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INTERVIEW: PAUL NELSON of Paul Nelson Band – March 2016

| 18 March 2016 | Reply

When a guy like Johnny Winter puts together a band to record an album or tour to support the album or his catalog, you may not know they men on the disc or stage with him, but they are all quality players with talents that would help them excel on their own.  The same is certainly true of long-time Winter guitar-player, friend, and producer Paul Nelson.  Paul and his band have released a great new take on blues rock and the disc titled Badass Generation is a great collection of tracks that should please blues fans, rockers, and everyone in between.  We recently spoke with Paul about the disc, a new documentary about Johnny Winter, and touring.


Toddstar: Paul, thank you so much for taking time out for us, we really appreciate it.

Paul: No problem. You like the CD?

Toddstar: Loved the CD man. It was a great CD. I’m not normally a blues guy, but it was really fun listening to it.

Paul: It’s different. I went in a different direction than I think everybody expected me to go in after playing with Johnny [Winter] for so long. I just wanted to write songs. I like guitar, but I didn’t feel that people need to get a guitar lessons every day when they listen to something, you know?

Toddstar: Sure. You hit on some of the things that I liked about the disc. This wasn’t a Blues album or a guitar album so to speak. You kind of really took blues, rock, and guitar and swirled it all together. You put a good vocalist in there and a great rhythm spectrum behind you. You really put something together here that deviated from the normal blues path. Was that something you went into it with the idea, “I know I’m known for blues but let’s do something different that might wow people?”

Paul: Part of it was what just came out of me musically, because of all the different styles that I’ve listened to and played, and not just with Johnny. Johnny used to say, “Paul I know you can play a lot of things that I can’t even play, but I’m glad that you play the blues with me.” He knew that I had experience in a lot of different settings. When I started writing this it just poured out of me. The theme was, or the premise was, to bring in shades of 70’s production. Not retro-ize it to the point where it was like that, but to use that as a reference point. Bands like Queen, Boston, Bad Company, Free, everything that was done in the 70’s I listened to as a reference source just for production value, and the guitar sounds, and that kind of thing. I knew I needed a great singer, so I was hoping that the singer that I had produced several years ago was available. He was and that was Morton Fredheim from Norway. I produced one of his albums and I was like, “God. This singer is so good I would love to use him one day.” I got him and he had just finished with The Voice in Europe; he was number 2. He’s a huge Bad Company fan. Same with the different jam bands, Southern rock like Skynyrd and ZZ Top, even early Aerosmith. Everybody professes to enjoy that music and musicians say they love it, but nobody’s playing it. It’s all rapid guitar riffs with a guitar player that just started singing 2 years ago. It’s not enough. You see guys like Warren Haynes come out and his set will have a tribute to AC/DC, then he will play some Freddie King stuff, then he’ll play Jeff Beck stuff, and then 10 minutes later he’s playing jam stuff and Allman Brothers. I think it’s a good time to do what I’m doing because the audience is more open to diversity on an album now, which lets the musician do more while recording and you’re not pigeon hold to just the blues thing. What you said originally, did you intentionally mix this and that and you like the way that it turned out? Yes. It was purposeful but it was also what was coming out of us, so we captured it and we weren’t afraid to continue in that direction, even though it’s a risk. We took that risk because we enjoyed it and everybody said it was bad ass. I’m like, “Wow.” What that was is some kind of bad ass generation. Everybody’s like, “Whoa. That’s bad ass. That’s like a classic album that I forgot to purchase.” That’s how that came about.

Toddstar: Very cool. I love the insight. Just building more on the whole swirl everything in one big pot, For me you have a great song like “Please Come Home” where if you really listen there’s even what I think is a very cool jazz groove underneath it.  This is something that was totally unexpected when I was listening to it, that just grabbed me and made me pay attention to this bad ass mix tape.


