Ellis Paul grew up in northern Maine, in a potato farming community so remote that his exposure to music came almost entirely from the one top-40 station he could get on his radio, and his school band, where he played trumpet well enough to earn a summer scholarship to the Berklee College of Music. He toured the country competing in track, earning a track scholarship to Boston College where he discovered songwriting when a track-career-ending knee injury left him bedridden for months. By 1989, he was haunting the open mic scene that would soon produce the most important generation of Boston folk stars since the early ’60s, including Paul, Dar Williams, Vance Gilbert, Jonatha Brooke and Jennifer Kimball (then performing as The Story), Martin Sexton, Patty Griffin, and Catie Curtis.
For years, Ellis Paul has been among the folk circuit’s most popular and dependable headliners, with 14 CDs now in his discography. In recent years, he has also departed from his solo career to tour and record with longtime compadre Vance Gilbert, and to indulge his deep respect for American folk icon Woody Guthrie.
Ellis stopped by the Folk Alley studios to talk with Matt Watroba about songwriting, social work, Woody Guthrie and more.