Keith Soko played a lunchtime set at the River Music Experience in Davenport on Friday afternoon, and paid tribute to Ellis Kell, who passed away just hours before from cancer.
"I was setting up and someone said it was good the music's going on, because Ellis would have wanted that," Soko said.
Kell had inspired Soko to get back on a stage after many years, through open mic nights at the RME.
"Some of us older people in music, we kinda got back into music because of him. I'd say if it wasn't for Ellis and this place a lot of musicians might not be playing," Soko said.
Kell, 61, died Friday morning.
He had just been at the RME one day before, where he served as director of programming and outreach.
"We thought he was on the up. But...," Alex Burkamper, Marketing Director for the RME said. "I just saw him yesterday."
Kell was a friend to all, a mainstay and mentor on the Quad City music scene for more than three decades. He was a blues man who loved the Beatles, a husband and father and grandfather who loved his family. And he loved his music.
"That passion for melody and lyric and rhythm, he had all of that," said local musician Bill Douglas. Douglas has known Kell since he was a kid. Kell and Douglas's older brother Jim were both members of the band Diamondback.
"He was an inspiration to me and so many others. He was out there cutting his own music early on. He was proof, we could do this. We could do this locally. What a legacy," Douglas said, noting Kell had played with the greats like B.B. King.
You could count on Kell to be first to be" all in" to play for a charity event, and encouraged kids in his outreach programs to find the music within.
"He was always gracious, and humble. He really loved this community and he really gave a lot to it. Pretty incredible. He left some awfully big shoes to fill," Douglas said.
He and his guitar partner, Kerry Tucker, are performing tonight at the Grape Life, and now plan to add some tribute songs to Kell during their performance tonight.
Soko wrapped up his set at the RME, and remembered a performance by Kell that blew him away. One of many.
"Him and the crew, he did a couple of Elvis songs. It was amazing. He was a great guy and we're all going to miss him. Everybody," he said.
Funeral services are pending.