Paul: Yeah, exactly. There’s something about that song in particular. With the rest of the band passed out after a long day of recording, Morton and I did the mad scientist thing and we stayed up all night, until like 4:00 in the morning. This song started developing with that melody and the slide guitar and then I started hearing percussion so I brought in a percussion guy at 2:00 in the morning. I wrote the lyrics and the music, co-wrote it with Morton. We finished recording it that night and then in the morning we woke up and both Chris’, the bass player and the drummer, we looked at them and we said, “Look. We have to apologize.” They said, “For what?” “Well, we wrote something last night and it’s different. Even though we don’t know if we’re going to put it on the record because it’s so different, but there’s something about it.” That song, the engineer, everyone that was involved was like, “This song. There’s something about this song.” We decided to keep it on there, I guess it’s our most emotional song that we did on there. There’s something about it. We even did a lyric video for that one, an illustrated caricature kind of, Tom Petty flying guitar kind of thing for that one. Yeah. There’s something about that one. It’s so different. We built the tracklist in a certain order so that the album leads up to that one, and then it slows down, and then it builds back up. The album as a whole is set up like a classic rock record. It’s not like The Wall where each thing and that kind of thing, but it’s set up to hook you in through the whole. It’s not the type of album that you should download each song individually, you can if you want, but you should really listen to everything in succession because even the crickets in “Swamp Thing” blend in. Everything was thought about from key changes, to the moods, to the instrumentation that was used, to the flow of faster songs and slower songs. That one came out of left field.

Toddstar: It’s one of my favorites, and another one is actually the disc closer “Take It Back.” That goes to what you were just saying about how the track listening does the ebb and flow to hook you and keep you interested because this one just came straight at me, which to close a disc would normally get something that winds down. This is you guys saying, “Even when it’s over it’s not over.”

Paul: No. I said, “All right. Let’s let them think it’s over and then let’s kick them in the nuts.” That was purposely put there. The only thing I couldn’t add, I had the hardest trouble deciding the opening song. I didn’t know if I wanted to hit them hard. I really had a problem whether to start the album with “Cold Hearted Mamma” or “Down Home Boogie.” I think “Down Home Boogie” had a good bluesy, swampy sound. It showcased all the guitar playing, all the singing, and all the harmonies. It’s kind of like, “All right. This is what you’re going to get. You’re going to get some good infections swampy grooves, you’re going to slide guitar and this and that, and just when you think you’re going to get all that we’re going to switch gears and do stuff in the middle.” Especially because the ending on that song “Take It Back.” There’s nowhere to put that song where it doesn’t say, “We’re done.” It’s such a big build up at the end with all the solos and Chris’ crazy drumming. Yeah. It’s just, “Okay. We just explode.” Then that little guitar part I put at the end it reminded me of the movie Tron (mimics a guitar sound).

Toddstar: Great closing number for sure. That came out back in February so it’s out there and everybody needs to jump up on your website and purchase the thing, or I Tunes, or wherever. Don’t illegally download this thing, spend the money, go out and buy this thing. You want those liner notes and everything.

Paul: Well, that’s the thing. See, we put the lyrics in there as well because these are songs. These are things not to be taken lightly. It’s a beautiful digipak and Sony is the distribution over here in the US, and I signed a separate deal for Japan. We had been to Japan a lot so Sony Music in Japan is actually releasing it this week. It hasn’t even come out over there. Their pushing it too. Yeah, you want the whole experience as much as you can get from the CD itself.

Toddstar: I agree. Well, there’s not only that but you’ve got a great documentary out about Johnny Winter out there called Down & Dirty. What can you tell us about that project Paul?

