Paul Nelson has been in the music business for many years as a guitarist and as a producer. About ten years ago he hooked up with Johnny Winter and quickly became a part of his band. That relationship eventually turned into a Grammy Award for their work on Johnny’s album Step Back in 2015. Paul also appears on the recently released documentary Johnny Winter: Down and Dirty.
Paul released his own solo record a few months ago called Badass Generation. It is a great rock and roll record filled with tasty licks and great hooks. His style is very similar to Kenny Wayne Shepherd and I highly recommend giving it a listen.
Paul recently called NEO Music Scene to talk about his career and of course, Badass Generation.
Paul Nelson: Hey Greg, What’s going on? I really appreciate you doing this.
Greg Drugan: Hey Paul, no problem! I recently heard your new album and I think it’s fantastic. I have a few questions for you if you have a few minutes.
PN: Sure, I’m ready!
GD: At what age did you start playing the guitar?
PN: I think I started around 9 or 10. I had some private lessons, and joined some bands, then I joined some more bands and I ended up at Berklee College of Music.
GD: Do you play any other instruments?
PN: Bass and I dabble in drums a little bit. A little piano but I mostly play the guitar.
GD: Who were some of your influences growing up?
PN: I love Billy Gibbons; I love Led Zeppelin and Page. But then I like fusion guys like Jeff Beck. Then guys like Hendrix and Johnny Winter of course. Then Johnny turned me on to older blues guys and Delta stuff. I really like everything because as a musician you have to be well rounded.
GD: What attracted you to the blues?
PN: Everybody starts off with the blues. I don’t want to say that it’s easy, but it’s the easiest way to start making music immediately; whether you are playing guitar or bass. But to perfect it, to really play the blues and play it the real way, it’s very difficult to perfect it. That’s how everybody starts. It’s the easiest scales and the simplest progressions to grasp before things get too complicated. But when you listen to the masters and the way that they are able to improvise; that’s just amazing. So that’s what drew me in.
GD: How did you end up meeting Johnny Winter?
PN: I met him at a studio on the east coast. I was doing some session work for the wrestling federation and he heard me playing. I was playing some blues stuff for one of their shows and he was in there recording for I’m a Bluesman record and he asked me if I would write a song for what he was working on. He liked it and then he asked me if I had two more, so I wrote two more. Then he said there are some other guitar parts on that and he asked if I wanted to play on the record. So I said “Yeah, great!” He said “Well, do you want to play on the whole record?” I said “Ok.” He said “Since you played on the album, do you want to go out on tour?” I said “Ok, where are we going?” He said that we were going to England. I said “When do we leave?” He said “Two days.” So that’s how our relationship started, he was just throwing things at me and we developed a close friendship and a close musical partnership.
GD: So how long did you work with Johnny?
PN: 10 years, maybe a little longer.
GD: That’s great. I’ve listened to your new record Badass Generation, who played on that with you?
PN: I have some great players. I even have a guest appearance from Danny Lewis, the keyboard player from Gov’t Mule. We just locked ourselves in the studio and I just started writing. We created some great stuff; very ‘70s based. We are big fans of Boston and Zeppelin and Tom Petty and Queen. We appreciated the production value of that stuff, but we wanted to keep it in our generation. So that’s why we called it Badass Generation because everybody uses that term now. We wanted a thing that reminded people of the ‘70s (for the album cover), so I thought the cassette was the most universally recognized symbol of that era.
GD: I really like “Down Home Boogie” and “Swamp Thing.” What is your favorite track on the album?
PN: Everyone has their favorite. Favorites of mine are “Down Home Boogie.” “Please Come Home” came out of nowhere. I like “Goodbye Forever.” But they all make sense together. Someone was listening to the CD and said “Down Home Boogie” is my favorite. Then they listened to the next song and that one was their favorite. Everybody has their favorite but they also like all of the songs. I didn’t want to put any filler in there. I wanted every song to be just as important.
GD: Yes, going back to albums; when we were younger we actually put on an album and listened to the whole thing all the way through. You couldn’t skip ahead. I think this generation has kind of missed that; hearing the deep album cuts instead of just the songs that were released.
PN: Exactly! That’s what I wanted to create. I think the highest compliment we received was when someone said that this was like the classic album that they forgot to purchase. You can put this next to your Skynyrd album and it fits right in. That’s what I was trying to do.
GD: I think you nailed it.
GD: Do you have any plans to tour this summer?
PN: We are working on stuff for the Midwest in August. Then we are doing the Johnny Winter All-Star thing. We are doing something called “The Real Sidemen.” We have guys in Dickey Betts’ band, and guys who play in Steely Dan and we play Allman Brothers stuff and Johnny Winter stuff, things like that.
GD: Hopefully when you hit the Midwest you play the Cleveland area. I definitely want to check you guys out.
PN: Absolutely! We played there with Johnny all the time!
GD: Great! Well, thank you for spending some time with me today and I hope to see you this summer.
PN: Thank you!
Paul Nelson’s latest release is called Badass Generation and can be purchased from amazon.com and from his website http://paulnelsonguitar.com.