Elliot Ranney talks musical roots, influences and family

By Chase Myers

Mixing styles such as bossa nova, swing and folk, Elliot Ranney, a jazz musician based out of St. Louis, creates his own unique acoustic sound.

Ranney will bring his finger-style guitar playing to Blue Sky Vineyard in Makanda this Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m.

He has worked with numerous folk-rock artists such as Jonathan Brook and Shawn Phillips, as well as folk group Brewer & Shipley, whom he has built a friendship with over the years.

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The DAILY EGYPTIAN had the opportunity to talk to Ranney and discuss different aspects of his musical journey.

How did you get started in music and playing acoustic guitar? 

As far as I remember, I’ve always been singing, since I was really young. And for some reason, I was watching a movie and there was a nun playing guitar. I thought that was cool and looked easy enough, so I got the guitar and it went right into the closet. Then my next-door neighbor was playing music with a friend of his and I asked if I could come along. … I came along to their session and met these two guys, Tim and Steve, and they were writing their own songs. I just thought this was so cool.

Do you prefer an acoustic sound over an electric, heavy guitar sound? 

That’s all I could get. My parents wouldn’t get me an electric guitar. At the time, I had wished I had gotten one, because there were some really great guitars out back in the late ‘60s. They sounded great and you could actually practice without an amp, but I have played acoustic ever since. The style of music I really got into was when I went and saw “The Graduate” when it released in theaters. The Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack knocked me over, and so I decided that’s how I want to play.

Who influences you musically? 

I was into Simon and Garfunkel for about five or six years. Then I enlisted in the Navy and I started hearing other music, so I was listening to all kinds of stuff. I was listening to Led Zeppelin and I got into a band called Cats and Beyond, which was on the same label as The Allman Brothers Band. I was just listening to all this music. I wasn’t playing it. The thing about writing music is that it’s really what you feel and the direction you’re going in, and you listen to a lot of stuff from that. I always liked to listen to a lot more. When I got out of the Navy, I went to college and was in the guitar ensemble. It was jazz, so I got into that and that’s what I really wanted to do – stuff like John Coltrane. That was way over my head. It has taken me years to learn how to write. Writing is a lifetime thing.

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According to your website, you are often joined on stage by your family. Has music always run in the family? 

Absolutely, my extended family as well. I have a sister-in-law who has been touring out west and went as far as L.A. She’s a folky singer-songwriter. I have a brother-in-law that lives up in Montana who is a world-class bluegrass mandolin player. I have another brother-in-law who is a jazz musician here in town and plays in several groups and he’s recorded with me. Then, my [immediate] family, my wife is a very talented singer and she has helped me write songs and sings them, which is great. My oldest son is a mandolin player that plays bluegrass/Americana tunes. Then my middle son, Steven, is a jazz bass player, and he is amazing. He is in several groups and plays upright and electric. He just blows me away.

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