Johnny Winter final DVD cover 12-10-2015

Paul: As many know I was close, I was Johnny’s guitar player, but I was close enough that we became dear friends. He asked me to help him with his career. Part of that was getting him clean and sober and all that. During that I realized that Johnny, through research, was being written out of musical history because of the condition he was in in the decade of the 90’s, which the movie refers to. He said, “It was a bad decade for me.” When everyone was asking him to appear in documentaries and talk about Muddy Waters, appear in this and talk about Woodstock, he wasn’t able to do it. Guys like Clapton and BB King were riding the retro gravy train but Johnny was out of the picture. We started playing an amazing game of catch up once he started getting healthier, and I talked to the record label Mega force and I said, “Look. It’s time to do a documentary on Johnny, especially with this comeback he’s having.” He was having an amazing comeback. We were on Letterman, we went to Japan, we were on Kimmel, the awards were coming in for Johnny, and then the Grammy was something else. A Director, Gregg Oliver, just happened to be interested in doing one on Johnny and then contacted the label as well. We met and he sent me the project he had just done which was Lenny. I saw and I go, “I know Motorhead. Wow, how’s this going to work out? A guy that does a metal documentary doing a hardcore blues guy.” Then I saw Lenny and I said, “Wait a minute. If Johnny was in that kind of setting, with that kind of look, with that kind of up close interviewing, and the editing, and the style of that. I’m like, “This would be perfect for Johnny.” I contacted Gregg and I said, “Look. You have to come on the road with us.” He came out with us for 2 or 3 years and went everywhere with us. He got everything from Japan, to China, to Europe, to the Blues Awards, to the taping of Letterman, our homes in the East Coast and down to Texas. What he captured was Blues history, Rock history, Johnny’s history, iconic figures, drug abuse, and getting clean and sober. It makes Ozzy look like he has training wheels, that’s how bad Johnny was. He really captures something. It’s not just for Johnny fans, it’s for music people. It’s really in depth about elderly icons and what they go through. We were lucky enough to catch Johnny, his comeback, that’s what this is. I highly recommended it to everyone.

Toddstar: I can’t wait to view it myself. You mention his comeback. That comeback to me really culminated with Johnny’s last studio album Step Back. Not only was this just… this was one of the best fucking albums of the year of 2014. Unfortunately I didn’t hear it until later, but this thing was all over the board as far as just classic, mixed with new, mixed with just everything that encapsulated what Johnny stood for. You as a producer drew a lot of that out. What was it like for you to watch Johnny play these songs that he not only played to perfection but he played with some of the people that looked up to him all his career? You had guys like Billy Gibbons, Bonamassa was on there, Leslie was on there, Joe Perry was on there. What was that like for you as the producer and friend of Johnny to stand back and enjoy that ride?

Paul: It was like a holiday present every day when I went into the studio and people either sent in their solos or showed up in the studio. It was an honor because here you had Johnny, who had produced and gotten Grammy’s himself for doing all the Muddy [Waters] stuff, but at the same time he bestowed unto me this trust and this producing job. I think maybe he was doing that so he might have the freedom to just play and sing. He picked all the songs and once he did that I picked the artists that would go best with that track. Then I rehearsed the musicians to make sure that the grooves that we played fit the artists that I had in mind to do each track that he had chosen. Obviously, there was a little bit of a ZZ Top kind of feel for the Billy Gibbons track, it was a more traditional Bluesy one for Clapton, maybe a New Orleans sound for Doctor John, and Ben Harper had a more modern day fell. Knowing which artist I wanted, that helped. The premise was there were songs that Johnny grew up on, one by each artist that influenced him. Both albums, Roots and Step Back. Roots had Sonny on it, and Warren, Jimmy Vivino, Edgar, Susan Tedeshi doing a duet. On Step Back, Johnny was even healthier and was able to play faster more up tempo rock so that’s why he had guys like Leslie West on that and whatnot. Then it was an honor, I’m playing on those tracks with those guys. It’s Johnny and I and Clapton, Johnny and I just jamming ourselves on “Killing Floor.” It was Johnny at the height of his… he was where he should have been the whole time for an icon at that age. I captured him on recording and he leaned over to me in the studio and he said, I played it in one of the mixes, he said, “Paul if you and I don’t get a Grammy for this they’re nuts.” I said, “That’s not why we’re doing it. We’re trying to make the best album we can. You know, we’ll see what happens.” Low and behold we both got it.


Toddstar: Well-deserved for sure. You mentioned one of my favorites. The disc has “Killing Floor,” which you are featured on, is one of my favorites on the disc.

Paul: Oh, thanks. That was an honor just to play. This whole thing, just to play with Johnny period was enough for me. Everything else Johnny invited me to do. I never imposed myself. He asked me to produce, he asked me to come on the road and all these things. I did see that there were health problems, there were old management problems, and I stepped in to help as much as possible because then it was a friend and a human being that was being taken advantage of or ready to pass away then. Yeah, to play with those artists was great.

