Playing under the influence of a blues-rock legend
Torch passed from Johnny Winter to Paul Nelson 

By BRANDON ANDEREGG - Special to TimeOut 

August 10, 2017


 Paul Nelson, who will play Saturday in Delafield, was mentored by Johnny Winter.

Submitted Photo

WAUKESHA - When Paul Nelson arrives Saturday at the Waukesha BluesFest in Delafield, he’ll bring the Paul Nelson Band.

He’ll also bring late rock and blues legend Johnny Winter’s influence, which is huge.

And with that imprint comes a large blues lexicon.

“Johnny was not only a blues icon monster, but he was also a blues historian,” Nelson said in an interview. “He knew everything there was about the blues.”

In the world of guitar players, Nelson said you can tell a musician’s influences based on the tone of his guitar. While most guitar players will sound like two or three guitarists, Nelson said the blues icon’s tone was a combination of 10 guitar players.

A multi-Grammy nominated artist and premier guitarist himself, Nelson was guitarist and producer to Winter for more than 10 years. He produced and played on several of Winter’s albums, including the Grammy-nominated “I’m a Blues Man, Roots” and “Step Back,” which won a Grammy Award for Best Blues Album.

Having begun his musical journey at the age of 9, Nelson would make his way to Berklee College of Music where he was taught by heavy rock and metal virtuosi Steve Vai and Mike Stern.

Over his career, Nelson has worked with musicians from Eric Clapton to members of the Allman Brothers Band. While Nelson admires several musicians, his favorite guitarist is still Texas-born Winter.

From Winter, Nelson said he learned to respect traditional blues and that less is more. For Nelson, losing Winter was heavy because he was a father and a mentor.

“I remember getting my first tattoo and having Johnny looking it over for approval,” Nelson said.

Nelson began composing the band’s newest album “Bad Ass Generation” about six or seven months after Winter passed away in 2014 in ZŸrich, Switzerland.

“Stuff was just pouring out of me,” Nelson said. “But in the blues world you pass the torch, so I can’t stop playing.”

The name of the album foreshadows the kind of classic and Southern rock grittiness that you would expect from rockers born in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Tracks on the album feature emotional melodies and soulful guitar work defined by Nelson’s thick guitar tone and endless licks mastered over decades of playing.

The album’s title came about when another guitar player in the studio overheard a few tunes.

“As we’re in the studio and I’m playing back the tracks, and some guy walks in with a guitar and says, ‘Oh, that’s badass,’” Nelson said.

What Nelson found was that this experience reminded him that people continue to appreciate the sounds of the ‘70s. With that in mind, Nelson said that the album is a tip of the hat to ‘70s production while maintaining a contemporary sound.