Blues musician Bert Elliot first moved to Rockaway when he was about 10-years-old. There, he attended P.S. 114 for about three years, before moving from his uncle’s house on Beach 140th Street in Belle Harbor to the Ocean Bay Housing projects at Beach 57th Street and Beach Channel Drive in Edgemere.
Elliot first developed a passion for music after picking up the drums in fourth grade. He went on to graduate from Far Rockaway High School, before attending Queens College, where he worked toward honing his craft.
In 1978, he graduated with a degree in music composition, and just a few years later, wound up getting a publishing deal, to write background/theme music for network television.
“That kept me staying busy for a while during the 80s and up through the 90s,” Elliot said.
While composing music for MTV, Maury and Jerry Springer, he continued touring with his good friend and fellow musician, Gary Toms.
Elliot released his first Blues album, “On The Positive Tip,” in 1998, which received both international and national accreditation.
His second album, “Asylum in Playland,” was released following the havoc caused by Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and features special guest appearances by Bernie Williams, Stu Hamm, and Atma Anur.
Following critical acclaim for his album, “Asylum in Playland,” Elliot was awarded with the distinguished honor of being inducted into the New York Blues Hall of Fame, for his contributions to the genre.
The Wave recently caught up with Elliot to talk about the induction, his music, and life in Far Rockaway.
How does it feel to have been inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame?
Elliot: Humbling. It was a shock just to be nominated. It was humbling as hell.
In what ways has life in Far Rockaway had an impact on your sound?
Growing up in the projects and being white; it was interesting. Since most of the friends I made were Black, I was exposed to a lot of funky music. I was absorbed in playing with Gary Toms and I became a “pretty funky” white guy. It was almost a novelty back then. But [Far Rockaway] has directly impacted my music. All of my music has really soulful and funky vibes behind it. Any place you spend a long period of time in, is going to affect you as a person. Rockaway is just a part of my soul… I got to experience on two very different levels. I got to see a bit of the good life and then, moving to the projects, none of us had a car at first. I used to walk with my equipment in a laundry cart down Beach Channel Drive.
What was it like to perform with Bernie Williams?
I would say about six-or-seven years ago, I was in L.A. at a music convention when I saw him. I just said hello to strike up a conversation. We just clicked, musically, and we clicked, personally. I look at him as a friend, not as a celebrity. But, I never talked baseball with him because I never wanted to come across as some kind of crazy fan of his. We just talked about music. He’s a great guy… and I am honored to be his friend.
Tell me more about the Hurricane Benefit you did after Sandy…
After Sandy knocked the s*** out of Rockaway, I put together a benefit on Dec. 2, 2012, at K.J. Farrell’s in Long Island. Bernie and I played together; It was a sold out night. We wound up raising $35,000, which was donated to the Graybeards.
What was it like to travel across the country?
Meeting new people, talking to new people, jamming with other musicians in other cities… if you’re looking for positive experiences, you’ll find them. Culturally, things are different around the country and people tend to miss out. There is so much great stuff out there. The people, and playing music with different people around the country is something that is always going to be close to my heart.
What kind of equipment do you use when you perform?
I am endorsed by several different companies: Rocktron, Hartke Systems, GHS Strings, Eventide, Peavey and Morley Pedals. When I perform, I use SUR Guitars. They’re incredible, American-made guitars. I also use Tech 21 EFX pedals and a Fractal Audio “Axe/FX” amplifier, which is a revolutionary [gadget] that emulates all of these different guitar amps. This way you don’t have to lug all these big amps around.
Who are some of your biggest musical influences?
I am pretty eclectic in my tastes. Jeff Beck is one of my bigger influences. Of course, Hendrix is a big influence and Eric Johnson. There are tons of them. Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. I was a very big fan of Johnny Winter and B.B. King. I started learning guitar by playing the Blues. When I went to college, I thought I was more educated and more technical playing. But, it looks like everything came 360. I really believe all the technical learning is a part of me now, which makes my music a little more juicy than not having the education. Whatever you should do, you should get a higher level of education. I thought it was a good discipline.
Eliot says that while he no longer lives in Far Rockaway, having moved to Pomona in Rockland County, N.Y., he still keeps in touch with his good friend and that he returns, from time-to-time, to perform at Thai Rock.
To hear more from Blues musician Bert Elliot, visit facebook.com/bertelliot or download “Asylum in Playland” on Amazon and iTunes.
And be sure to stay tuned for his new studio album and more live shows in 2017.