Spotlight: Elliot Ives, Rhodes College Graduate and Justin Timberlake’s Guitarist

Elliott Ives grew up in East Memphis and went to Memphis University School before attending Rhodes College. After graduating in 2000 with a degree in music, he worked as a recording engineer at his father’s studio Young Ave Sound and played guitar in local bands such as Lord T & Eloise, Cooper-Young Cyndicate (CYC), and Free Sol.

    In 2006, Free Sol played a few showcases for Justin Timberlake’s production company, Tennman, which was looking for unsigned talent. Though Timberlake expressed his excitement for them, the band heard nothing back and continued negotiations with Universal Records. On their way to Atlanta to sign their contract, Free Sol got a call from Tennman. Ives and his band turned back around to head to Memphis, excited at the prospect of getting to work with Timberlake.

    With Tennman, Free Sol went into an intense four-year period of songwriting, recording, and production. However, these four years also saw a changing music industry, one that the band found difficulty to keep up with while holed up in a recording studio. An album that they had spent so long working on never came out, as Free Sol was dropped by their label in 2012.

    Ives watched his band fall apart in front of him. He was considering giving up his music career for good when he got a call to go to LA for studio work. When he got there, Justin Timberlake told him he wanted Ives to record on his title comeback album, 20/20 Experience. Ives went from being ready to give up on music for good to playing gigs like “Saturday Night Live” and SXSW festival.

Since both Ives and Timberlake have a rich history with the city of Memphis, it has remained intrinsic to both of their music careers. In 2015, Timberlake and Ives took to the stage at the CMA’s in Nashville with Chris Stapleton. Proudly displayed during the performance was the Custom T the Memphis Guitar Spa (on Broad Avenue in Midtown Memphis) made for Ives. By choosing to have a local business produce his guitar, Ives demonstrated a commitment to the city which undoubtedly formed him as a musician. Ives’s choice to have the Memphis Guitar Spa craft his instrument allowed a small business to gain wide recognition.

Timberlake and Ives continue to work together. Timberlake released his fifth studio album earlier this month, and Ives was one of its co-producers.

Text by Harlan Hutton and Savannah Seagal