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‘Anything can be turned into a song’

Created: Thursday, January 17, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

MOUNT MORRIS – College is where musician Jeff Elbel finally found himself.

Elbel, 46, graduated from Mount Morris High School in 1985, and from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1990.

He remembers his first year when he was moving into the residence hall.

“I heard somebody on the floor above me playing guitar out of his window,” Elbel said. “I went up and met him, he was playing a song by The Who. That’s how we started our first band together when we were freshmen.”

That first band, called Greenhouse Effect, played in Champaign in the late 1980s. Now, Elbel is the front man of Jeff Elbel + Ping, a band that plays nationwide, not only in Illinois but also in Michigan, California, Wisconsin and Washington.

Elbel, now a NASA consultant living in Wheaton, explained how he came to name the band Ping.

“It’s a computer geek term. It’s when one machine sends out a signal to another machine trying to establish a connection.

“We’re very much about trying to create something with the people that are there. We’re very involved in people and people are part of what’s happening. We try to be a fun band.”

Depending on the gig, Elbel can perform as a soloist or with any combination of the band’s 11 members, who hail from Illinois, Texas, Missouri, California and New York, and include his sister, Ginger Gonzalez of Dallas. The instruments include organ, electric piano, bass, flute, drums, rhythm guitar and violin.

During a performance in Dixon at the end of last year, Ping was a trio.

“Ping started as something I could do on a different scale,” he said. “It is deliberately designed to be more portable. Ping material is written so we could throw the band together and play it wherever we were going to play.

“Calling it Jeff Elbel + Ping allows me to go out as a soloist as well.”

Elbel writes the band’s music – “heartland rock ’n’ roll with a good groove and a rhythm and blues influence,” he describes it.

Ping recently released “Gallery,” its first full-length studio recording since its 2005 album “The Eleventh Hour Storybook.”

His upbeat music has a strong storytelling focus, and he is always writing new material. He finds inspiration for his lyrics in “everything around me.”

One song, “Time Enough at Last,” was inspired by a favorite “Twilight Zone” episode.

It “tells the story of a man who got all he ever wanted and lived to regret it,” Elbel said.

“Anything can be turned into a song,” he said. “Find something that’s not only true to you but to somebody else, too.”

Elbel + Ping play wherever they can, Elbel said.

In addition to singing and songwriting, Elbel has a mixing and mastering studio in Wheaton called The Happy Club.

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