Jim Ellison Tribute

On June 20, 1996 Jim Ellison dies at the age of 32

James Walter Ellison
April 18, 1964-June 20, 1996

On June 20, 1996, James Walter Ellison, front man for the Chicago power pop trio back in the early 1990's Material Issue, left this world, leaving behind a legacy of songs and stories.

For those of you who may have never heard of Jim or his band Material Issue, I wish to "welcome you" into the bit of a biography, written with dedication to a man who believed in fulfilling the power of ones dreams. A man who lived and died by the sword of his convictions and with inspiration, heart and soul, and a lot of talent, created an incredible legacy for himself.

Most biographies I find, lead the reader down a path of humbled beginnings, melding into climatic middles, and concluding with dramatic denouements. With this biography I've found that hard to do. I've decided to begin from an ending and trace the steps of this esteemed musical figure, that at the age of 32 left this world way too young, and for most of those that knew him, wanting more.

The hardest part for me in writing this bio has been dealing with how to address the details of Jim's death.
According to media reports and hearsay, Jim was found in his garage the morning of June 20th 1996, slumped over his moped. The cause of death was labeled asphyxiation due to carbon monoxide poisoning, and was eventually ruled a suicide.


So many different stories circulated (and continue even 5 years later), to what may have lead this promising young man with so much talent and vision to take his life. The media had reports of "a relationship gone wrong", and "losing his record deal with a prominent recording company". In the end, does it really matter?

What matters in this biography is who Jim Ellison was. What he accomplished, and what he left behind, not just in his music, but also in his essence.

What matters is that Jim Ellison gave his fans many wonderful years of who he was through his music, and a life proven worthy to the many he has touched and is accredited by in the time that he was here. With these words, I begin the story of James Walter Ellison

Forward by author: (9/3/01)

Material Issue was the brainchild of singer/songwriter, musician, Jim Ellison who had the knack of turning a catchy hook into a transcendental melody. Material Issue was a 3-piece power pop rock band from Chicago, Illinois. In the late 1980's, Material Issue paved the way on the local Chicago music scene with their brash, in-you-face, to the core, rock-n-roll. Jim was the consummate "rock star", following in the likes of local favorites Cheap Trick, Off Broadway, and The Shoes, carving out a memorable niche of his own.

With guitar in hand and vocals to boot, Jim carried himself as a solider going to battle. With catchy lyrics and 3 chord changes, Jim took on not only Chicago, but also the world. The band played for a few years in their hometown and then branched out to play all over " Everywhere, U.S.A.", creating a buzz wherever they traveled. In 1990, Material Issue was signed to Polygram Records, where they released to an overwhelming response, "International Pop Overthrow" (1991) a 14 song disc that brought them attention to the Mtv generation with hit songs like "Valerie Loves Me "(which Courtney Love of Hole has covered), "Diane" and "Renee Remains the Same".

A second album soon followed. "Destination Universe"(1992) saw the likes of a video on Mtv for "What Girls Want".
They went on to release one more album on Polygram, 1994's "Freak City Soundtrack" an 11 song cd that saw the success for songs like "Goin' Thru Your Purse" and a cover rendition of Jeff Kelly's "Kim The Waitress". This album allowed Material Issue the honor of working with heavy hitters such as Mike Chapman of Sweet fame producing, Gilbey Clarke of Guns-N-Roses and Rick Neilsen of Cheap Trick, playing guitar on a few tracks.

After touring in support of these albums and touring with bands like Simple Minds, INXS, The Pretenders, --Material Issue paved the way for other Chicago artists to emerge from the city's underbelly. Bands like Smashing Pumpkins and Liz Phair owe much of their success to Jim's incredible ability to master the art of self-promotion and marketing.

Having been one of the first bands to be signed out of Chicago in quite some time, Material Issue had created a local and national buzz, allowing much recognition to come to The Windy City.

Unfortunately, on June 20, 1996, the world lost this incredibly talented artist due to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Rykodisc put out a fourth major label compact disc posthumously in 1997.

"Telecommando Americano" would prove be a very well crafted work of art, exemplifying Jim's ability to once again, master the art of a good lyric.

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