INTERVIEW: Guitarist, Producer, Songwriter Paul Nelson
Paul Nelson is an experienced and prolific studio and touring musician. He has performed and recorded alongside a variety of today’s top artists including Slash, Joe Walsh, Derek Trucks, Sonny Landreth, Edgar Winter, Rick Derringer, Robben Ford, Dicky Betts, Joe Bonamassa and many others. Nelson, a GRAMMY Award-winning guitarist/producer, is most famously known for being the bandmate, band leader, producer and closest friend to the late blues-rock legend Johnny Winter, who served as Paul’s creative mentor.
Paul won the 2015 Best Blues Album Grammy for producing Johnny Winter’s highly acclaimed album, Step Back. Nelson also played guitar on the album along with special guests Eric Clapton, Billy Gibbons, Brian Setzer and Joe Perry, amongst other noteworthy names.
Earlier this year, Nelson emerged with his new band, The Paul Nelson Band and a new self-titled album, The Paul Nelson Band: Badass Generation, released on Sony Music. Currently on tour promoting the new album, Nelson recently spoke to SoCalMusicToday.com about the project, the lyrical and musical inspiration for the LP’s style and sound, how he handpicked the band and collaborates with them, performing on the road as a unit and the fans response in embracing the band as well as the album’s with wholehearted support and enthusiasm.
How is the Paul Nelson Band different from your other musical projects creatively?
This time out I have a band featuring a lead singer, which was unlike my previous recordings which are instrumental. The vocalist I found is Morton Fredheim who was ranked number 2 on The Voice TV show in Europe.
What is the goal of the new project?
To create the best music possible and to stay as true as possible to my rock and blues roots. Also to write memorable songs for my fans. And I won’t complain if we sell a lot of records – ha ha!
How liberating has it been leading this band?
Very liberating. It’s great to have my own project. As you know I performed with Johnny Winter for many years. He was very supportive of me during our time together. He always encouraged me to take charge of my own career. He was a friend and mentor to me.
Did you feel any pressure trying something new and how it will be received?
No, no pressure. I never felt pressure regarding anything I do musically. I’ve trained for this my entire life so it’s another chapter in my career, albeit a very exciting one.
What do you feel the band members you handpicked for this project bring that is unique or special to the music?
We all share love for blues, southern rock, classic rock, jam band rock and a love for 70s style music and production.
What was the inspiration musically and lyrically for the songs on Bad Ass Generation?
It was a work in progress…most of the time the music was written first and that formed lyrical ideas depending upon the style of the songs that were written. Songs range from personal experiences to relationships, live experiences, touring and recording experiences and the like. I find myself writing lyrics about things I experience on a day to day basis.
Do the other band members have creative input into the project as well?
Yes, absolutely. It’s great to work with such talented players because as one is creating the music, I just knew it was going to end up great. With a vocalist like Morton and a drummer like Chris Reddan, and bassist Christopher Alexander, I know I couldn’t go wrong collaborating with these guys. I’d handpicked them after watching them perform on the road for quite a few years. Things really clicked and the result is the best album I’ve ever personally done.
How has the tour been going and the reception around Bad Ass Generation?
Touring is going great. The response to the band and the album has been beyond my expectations. The reviews have been great. I’m really pleased and excited about how everything is going right now and I aim to keep it going.
Has anything surprised you regarding the feedback from your fans?
Yes, at shows they sing along with the songs and they’re not even really familiar with the songs as they are relatively new. Fans all over the country have sent us emails and spoken to us in person all saying how much they enjoy what we’re doing – it’s very gratifying.
What has it been like getting out on the road and performing all the new material? Can you describe that experience?
It’s been great, fantastic. We all love touring and the response from the fans in every city has been overwhelming. I really appreciate it.
How has the music that influenced, inspired and touched you throughout your career continued to influence the direction you take now?
Being a session guitarist in my career, I’ve had to learn and play on many various styles of music. All of the previous projects and artists with whom I’ve worked have influenced me…both consciously and subconsciously. The trick is to keep it interesting to the listener. Otherwise, my influences also come from some of the most classic rock bands of all time…Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, early Aerosmith, Queen, Allman Brothers….all of the musicians in this band share my love of these bands and this music, which has really helped the creative process.
Do you always feel the presence of Johnny Winter around as you perform on stage and play guitar?
Every show, all of the time. I will forever be known for one of the few guitar players that Johnny allowed to play with him. He will always be a true friend, my mentor and a person and musician I respect and admire. I really miss him and love him.
What do you think would Johnny Winter would have thought of Bad Ass Generation?
He knew I was creating this album before he passed. He was a big fan of my playing. He’d always be kind enough to compliment me on my playing and producing work. I learned a lot from him on what it’s like to be a professional musician.
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