive, songwriter, engineer and producer, Mike excelled in virtually every aspect of the competitive Nashville music scene. In his “spare time,” Mike wrote training, technical and owners' manuals for Gibson and authored two successful method books for Hal Leonard – “Expanding Jazz Harmonies” and “Contemporary Chord Solos.”

Mike Elliott returned to the Twin Cities in 1998, continuing his work as an educator, live performer, recording artist and engineer. That year he joined the faculty of McNally Smith College of Music (formerly Musictech). Mike could be seen playing at the Artists' Quarter with friends like pianist Adi Yeshaya, bassist Gordy Johnson, drummers Gordy Knudtson and Kenny Horst, and the Petersons (Ricky, Billy and Bobby). Mike was also called upon by vocalists like Cookie Coleman and Joanie Knudtson to add his magic touch.

In addition to his recordings with Natural Life and countless sessions, Mike released seven albums of his own, including the highly acclaimed “The Art of the Solo Guitar” and Mike's personal favorite “Home Cookin'” (2002). A devoted educator, Mike's many accolades included a “Distinguished Service” award from the Minnesota Music Educators Association in 1999. Although press-shy, Mike was the subject of many glowing articles and reviews in publications like “Guitar Player,” “Minneapolis Star Tribune” and “The Cleveland Plain Dealer.”

Mike was greatly influenced by his mentor Johnny Smith, as well as his friend and contemporary Pat Martino and songwriter/producer and life-long friend Joe Allen. The list of people Mike worked with is seemingly endless, including luminaries with whom he shared respect and friendship like Ramsey Lewis, Chet Atkins, Ray Charles, B.B. King, Johnny Cash and so many more.

Not only versatile on guitar, Mike Elliott was a Mensa member, a lover of boats and the owner of several exotic cars. An avid golfer, Mike had an incredible six hole-in-ones. He was deeply loved by family, friends and fans – known for his warmth, humility, honesty and kindness.

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