THE LATE, GREAT LITTLE ELLIOTT!
It seems that I am specializing lately in writing about friends that have died – in this case, not recently, though! And there is actually a madness/logic to the birth of this piece. To begin: A casual “Reddit” trawling lead me to Jimmy Barnes, an excellent Australian singer (Cold Chisel, a.o.) who can pull off singing soul material and sound like he really means it, was the beginning. I began thinking “who was the “blackest” sounding white singer (is this politically incorrect these days? So be it!) I ever knew/heard and the answer hands-down was Little Elliott Lloyd! A fine harp player, cromulent guitarist and bass guitarist, a busy band leader and blues mentor to many, he was a friend for most of my years in the Hudson River Valley. I then jumped into the ’net and, by chance, located a piece from Wiki that seems to be in the process of being deleted, probably for lack of references (possibly written by his sister, Elaine Mars?). So here ’tis:
Little Elliott Lloyd was born Lloyd Elliott Paioff on his father’s birthday, September 7, 1947, in Brooklyn, New York. He came from a long line of professional musicians and artists. His grandfather, Louis, a/k/a Abraham Paioff, made, played, and sold violins. After arriving in America from his native Russia, Abraham played in society orchestras in NYC with his family members. Little Elliott’s father Leon Paioff was a highly skilled photographer, painter, and sculptor as well as a classical and jazz pianist who was related to Man Ray, the world renowned Dadaist. Little Elliott’s maternal grandmother was Madame Rochelle, owner of and designer for a fashion house in 1920s Paris, France.
This rich heritage of creativity certainly contributed to Little Elliott’s development as an artist, musician, and charismatic personality. After he graduated from Fort Hamilton High School in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn he attained a BA degree in Fine Arts from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. During this time he began forming bands and playing locally in the Fort Greene, and Bedford-Stuyvesant (BedStuy) sections in Brooklyn. He recalled opening for Guitar Crusher in Eric’s Bar near Pratt during this germinal time*.
He settled in the Mid Hudson Valley around 1969, where he dedicated the rest of his life to playing (harmonica/guitar/bass), composing, and singing his heart out. Some of his very popular and ever evolving bands in the 1970s and 1980s included The Big Deal Blues Band, The Honeymoon Cats, The Funky Huns and The Elliott Lloyd Project. They played all over the Hudson Valley, i.e. New Paltz (St Blaise, The North Light, Coochie’s, The Barn, Spinelli’s, Smitty’s); Poughkeepsie (The Chance, Rocky’s Bar, The Derby, Frivolous Sal’s, Shaboo); Rosendale, Woodstock, and Rifton (Sturbridge Lion, Hotel Astoria, and The Black Swan).
He was the founder of Larkin Talent Associates, a company that helped to guide the careers of cutting edge “avant garde” jazz artists Matthew Shipp, David S Ware, Kali Fasteau, and Rob Brown. Some of the legendary bluesmen and musicians that he played with included: Eddie Kirkland, Little Sammy Davis, Harvey Brooks, Brad Lee Sexton, Lonnie Mack, Bloss Murphy, Pee Wee Ellis, and Johnny Mars. In the mid 1980s his band opened locally for headliners James Brown, Gary “US” Bonds, James Cotton, Johnny Winter, Edgar Winter, and Levon Helm. Elliott hired a number of future NY Blues Hall of Fame members into his bands, including Fred “Midnite Slim” Scribner, Danny Lewis, Aaron “Professor Louie” Hurwitz, DA Flash and Jimmy Eppard, In 1984, Elliott was endorsed by Hohner Harmonicas and appeared in their annual calendar.
Little Elliott Lloyd died of leukemia at the age of 45 at Albany Medical Center on June 19, 1993. Many of the musicians that he played with such as Little Sammy Davis, Kali Fasteau, Rob Brown, Johnny Rush, and Matthew Shipp came to visit him in the hospital, which gave him strength in his final days. During his short but dynamic life he left a rich legacy of soulful blues and R&B, empowering people “to get on up” and “keep moving”.
* Elliott told me that Crusher (Sidney Selby) was a large man and tried to hide behind the bass amplifier before being announced as “the star of the show” after the band’s introductory numbers back in the day. He’d then bounce out from behind the amp as if nobody could have seen him, and he’d blow away the crowd with his energy! Crusher has ended up in Germany, where he appears to still be living. (pbl)
That covers much of the biographical ground regarding Elliott the musician, something of a renaissance man I’d say. What is missing is a bit more on the personal side. He was a beautiful guy who loved the music and those who made it, and was a constant inspiration to many. Lloyd was a stalwart musical figure on both sides of the Hudson River, and played through the region for decades as indicated above. Being from around New Paltz, NY myself for many years, both as a faculty member at the college and later just as a resident, I got to know him as we had similar musical interests. Both of us had even listened to the same Black radio stations from the NY area at around the same time period – WNJR-AM from Newark, NJ being primary among them! I would hang out with him from time to time when he lived in New Paltz, and had hoped to record him with his band one day for my record label. Missed it – one of many… can’t “do” them all.
