James Walter Ellison was born April 18, 1964,
an Aries, the first sign in the zodiac.
Compelled from the get-go to be boundless in energy and equipped
with the foresight and fortitude, Jim Ellison proved to be the
leader in his gang of hooligans, shouting the praises of a good
pop song with an incredible ability to merge melody and lyric,
and tie it tightly at the edges, thus creating a name for himself
and his band, Material Issue.
Jim proved he could pull off the very same thing he admired from
heroes like David Bowie, The Who, and Sweet; a passion for music
and the effect it could generate to the masses. His "in-your
face" approach to delivering his songs was something unmeasured
by anyone in the Chicago music scene at this time. It wasn't beyond
Jim to stop in the middle of a song and point you out in a crowd
and ask you why you weren't participating in having a "good
time" if that's the "feel" he got from you. It
was this kind of "takes charge" behavior that warranted
him the respect as the artist from the perspective of the audience.
He was abrasive, and bold, loud, and passionate, and yet still
A bit Punk, a bit Pop, a bit Mod, a bit Rocker, Jim blended them
all and created the band of his dreams.
In the mid-1980's, while attending Columbia Art College in Chicago,
Jim sought out the makings of his "Super Group".
The Chicago music scene at this time in its history was one of
lazy abandonment. One where local bands played out every other
weekend and created a following and were content to remain "Big
Fish" in a sea of local aristocracy. But not Jim, he wasn't
satisfied to just "make it" in his hometown. He had
a grandeur vision of power pop eminence, and like Columbus, set
sail to conquer uncharted territories, making the world, his destination.
In fellow student Ted Ansani, he found the bass player he'd been
searching for that could also add vocal harmonies to Jim's vocal
In drummer Mike Zelenko he found the intense beat strived to drive
the songs along. Mike entered the picture when he answered an
ad in a local music paper, and thus this incarnation of Material
Issue was born.
In the early days of Material Issue, it wasn't uncommon to see
the band playing out everywhere in the city. Material Issue
was consummate in their diligence and played out as much as they
could. In hand, they created a local buzz on the Chicago music
scene, but unlike most local Chicago acts, didn't stop when they
achieved a status of local hierarchy. It was once they started
achieving this status that they took their wares to the road and
began traveling the states in an old beat-up van that sported
the American flag as it's moniker into nearly every "small
town U.S.A". Living out of a van; on a diet of Green River
sodas, Moon Pies and Marlboro's, the band trudged along through
the trenches of rock-n-roll "boot-camp", picking up
the "how to" of life on the road of a rock star. But Jim Ellison was ALWAYS a rock star.
Jim swaggered onstage like Mick Jagger and staggered like
Keith Richards, wrote love ballads about girls he longed for and
knew of those that longed for him.
His fashion sense soon became one of his trademarks-skinny stove
piped black jeans that were tailored to fit his already lanky
body, stuffed at the cuff into a pair of whatever color Doc Marten
boot he decided; his hair in a half pageboy crop. The other trait
was an indelible sneer that was so compelling he was actually
able to "reel you in," every time he shot you that look.
His ability to captivate an audience went unchallenged, as he
would often pick out people in the audience that weren't paying
attention to his act, publicly humbling the naysayers that dared
disrupt his shows. But at the end, Jim always knew it was the
audience that he played to.
During this time, while Jim was still in his early 20's,
he started his own recording label "Big Block Records"
out of his tiny bedroom in Addison Illinois, and worked continuously
at self-promoting, setting up tours without the help of any major
Material Issue's first recordings were under Jim's label-proving
to the rest of the music industry that independent distribution
could be done while still being able to pull a small profit.
It wasn't long after this that Jim and the bands hard work of
playing out and marketing started to pay off.
The buzz was out about the power pop trio from Chicago. Many record
labels came to Chicago to scout from talent being generated by
the buzz the trio had created. Chicago was the next "Big
Thing" to happen in music at the time, especially the "Wicker
Park" scene that such notables as Liz Phair, Smashing Pumpkins
and the boys from Urge Overkill came to eventually be noted for.
In the summer of 1990, Material Issue got their "chance of
a lifetime" and was the forerunner of these bands signed
to a major label, Polygram records.
From then on it became the business of non-stop music.
Big arena rock tours replaced many of the smaller venues
the band were used to playing, opening for bands like Simple Minds,
The Pretenders, INXStelevision appearances (Rick Dees Show, Nia
Peeples Party Machine, Dennis Miller, Mtv Spring Break), many
movie Soundtracks, and even an appearance in a movie "Reason
A huge tour bus replaced the van, and Material
Issue was on their way, fulfilling the all American Rock-n-Roll
dream; parties and photos and groupies and all of that which comes
with the rocknroll lifestyle.
Throughout this whirlwind ride, Material Issue put out 3 albums
with Polygram. Their first "International Pop Overthrow"(1991)
sold more then 200,000 albums.
The follow-up "Destination Universe"(1992)
produced a video for "What Girls Want".
Their third major label release was "Freak City Soundtrack"(1994),
and saw the Mtv video of "Kim the Waitress".
Throughout these three albums, one could see the music
and lyric style of Jim Ellison come to certain maturity both lyrically
and musically. While still staying true to Power Pops' three chord
changes, Jim blossomed into quite a songwriter with a keen sense
of poetic ambiance.
But by the mid 90's, with the music in the ever-changing "Industry"
taking a different route, and harder rock music staking a claim,
Material Issue and Polygram records decided amicably to part ways.
For the next year or so, Jim and the band found them
selves busy with many new projects, working on producing and writing
with fellow musicians. Friends like The Smithereens, Lowen and
Navarro and Gilbey Clarke of Gunsn-Roses all worked with
Jim and out of a few of these unions a side project was being
assembled calling themselves The Wild Bunch, where the idea was
to form a traveling group of musicians playing obscure, almost
one hit wonders.
Material Issue also continued to record and play, and at this
time began putting together what unknowingly would be their last
The album tracks were nearly complete when Jim Ellison's untimely
death occurred in June of 1996.
Telecommando Americano, was released pothstumously by
Rykodisc in May 1997, almost a year after Jim's death and is dedicated
"in loving memory of Jim" and to "all friends of
MI (Material Issue) everywhere".
In the years since Jim's death, his fight and determination
for music still continues. In 1997, The International
Pop Overthrow Festival in Southern California was erected in
homage to the salvation of power pop music. It is an event that
pop bands from all over the world come from far and wide to participate
in continuing the legacy of its genre.
The Wild Bunch still get together every so often with
different musicians carrying on the torch of the tradition.
Mike Zelenko and Ted Ansani still live in Chicago and continue
to perform in and with many different musical projects.
There's a longing in the hearts of the many that Jim
Ellison and his band Material Issue touched and left behind.
A truth in Jim's living and death that never was able to quite
reach maturity, a longing for that truth to continue and to yet
be preservedbut if time proves that the life of a man can transcend
adversity to become what he envisions, then Jim Ellison, the imperial
born Power Pop Star, immortalized himself here on earth, and still
shines as brightly from somewhere so close, and yet from so very