Jim Ellison

Biography by

The Chicago-based power pop trio Material Issue showed great promise during the early '90s. But when the group hit upon hard times several years later (after being dropped by their record label), the…
Read Full Biography

Artist Biography by

The Chicago-based power pop trio Material Issue showed great promise during the early '90s. But when the group hit upon hard times several years later (after being dropped by their record label), the disappointment didn't sit well with singer/guitarist Jim Ellison, who committed suicide in 1996. Born James Walter Ellison on April 18, 1964, in Chicago, Illinois, Ellison developed an admiration for such rock acts as David Bowie, the Who, and Sweet as a teenager, which led to him picking up the guitar soon after. While attending Chicago's Columbia Art College during the mid-'80s, he sought to form a group that would merge the pop hooks of the Beatles, Cheap Trick, and Big Star with a modern rock edge. He soon got his wish, as he hooked up with fellow students Ted Ansani (bass, vocals) and Mike Zelenko (drums), forming Material Issue in 1986. With the group causing a local buzz from the get-go, Ellison also formed his own independent record label around this time, Big Block Records, which he ran out of his bedroom in Addison, Illinois.

A self-titled EP was issued via Ellison's label in 1987, which only heightened the buzz further. By the dawn of the '90s, Chicago possessed one of the country's most fertile music scenes (perhaps second only to Seattle), as such alt rock artists as Urge Overkill, Liz Phair, and Smashing Pumpkins signed recording contracts with indie labels. But Material Issue proved to be an exception, as they opted to go straight to a major label, signing on with Polygram in 1990. Ellison and co.'s 1991 debut, International Pop Overthrow, sold well and led many to believe that breakthrough success would soon be bestowed upon the trio. But the group appeared to get lost in the shuffle when Nirvana and their Seattle cohorts began hogging the spotlight soon after. Such additional releases as 1992's Destination Universe, plus 1994's Freak City Soundtrack and Goin' Through Your Purse: Live in Chicago failed to introduce the group to a wider audience, and Material Issue was dropped by Polygram soon after.

Ellison kept himself busy in the interim by working and playing with others, as he organized a supergroup of sorts, the Wild Bunch, which included such members as Pat Dinizio (the Smithereens), Gilby Clarke (Guns N' Roses), Nash Kato (Urge Overkill), Chip Z'Nuff (Enuff Z'nuff), and Clem Burke (Blondie), among others. But besides a one-off show at Chicago's Metro during the summer of 1995, the troupe never recorded together. Around the same time, Ellison went into the studio with Liz Phair, helping out with production duties for the track "Rocket Boy," which would eventually turn up on the motion picture soundtrack for Stealing Beauty. With Material Issue having nearly completed their third studio album overall, things appeared to be looking up for Ellison and the group. But this proved not to be the case, when Ellison's body was found in his garage on June 20, 1996, having died from carbon monoxide poisoning (a suicide note was found at the scene by police, as well). Understandably, Material Issue split up for good soon after, as their nearly completed album was issued posthumously a year later via Rykodisc, Telecommando Americano.