Toddstar: I can only imagine.

Paul: My resume went through the roof.

Toddstar: Again, you’ve got “Badass Generation.” I call it the mix tape because of the cover. I’m in Detroit and want to know when can we expect to see Paul Nelson grace the stage and bring us this music live?

Paul: I actually just booked something an hour ago in August. The 2nd through the 7th in Michigan; I don’t have the name of the venue here, but yes. There’s something coming up.

Toddstar: Very cool. Is this something you plan on taking out, and touring, and road testing, and bringing to blues fans across the country?

Paul: Absolutely, yup. It could start off in Japan. They’re launching the record, like I said, this week so if it takes off over there we’re heading straight over there first. Right now we’re doing the Johnny Winter All Star stuff, and that’s selling out everywhere. We show the movie and it was quite an experience. We’re playing all of Johnny’s cool tunes that we played with him. We’re heading up to Canada tomorrow.

Toddstar: Where can the fans get the information to make sure that they hit the shows and buy tickets for that?

Paul: Johnny Winter website, Facebook, all the social media. Paul Nelson Facebook, Paul Nelson site, just Google my name or Johnny’s.

Toddstar: Okay. Taking the same guys out on the road that played on the album?

Paul: Yup. The guys that were on Step Back. Then as a front man we rotate between different front man. I just got back from Jamaica where I did this with Warren Haynes and Sonny Landreth. Then Edgar sat in, Earl Slick, Joe Louis Walker, Samantha Fish, Debbie Davies, Jason Richie, Poppa Chubby, everybody. This was an ongoing thing for a year and a half now. It’s almost like a Johnny Winter experience, like the experience Hendrix or even the BB King All Star thing. Everybody’s doing that now because we’ve lost so many artists. This last year was like, “What the?” There are a lot of these coming and these are the guys that actually played with the artists that recorded. Yeah, these guys are the guys that go out with now are the original guys from Step Back.


Toddstar: Cool. How about when you go out and do your solo stuff? Are you going to take Chris, Chris, and Morton out with you?

Paul:      Oh, absolutely. Chris Alexander is out with Samantha Fish now, but he’ll come back. Chris Reddan is over in Europe, he’s in Denmark right now. Then Morton, he’ll come over. We’re starting to book it right now.

Toddstar: Very cool. I can’t wait for the date in the beginning of August. One final question for you Paul. I know you’re busy trying to get things done and get shows booked. With everything said and done, with everything you’ve done in the music world, and this isn’t your first rodeo, what are the couple things that looking back if it were to end right now you could say you were the most proud of?

Paul: Oh, obviously the Grammy. That’s one of them.

Toddstar: That doesn’t suck.

Paul: Our performance on David Letterman, that was at the height of Johnny’s comeback and the height of the band. In order to do a TV show you have to be on.  It doesn’t lie. Taping of those shows, they record it a few hours earlier and they don’t really edit. What you see is what you get. That was a proud moment. You had Letterman and the Grammy was really big.

Toddstar: Awesome. Well, again, Paul I really appreciate you taking time out. We can’t wait for more people to get their hands on Badass Generation and experience what good Blues Rock mix is all about and get out there and see your show.

Paul: I’m not professing that I’m the torch barrier of this, but my idea is if we keep up with guitar player singers, we’re weeding out front men. That’s one thing there’s a serious lack of right now.  Who’s the next Zeppelin? Who’s the next AC/DC? Who’s the next Boston, Queen, that kind of thing? You have these singers hiding behind guitars. Hopefully this will spark a little something because I think it’s a good time that this comes out. Right now, it’s really doing well. It’s the number one hot new release on Amazon since it came out. I’m really proud of that. That means people are secretly discovering this recording.

Toddstar: It’s good for the music world. Listen man you go out, book some more shows, enjoy the summer, and I can’t wait to shake your hand and thank you in person in August for putting up such a great album.

Paul: Thanks buddy.

Toddstar: All right, brother. We’ll talk to you soon.

Paul: All right. Bye.






Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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