Burl Franklin Ellison, versatile guitarist, was born on October 16, 1951, in San Antonio and graduated from Wheatley High School. He learned guitar at an early age, and while still honing his craft, the sixteen-year-old auditioned for Etta James and was hired for a concert in Los Angeles. Consequently, he had to buy a guitar and amplifier for the job. His early tutors included William Allen (a fellow performer in James’s band) and Bobby Purify (who had a hit with “I’m Your Puppet”).
Thus Ellison began an impressive career as a touring and session musician. He toured with Ike and Tina Turner, Bobby Bland, the Temptations, Etta James, the Mighty Clouds of Joy, and others. Equally deft in the genres of jazz, blues, and country, Ellison was in demand as a session guitarist and recorded on numerous musical projects. He was not credited on most of them.
For some years, he lived in Houston and performed a blend of blues and zydeco with his band, the Mean Machine. In San Antonio, Ellison regularly played in the house band of the Eastwood Country Club in the 1970s. The legendary club was a renowned venue for nationally-famous black musicians. Ellison’s smooth and soulful skills on guitar inspired his moniker as the “Wes Montgomery of the Chitlin’ Circuit.”
Later in life, he did studio work with rapper South Park Mexican. He released a CD of rhythm-and-blues classics and original instrumentals with his band Nostalgia. Ellison also maintained a day job as a cardiovascular technician. He battled cancer the last four years of his life and died in San Antonio on June 26, 2010. He was survived by his wife Joanna, a son, and two daughters. He was buried in St. Hedwig Cemetery.