Smokestack Lightnin' Home Page -- The Blues Profile Page
Michael Hill: Raised in the South Bronx, New York, Michael's early exposure to music included Harry Belafonte, Jackie Wilson, Johnny Ace, Elvis Presley and many other 78's and later 45's from his father Rufus' record collection. His mother Eunice and grandmother Lucia both sang and played the piano at home as well, and Michael briefly took piano lessons at age seven and sang in school glee clubs and the church choir as he grew up. Hearing Jimi Hendrix changed his life, inspiring his love of the electric guitar. During his years at Stuyvesant High School in the East Village, Michael and his friends spent virtually every weekend either inside or listening from the street outside the Filmore East and other New York concert venues. He was thus able to see Hendrix five times along with such other influences as Jeff Beck, Cream and blues heroes B.B. King, Albert King and Buddy Guy. Michael began playing guitar at age 18 and started the band Wild Honey (briefly Brown Sugar) with his siblings Wynette, Kathy and Kevin, some childhood friends and two cousins in 1973. They specialized in popular soul and funk of the time while sneaking in the odd rock or blues number.
Michael continued playing with his siblings while also working as a sideman with various singers and doing the odd recording session, primarily playing cover material. In 1985 he was invited to join the band of poet/performer Sekou Sundiata and keyboardist Doug Booth; Sekou was to become a major influence and inspiration. The band also included Vernon Reid, who introduced Michael to the Black Rock Coalition. Michael was simultaneously playing in the rock outfit Fitz and the New York Band. This immersion in original music, combined with the urging of friends and associates to start his own band, led him to refocus on songwriting and form Michael Hill's Bluesland, out of which spun the Blues Mob.
Over the years Michael has been privileged to perform or record with Little Richard, Carla Thomas, Harry Belafonte, Archie Bell and B.B. King, and has jammed with numerous blues heroes, friends and colleagues, including B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Luther Allison. Recognized as one of modern blues' "most talented songwriters and guitarists" (Living Blues) and known for "uncompromising musical and lyrical integrity" (Goldmine), Michael has clearly learned much from his heroes, especially the importance of originality. Now with four highly acclaimed albums, Michael Hill and his Blues Mob ignite stages all around the world in a unique, high energy expression of New York- style blues. Powerful singing, dazzling guitar playing and his engaging personal blend of warmth, conviction and humor have Michael leaving audiences feeling good first time, every time.
Bill McClellan: With roots in the red clay dirt of Mississippi, William McClellan Jr. grew up on Chicago's gritty West Side. He regularly heard Gospel music as his mother and her eight siblings sang and played bass and guitar as the Green Family Singers during rehearsals at home. Gospel music further reached his ears through the records of the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, Canton Spirituals, Mahalia Jackson and the Jubilee Showcase TV show. His young aunts meanwhile brought Bill another side of the music with their record collections of such soul artists as Al Green, the Temptations, Curtis Mayfield, Aretha Franklin and Garland Greene (a distant relative) and funksters the Barkays and the Isley Brothers. Yet another flavor was added to the mix by his uncles who after their factory shifts ended slipped off to the South Side to hear the deep blues of Muddy Waters or Albert King. It's not surprising that at age six Bill began playing alto sax before switching over to drums, the instrument at which he would excel to become the superlative drummer we hear today.
It was in high school that friends introduced Bill to the sounds of Led Zeppelin, Foghat and the Police that complemented his interest in James Brown, Cameo and Earth, Wind and Fire. Playing in church and joining the school orchestra, marching band and chorus led eventually to smoky dives and club dates throughout the Midwest before Bill moved to New York in 1986, becoming part of Brooklyn's colorful music scene. His diverse musical influences served Bill well, as did the inspiration of drummers as diverse as Tony Williams, Billy Cobham, Earl Palmer, Ziggy Modeliste, John Bonham and especially Elvin Jones. His versatility has led to performances and recordings with Cassandra Wilson, Henry Threadgill, Jean Paul Bourelly, Sekou Sundiata, Peter Gabriel and Dennis Mitcheltree, among many others.
He was also a member of the Black Rock Coalition band PBR Streetgang,
and the B.R.C. is where he first met and played with Michael Hill. In
1999, Michael invited Bill to join Michael Hill's Blues Mob, with whom
he recorded "Suite: Larger Than Life" in 2001. As they light up
audiences around the U.S. and the world, the Blues Mob's music is tight
and their vocal harmonies right having Bill on the drum throne with a
microphone, singing while kickin' and stickin' with abandon and
precision. Audiences can't help but feel good watching him swing the
groove and rock the house, cause seeing Bill McClellan play in person is
to be lifted by a singularly dynamic stage presence that radiates the
sheer joy of making music.
In college Michael struck up a musical relationship with future Dave Matthews Band drummer Carter Buford and his professional career was officially underway. His enrollment in the music department at Howard University led to his first touring opportunities with R&B singer Stacy Lattisaw and gospel vocalist Lynette Hawkins, and a songwriting apprenticeship with legendary recording artist Harold Melvin. Returning to the New York area in 1991 to build a recording studio, Griot signed a publishing deal with Motown Records in 1994. In addition to studio work, writing and production, he continued to work and tour regularly with many artists throughout the Ď90s including Deborah Coleman, Bobbi Humphreys, Divine, Lauren Hill, Gordon Gaines, Guruís Jazzmatazz, Russell Gunn, Omar (Lykefook) and Queen Latifah. In 1998 Griot toured Europe for a month as guest bassist with Michael Hillís Blues Mob, playing splendidly and rocking the bottom line with the dynamic intensity and groove for which the Mob is known.
2004 saw Griot accept an invitation to fill the Mobís recently vacated bass chair, and his versatile musicality and the soulful expertise of his animated, emotional playing mark the beginning of a new chapter in the bandís tradition of great bass players. His long relationship and smooth chemistry with drummer Bill McClellan are an added bonus. On both bass guitar and electric upright, Michael Griot brings an abundance of groove and adventure to the mix. With his singularly cool stage presence thereís no doubting that this superb musician will also bring satisfaction to audiences worldwide as they experience the infectiously uplifting spirit with which he makes music.