After playing a much-celebrated set at the WYCE Jammie Awards on Friday, Grand Rapids guitarist and songwriter Elijah Russ today reveals the recordings that have impacted him most.
EDITOR’S NOTE: All musicians can trace their inspiration to key recordings that influenced their careers. Today, writer Ross Boissoneau showcases music that changed the world for Grand Rapids guitarist and singer Elijah Russ. Scroll down for a Spotify playlist of his picks, along with recent tracks from Russ.
Support our coverage of
West Michigan's music scene
Elijah Russ refuses to limit himself.
For proof, look no further than his most recent recordings, “Wandering” and “Sandcastles.” Released simultaneously last April, they offer insights into two differing musical personas. The former found him exploring intimate lo-fi sounds, while the latter is a more festive outing, complete with layers of strings, horns, keyboards, guitars and vocals.
That eclectic approach extends to the rest of his music, whether solo, with a band or working with other outfits across genres, such as Gunnar & the Grizzly Boys, the Legal Immigrants and Harper & the Midwest Kind.
He grew up in a household filled with music. “My dad was a full-time musician and I was never discouraged (from pursuing music),” Russ says. “I grew up with that being a possibility.”
He started playing with friends in middle school, even taking up saxophone in the school band program, and began writing songs as a teen. “It was a natural progression. By the time I was an adult, this (music) is the thing I knew the most about.”
Russ fronts the all-star ensemble the Elijah Russ Collective, which unleashed an audience-pleasing set on the main stage at last weekend’s jam-packed WYCE Jammie Awards at The Intersection. View more ‘Albums That Changed the World’ artist picks here.
1. Jimi Hendrix, “The Wind Cries Mary” from “Are You Experienced” (1967) – I took some lessons from a guy in Grand Haven. This was one of the first songs I learned to play on guitar when I really started getting the bug. I played it at my first recital, which gave me a huge confidence boost as a 13-year–old, and it just set me up for a deep dive into extraordinary guitar. It made me take it a lot more seriously.
Listen: “The Wind Cries Mary”
2. Dopapod, “Onionhead” from AURA Fest 2012 – This recording looped me into Dopapod when I was 16 or 17. They had taken all of the elements that I loved about rock and electronic music and combined them in the most musically professional and new way I’d heard up to that point. (I still hadn’t discovered a lot of fusion bands at that point, but Dopapod remains unique.) During Dopapod’s performance of this song at Summer Camp 2013 was the moment I decided to become a full-time musician. I ran back to my friends (I was glued to the rail) and said I wanted to do that, so I modeled the early parts of my career after them. P.S. Rob Compa is on my top three favorite guitar players list. Jimi Hendrix is not.
Listen: “Onionhead” (Live)
3. Guthrie Govan, “Wonderful Slippery Thing” from “Erotic Cakes” (2006) – Guthrie Govan is my favorite guitar player. I rarely pick favorites with anything, but this dude takes the cake without question. I learned a good chunk of this tune for my Berklee audition, but the sections I didn’t learn were very humbling. I finally started understanding some of my playing limits and began prioritizing other qualities of music outside of speedy guitar playing, like harmony, songwriting, music production, piano, etc. I think this was when I really started to blossom into whatever I am today.
Listen: “Wonderful Slippery Thing”
Currently Loving: Jason Isbell, “Southeastern” (2013) – I’m a little late to the Jason Isbell train. I listened to Drive By Truckers early on, but had no idea the singer was him until I discovered Jason Isbell on my own. “Relatively Easy” and “Cover Me Up” are strong themes in my life right now, but the entire album is extremely relatable. “Cover Me Up” because I’m full blown in love right now for the first time in a long time and feel safe. “Relatively Easy” because as much as I like to think my life is hard sometimes, someone is always having a shittier day. It’s important to remember that.
Listen: “Flying Over Water”
ALBUMS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD: The Elijah Russ Playlist on Spotify
Copyright 2023, Spins on Music LLC