A rock ‘n’ roll survivor whose small catalog of recordings came at the very beginning and very end of her sixty plus years as a professional singer.

Dorothy Ellis was born in Texas in 1935 as Dorothy Choncie to sharecroppers, a job she herself started at the age of six where she learned to sing alongside her mother in the fields. In 1946 her mother collapsed and died of heat stroke and Dorothy first stayed with a grandmother before being sent to a homeless shelter. Two years later at the age of thirteen she hopped a bus for Oklahoma City and made it her home for the rest of her life.

In 1951, having married John Ellis, a musician in The Rockin’ Aces, her band which included Little Eddie Taylor on piano and D.C. Minner on bass, Ellis got her first record with the initial release on Jake Porter’s Combo Records in Los Angeles which cracked the Top Ten in that city by the end of the year.

From there she went to Federal Records, the L.A. based subsidiary of King Records from Cincinnati and cut two singles, the latter of which, “Drill, Daddy, Drill”, was as sexually explicit as the times allowed and gave her a reputation she’d ride for years.

But future recording opportunities didn’t come and so she and the band concentrated on earning a living in Oklahoma, playing clubs as well as opening for whatever big name act came through, expanding their repertoire to include jazz and blues as well as rock ‘n’ roll.

Along the way she earned her masters degree in Psychology and wrote two books.

Still going strong into the Twenty First Century she finally got another chance to record when the band Blinddog Smokin’ saw her perform and offered to pay for her studio time which resulted in Sittin’ In With Blinddog Smokin” in 2001 and was prolific after that, cutting many more albums and played a concert a week after being hospitalized with pneumonia and having to be revived multiple times.

Her husband and lifelong musical partner John died in 2009. Ellis, active until the end, joined him 2018 after 82 eventful years, most of which were spent singing.
DOROTHY ELLIS DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed On Spontaneous Lunacy):

(Combo 1; October, 1951)
A weird stylistic compromise on Combo Records’ first release, featuring 16 year old Ellis first imitating Little Esther before switching to her more natural range while the band seem unsure whether to play cocktail blues or jazzy rock without ever coming to a firm decision. (2)

(Federal 12062; March, 1952)
Though she sings this torch song well, exhibiting a good voice, fine control and the right emotional balance, the song is hardly appropriate for a 16 year old as the style and the backing places her squarely in the adult kingdom rather than aiming for a more natural market. (3)

(Federal 12062; March, 1952)
Going back to re-cut Ellis’s debut for Combo as it was hitting in L.A. probably seemed like a good idea to maybe tighten it up and give it a more modern sound, instead they make it more archaic with a jazzier backing that leaves Ellis out to dry stylistically. (1)

(Federal 12070; April, 1952)
Both the racy song and Ellis’s embrace of every dirty meaning are fantastic, but Johnny Otis’s band is not, imparting this with a limp reading that is uninventive and unenthusiastically played, meaning it’s up to the 16 year old girl to teach them about the birds and bees. (7)

(Federal 12070; April, 1952)
Though the story in a way seems autobiographical owing to the way the band has all but ruined her records with out of date arrangements, Ellis’s well measured voice, poignancy and flickering hope in the face of her trouble shines through all the same. (4)