John Ellis Biography 2017

John Ellis is a singer-songwriter from Durban, South Africa. The principal member, guitar-player, vocalist and songwriter for the internationally renowned and award-winning band Tree63, he relocated back to his hometown from America after many years of international success to pursue a solo career. In 2010 he released his debut solo album, the politically-charged “Come Out Fighting”, which garnered him another SAMA nomination, and in 2011, in addition to his production work for other South African artists, he recorded his follow-up, an acoustic album entitled “Rural”, accompanied by Johnny Clegg drummer and percussionist extraordinaire Barry van Zyl. 

Following a deal with Sony in 2012, John recently released "Bush Telegraph", a 5-track digital EP. John is an accomplished guitarist, having featured on numerous American and British recordings, as well as on albums by South African artists such as Ernie Smith, Farryl Purkiss and Ard Matthews. John also lectures English literature, politics, communication, English as a second language and academic literacy.


Surprising and beautifully sentimental, 'Rural' addresses real issues without preaching or losing sight of the music. Music these days is often too concerned with image; so much so that even heartfelt songs get lost under a deluge of substandard lyrics. 'Rural' is honest, earthy and full of texture. Ellis's vocals perfectly top off excellent compositions."

- Jason Alexander Basson, GQ SA

Foot-stomping...elegiac...atmospheric...Personal material of emotional heft... John Ellis has turned in a record of such simplicity and elegance it feels like he’s finally come home.

- Diane Coetzer, Rolling Stone

Ellis definitely has mastered the art of songwriting. Rural is an album that will renew your faith in music. John Ellis proves that without a doubt there is still music being made that is a feast for the brain as well as the ears. This is one album that no music lover should be without. It is about as close to perfect as any album can be.

- Andrea Guy, Mossip

Compelling arrangements, solid lyrics, and stirring artistry…. John Ellis has something to say and his art makes him worth listening to.

- Andrew Greenhalgh, Ariel Publicity

John creates a masterpiece of gentle, vibey songs, full of reflections on all aspects of his life, his country and the world in general. …some despairing, some hoping, lots of questioning, and a ton of excellent music.

- Dave Wood, Louder Than The Music

Rural is a testament to the melodic and songwriting ability of an artist who is finding his voice in a South African sphere… there’s a goldmine waiting to be unearthed from Ellis somewhere along his solo artist timeline. This album is another step in that direction.

- Ryan Calder, The Witness

Filled with protest, sincerity and brutal honesty…John has successfully grasped the singer/songwriter philosophy and made sure that Rural is an accurate representation of what’s on his mind and in his heart.


Superb, elegiac, brilliant… confirms the evolution of a long- evident talent.

- Bruce Dennill, The Citizen

John Ellis wears his heart on his sleeve on his beautiful acoustic and organic 'Rural' album. This album demonstrates how versatile a guitarist, songwriter and arranger John is. Rarely has someone also bravely stepped out in faith to tell it how it really is, holding back no punches. His stories are honest and close to home that you can't but help to taste the bitter dust on your tongue. With just John on vocals and acoustic instruments and Barry van Zyl on percussion, this is a heartfelt treasure.

- Nibs van der Spuy

Blew me away! John's song writing skills are profound.

- Wendy Oldfield

"Rural is a beautifully crafted album that showcases John's brilliant songwriting and guitar playing once again. It is sonically beautiful and Barry's groove is as ambient as ever. All in all, it's another testament to the brilliance of SA musicians"

- Ard Matthews

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