Ellyn Webb, longtime owner of Northside Tavern and a woman known in the Atlanta blues scene as a matriarch, died Thursday morning after a yearlong battle with cancer.
Born in 1954, the Atlanta native graduated from Grady High School and earned her college degree from Georgia State University. She worked in the accounting field for a number of years, but Northside Tavern is what encompassed much of Webb’s life.
The Webb family has owned the bar, located on the corner of Howell Mill Road and Brady Avenue, for 45 years. Ellyn Webb’s father, Butler Webb, helped a friend finance it in the 1960s and purchased it outright in 1972.
When her father passed away in 1993, Ellyn Webb officially took over operations. In a 2016 interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, she recalled telling her brother and since business partner, Tommy Webb, "I'm either going to turn it into a strip joint or a blues bar. I gave blues music a shot first."
And the Atlanta blues scene is grateful that she did.
“She was instrumental in implementing live entertainment, which is the evolution of it becoming the renowned blues club that it is today,” said Tommy Webb.
Read and sign the online guestbook for Ellyn Webb
The tavern has played host to prominent blues acts and launched the careers of bands like the Wood Brothers, the Breeze Kings and local favorite Daniel “Mudcat” Dudeck, who now books most of the bar’s lineup.
“Thousands of music shows, celebrity customers, career starts and a family of musicians that play the place are the result of her kind, loving open doors to those who wanted to play,” said local musician Dan Francis, known as “Dan Dan the Healin’ Man.”
“It’s not just anybody who would have struggled to keep that place going,” said Oliver Wood. Now known nationally as half of the roots music duo the Wood Brothers, Wood played frequently at the dive bar from the mid-’90s to the mid-2000s with his former band, King Johnson.
“Any kind of nightclub, bar or restaurant is a tough business. It takes a lot of work. I think that it was her love and passion for the scene. Great music rarely comes from an individual. It comes from a scene, a musical community that builds up and unifies itself. That is what Ellyn built at Northside Tavern. What she gave us was a place to have our musical community,” Wood said.
Webb’s generosity extended beyond the stage and the bar. “She was a motherly figure,” said Tommy Webb. “Sometimes band members would even stay at her house. She would coach them, give them guidance, console them. Rock ‘n’ roll stars are emotional roller coasters. She was always their friend.”
Survivors include her son, David Webb; brother, Tommy Webb; and two sisters.
Visitation will take place from 5-7:30 p.m. Monday at H.M. Patterson & Son-Spring Hill Chapel, 1020 Spring St. NW, Atlanta. Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday at H.M. Patterson & Son-Spring Hill Chapel, with burial services immediately to follow at Crest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery.
Ellen Eldridge and Beth McKibben contributed to this article.
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Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC