Blake Ellege may well be the busiest and hardest-working musician in Western North Carolina. And if he’s not, he’s working on it. Every ear during the holiday season, he magically transforms into Appalachian Santa (see my story on that important part of Ellege’s life and work). But the rest of the year, he dives headlong into the world of music. At one point, Ellege was fronting eight or more bands, exploring nearly every popular music genre: rock, soul, country, blues and more. These days he’s scaled back his activities – he’s an entrepreneur with a busy non-musical schedule as well – and at present he’s working with a mere four in-demand bands. The most prominent of those is Saddletramp, his country and western project. I caught up with Ellege for a brief chat between gigs.
Saddletramp is an evolving project; it started out with a different name and a different music focus, didn’t it?
Yes. The group started in 2013 as Blake Ellege and The Country Resonators, a vintage country honky tonk band. We didn’t play anything later than ‘60s country. After five years, we branched out and added ‘50s to ‘70s country music, and we did that for another four to five years. Last year, we made a transition to a strictly ‘90s country band.
This year, I decided to make another shift, because I wanted to give our listeners something new and fresh. We change out set lists every six to seven months; we’re learning at least 10 new songs every quarter. At a Saddletramp show, you will be dancing to country party music. And toward the end of every show, we throw in a sprinkling of heavy outlaw country and classic Southern rock.
What sets your group apart from other country bands?
Well, there are plenty of country bands out there. But the thing that really separates us apart from all of that is that every song that we play is something that you’ll be able to dance to. It’s a high energy dance environment. There isn’t a lull in the show whatsoever; we want people up and dancing and partying the whole time.
I was trained from an early age and taught from an early age to be a front man, to put on a performance. It takes a real showman to, have the audience in the palm of their hand and get the crowd going. It’s taken a lot of hard work and a lot of time and a lot of experience to be able to do that. If I’m not in someone’s face and slinging sweat on somebody at a show, I’m not happy!
You front several bands. What’s the most rewarding thing about leading Saddletramp?
I grew up on country music. When I was four, my mom had a convertible Mustang, and I would sing along word for word to every single one of the songs on her cassette player. So this is the music that I love the most, and I pour everything into my performances.