Heading For Victory
The Paul Nelson Band has a brand new album Badass Generation out on Sony, so Pete gave it a listen and spoke to the man himself in the States about the record, playing, (Grammy-winning) producing and getting the best from star guests…
JLTT: Well I’m managing to catch up with a lot of people lately who know you – Sonny Landreth playing here in London and Edgar Winter….
PN: Oh! Great artists and friends!
- Now I know you as a great guitarist and bandleader, but you also produce
Yeah nowadays you have to do everything, cover all the bases to keep in motion, you know how it is…to stay in work. I was Johnny Winter’s guitar player and he gave me the really great honour of letting me produce his record. All that developed out of a friendship and close musical partnership over many years
- Let’s talk about Johnny’s album Step Back,,the people on this, it’s an incredible list of stars, like that Gregg Allman & Friends thing. Edgar signed my ‘bible’ which is Second Winter by him and Johnny, an album with so much fire and adventure. When I heard their Highway 61 Revisited, the Dylan song I was floored! What you have on Step Back, his voice is obviously deeper
Yep, he was now and deservedly an icon. He was an older and more experienced guy. He had gone through a lot with his addictions and hard times but was having now one hell of a comeback. He had managed to get back to a good situation and had that more aged voice to work with. The commitment was back, the energy was back. So it was time to record him again and capture that era properly, for him and for the fans. And they included Joe Perry, Dr John, Eric Clapton, Ben Harper on Step Back. So we got it all recorded.
- He sounds on Killing Floor closer to James Cotton in vocal delivery
That was actually a song where Johnny and I thought we’d get harp on it, too. And all that energy, I really like Who Do You Love
Ah! Do you know the Juicy Lucy version? I’ll send it to you, no problem
- What’s your favourite track?
Where Can You Be, if you twist my arm, Paul. With Billy Gibbons. There’s something about that…
The more mainstream one, that track. The idea on this session was overall to get kinda close to the originals. Even Unchain My Heart. The Ray Charles song. Johnny turned me onto those originals many times, he took me under his wing, got me to listen close to the riffs and arrangements. I think that’s why he wanted me as producer, he had brought all these artists and recordings to me, to soak up. He did that with Tommy Shannon too, turned him on to the blues as he most appreciated it.
Tommy was more a MoTown/r&b guy way back, but Johnny turned him on to Freddie King and everything. Son House, T Bone and all that. Johnny had me learn specific riffs, to use on the recordings. By the time we came to record the songs, he knew that I knew what he wanted. See, he’d produced a lotta Muddy stuff and other artists. So he just wanted to play, do his thing and have somebody else make it comfortable for him. He’d come in and sing and play over it, he’d what I call Winterise it. There was a great communication between him and the band members.
- What I sense and especially from Joe Bonamassa and Brian Setzer is a deep respect. They are not there to cut Johnny, but to add their something.
NO! That was really important and I’m glad you hear it. This wasn’t for people to beat each other up, it was for the sake of each song. Johnny picked the songs and I picked the guests. I worked hard to ensure that the guest artist matched the song they were going to play on. So it does sound like a perfect fit, for that number.
- One of my own favourite Winter recordings was Johnny Winter And – Guess I’ll Go Away, where he does such a personal take on blues rock, with own songs
Fine music, and here he is now an elder statesman on the blues in all its forms. He just needed to be reinvented, I don’t mean totally reinvented for the public to enjoy him this way.
My favourite thing in playing is making other people sound good. In your playing you are doing that all the time, so do you recall Jesse Ed Davis, from the early Taj Mahal band?
Absolutely! One of the best players ever! I am glad you know about him, Pete
- That KiIling Floor riff, Mahal and Davis used it on Estes’ Everybody Gotta Change Sometime
I actually doubled that riff, to make it thicker
- There’s a dedication to Steve Hecht?
Ah he was a booking agent and friend of Johnny’s and had passed.
- Your own Paul Nelson Band has a new album out soon on Sony..I have heard the Down Home Boogie track
- What’s difficult these days is to make a blues based record that a younger audience can also enjoy. We have a young artist here Laurence Jones who can do that. This seems to have a contemporary feel without being synthesised to mush
Yes!! You’re getting it ! we have the influences of Southern Rock which has a big following. Plus we have the vocalist from The Voice TV show, he came in second and can really sing with depth. The band like the 70s jam bands. So we can combine all those styles when we’re writing songs and see what we can come up, with. I love blues and many forms of music but what I want to do is write SONGS. And having a very good singer inspires me.
- Sonny Landreth says he had fun on tour in Japan with you and Johnny
(Sighs) He and I are close. We were playing in Jamaica with Govt Mule, too. The Island Exodus. He was our opening act in Japan and he also did a lot of The Johnny Winter AllStars shows with us.
- What gear are you taking out to tour with PNB?
I’m big into Les Pauls now. I used a Strat on most shows with Johnny because I wanted to have a different tone to him for the performance, for the contrast. We didn’t step on each other and that’s what he liked about me the most. He used to say ‘Rick Derringer used to play all over me !’ (Laughs). We had a good musical partnership.
- For slide I do take Kim Simmonds’ advice
I just played with him at BB Kings! What a fine player..
Kim advised me long ago to use glass for electric and metal for acoustic
I tend to use metal all times and I like the neck action really high, thicker strings
Paul. I did a piece with Joe Louis Walker, what a nice man
I produced his album, have you written about it? Please send me the piece. He opened for Johnny a few times so I got to know him. I played with him and he asked me to produce his record
- He sounds more like Joe Louis Walker – and I have seen him live – on this new album than on his older records
Yes. I wanted to really capture his voice.
- He’s authentic without being bigshot
Well he has so many inputs and influences. He’s a soul player and a blues player, gospel too. Plus he’s also knowledgable about the British Blues scene and all the guys that you know
- You’re working on a Junior Wells project. I did a tribute show on his 100th birth anniversary – an idea since pinched by all and sundry here – but to be frank I found it hard to pick the songs, from the many many recordings
It is. I have the Blues Brothers horns in on this one. Cleopatra Records bought the right to the whole Wells catalogue so they approached me to take it forward. All the tracks are ready and we are working on the guests now for this one. Pete, I’ll make sure you hear it!
The Paul Nelson Band’s new album ‘Badass Generation’ is out now on Sony. You can read our review of the album here: http://bit.ly/1POaOrI
For more information visit their official website here: http://bit.ly/1SBZrZw
(Thanks Paul and thanks John)