It is one of the most recorded and most played songs in music history and a new version of “Some Kind of Wonderful” will be garnering Grammy consideration for soul, gospel, blues and funk singer-songwriter John Ellison. The classic hit that he wrote and recorded with his band, Soul Brothers Six, in 1967 was issued as a single last Friday (August 11), his 82nd birthday. The single that will be up for a Grammy nod in the American Roots Performance category serves as the title track for an album featuring eleven new songs penned by Ellison and produced by Roger Heijster. The collection is scheduled to drop on November 10 from PopMi Music.
Ellison has already been honored as a songwriting legend many times over, collecting multiple lifetime achievement awards from BMI, West Virginia and Canada, yet he’s not a household name even though his song has been recorded by more than seventy artists – from Rod Stewart and Joss Stone to Grand Funk Railroad, Buddy Guy and Huey Lewis & The News. Ellison has also remained relevant, writing the timely “Wake-Up Call (Black Like Me)” during the peak of civil unrest in 2020, garnering praise from Rolling Stone and Forbes magazines along with the distinction of earning the number one spot on BMI’s “Songs for Change” Spotify playlist.
Energetic, passionate and as creative as ever, Ellison poured his soulful intensity into crafting the new album, which was recorded in PopMi Music’s studio in the Netherlands. With an electric guitar in hand, Ellison’s powerful voice croons stories about spreading love, hope, celebration, romance and reflection. Heijster handles most of the accompanying instrumentation himself (drums, percussion, bass, guitars, keyboards and programming) with augmentation to the rhythm section from bassists Lucien Matheeuwsen and Peter Bergman and drummer Wiktoria Bialic. There’s a lot of soul powered horn section work illuminating the set, which was deftly deployed by the Jay Horns (trumpeter Serge Plume, trombonist Jel Jongen, and baritone and tenor saxophonist Allard Buwalda).
After opening with his iconic cut, the party continues with “Let’s Get This Party Started.” Ellison believes that each day should be “a happy day and celebrated,” which is what the tune is about. A stylistic departure, “If I Had Just One Wish” has a feel-good reggae vibe calling for more love in the world. A retro slice of R&B/pop, “It’s Your Lips” offers a seductive taste of fantasy. “Easy to Remember” is an amorous ballad skillfully enriched with Hammond B3 organ.
Heijster cowrote a couple tunes on the album and it was his idea that sparked “Love Line.”
“‘Love Line’ is simply about spreading love throughout the world. If we could form a human line and each individual in that line was filled only with love, and that line stretched around the world, imagine how beautiful this world would be,” said Ellison.
“Let Me Be the One” is a heartfelt romantic plea. “Quitters Never Win” offers poignant and poetic inspiration, the roots of which are personal to Ellison.
“‘Quitters Never Win’ is a song that is very dear to my heart. The lyrics were written by a young girl who had recently lost her grandfather. She and I became connected through the sale of a gourmet seasoning that I have in grocery stores. Her mother was unable to find it during the pandemic and she reached out to my company. When she found out that the person who wrote ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ also created the seasoning that she loves, she asked if I would listen to some of her daughter’s poetry and see if I could make it into a song. After hearing the story about her grandfather, the lessons he taught her and the encouragement he gave her, my heart went out to the girl. I promised her that I would make her poem into a song,” Ellison revealed.
Inspiration can come randomly and that’s the story behind “Where Do I Go from Here?” It came from a guitar riff and groove that showed up while Ellison was soundchecking prior to a festival performance. “West Virginia State of Mind” recalls his impoverished beginnings growing up in the coal fields of West Virgina.
Ellison shares his faith on “He Watches Over Me,” which he wrote with Heijster.
“‘He Watches Over Me’ was inspired by the teachings of my dearly beloved parents. When I was at the Porretta Festival in Italy, I shared stories of the hardships of my youth with George McCrae and Roger (Heijster), who produces George. When Roger and I decided to work together, he started work on the music and had a basic idea of the storyline, and we finished the song together in his studio. While we were thinking about the vocal line and what the words should be for the chorus, I suddenly sang ‘He watches over me.’ Then Roger pointed out that on top of a rack of CDs, there was an old family statue of Jesus watching over us,” recounted Ellison, who closes the album with a beautiful offering honoring his wife titled “I Simply Love You.”
After his years with Soul Brothers Six, Ellison released a series of solo albums, the most recent being 2013’s “Up From Funk.” Like a lot of vintage soul artists, he found popularity and success abroad, leading to concert tours and performances throughout Europe and Asia as well as North America. He has U.S. concert dates booked in August and September to help launch the single and set up the album release. Although Ellison now splits his time living in Florida and Canada, he started the tour back in West Virginia on August 10.
Some Kind of Wonderful Tracklist
“Some Kind of Wonderful”
“Let’s Get This Party Started”
“If I Had Just One Wish”
“It’s Your Lips”
“Easy to Remember”
“Let Me Be the One”
“Quitters Never Win”
“Where Do I Go from Here?”
“West Virginia State of Mind”
“He Watches Over Me”
“I Simply Love You”
Catch Ellison on tour in the following cities:
August 31 Lake Side Ohio Sandusky, OH
September 1 Kiesling Tavern Detroit, MI
September 2 Beaver Island Events Beaver Island, MI
September 4 Johnny’s School House Lady Smith, WI
September 5 Pine Arts Centre Curtis, MI
September 8 Up Yonder Grand Marias, MN
September 10 Radio Wave Festival Waves, MN
September 16 Rib Fest Charleston, WV