Elliott was very much involved with Little Sam Davis after Sam’s wife had died suddenly ca. 1973, trying to keep him focused on the music and staying healthy physically and mentally. For a year or two, he kept working with Sam – I supplied a chromatic harp at one point – but the music wasn’t “strong” enough to support him and Sam disappeared, possibly to Mississippi or Florida. [He was a broken man as a result of his wife’s death – I know; I was there when he found out (O&S #2).] By the time Sam resurfaced in the Valley (ca. 1990), Elliott had already passed.
Before Lloyd’s death, I kept him supplied with pre-recorded cassettes of blues and gospel music while he was in hospital in Albany! Not much else that I could do under the circumstances, was there. But music counted for Elliott. After his death, there was a memorial service in Duchess County – sort of like a Quaker gathering, people spoke of their memories to the group at large. There was also a wake of sorts in Ulster County, at a BBQ off of Butterville Road outside of New Paltz that Elliott would normally participate in musically, a giant jam! It was an annual affair and this time it honored Elliott. The centerpiece that year was an alligator on a spit (I can’t make this stuff up, folks!) for the adventurous (not I, said the little brown duck!) and lots of music as MANY musicians paid their respects in the best way possible – by playing. There were the usual local suspects, plus a few former members of James Brown’s entourage! It was an appropriate send-off for a good guy.
Little Elliott Lloyd was a true friend for me, one of the closest of my “White American” musical friends in the Lower Hudson Valley – Dan DelSanto (O&S # 2 and #53, plus Notes 3314) was another. Both died young – Elliott at 45, Dan at 50 – which left me without a local sounding board to bounce ideas off of and chew the proverbial fat. There were plenty (relatively speaking!) in the UK and elsewhere, but not in the US. [On the other hand, Eddie Kirkland and B.B. King, two of my best African American musical friends, lasted a goodly bit longer!] This piece came to be, then, also because I discovered something in my trawling called the New York Blues Hall of Fame that will soon be inducting him into their list of great musicians from that state – it all comes full circle, doesn’t it [http://www.hudsonvalleyalmanacweekly.com/2015/02/13/little-elliot-lloyd-to-be-inducted-into-blues-hall-of-fame/].
Elliott was something akin to a NYC equivalent to Johnny Otis in his personally taking on much of African American musical culture. Having grown up in and with it in Brooklyn, he encouraged many others directly or indirectly in the field. He was very proud of getting Hohner’s endorsement and having his photograph on their annual harmonica wall calendar, but he flew mainly below the general musical radar unless you lived there. That is actually the norm rather than the exception – so many musicians, so little exposure! That and the recent Hall of Fame endorsement are two honors for him – there should have been more, but… . He was one of the good ‘uns, people, and they ain’t making many of them any more!!
PETER B. LOWRY Sydney, Australia Sep 2015
p.s. – My friend Doug Price who has been doing a blues show on WVKR-FM from Vassar College since forever has dug up a copy of Elliott’s only (?) CD: LITTLE ELLIOTT LLOYD & the Big Deal Blues Band. “Live at the Derby”. Recorded 17 June, 1979, it’s a representative sample of his singing, playing, and repertoire… good band, too. The tunes are – You Left the Water Running/Messin’ With the Kid/The Thrill is Gone/Don’t Start Me To Talkin’/Sweet Sixteen/I Don’t Know/Kansas City/Red Hot Chicken/Walkin’ By Myself. Thanks, Doug!
I have since been in touch with Elaine Mars, the older sister of Elliott and she has sent me the following:
WOW! What a beautiful tribute you wrote. Thank you deeply from me. I forwarded it to his daughter, girlfriend, Johnny and a few others. I remember Lloyd’s story about Guitar Crusher hiding behind the juke box in Eric’s bar and leaping out after Lloyd would announce him. Did he tell you about Masked Man? Lloyd sent me fabulous tapes like “My Wife, My Dog, and My Cat.” All original. I have pictures of Masked Man on his couch that Lloyd took. Riotous.
I have to correct you on Sammy Davis. He came to the hospital to see Lloyd when I was in the room and played and sang for us. At the end he turned his eyes upward and pointed to the heavens. He looked and sounded great. That was in 1993 just before Lloyd died.
I used to turn Lloyd on to my favorite radio shows from Harlem and Newark (I’m older): WNJR (you mentioned), WWRL (Jocko Henderson, “Your big engineer from the stratosphere”), WLIB (Pat the Cat, Danny Stiles) Herman Amis was from Newark.(did gospel shows on NJR and The Apollo) Also, I ran to all the Rock and Roll shows at the Brooklyn Paramount in the mid-late 50s and still have my autographed booklets. When I lived in England an article I wrote was published in a magazine with pictures from my shows. That was fun.
You’ve been down under a long time! Take care,
So, Sammy Davis WAS still about then!