According to Paul Nelson, there’s nothing quite like learning from a legend.
“When I finally got to play with Johnny Winter, he gave me a crash course right from the source,” says the bluesman. “It was like a guitar lesson every day.”
Having teamed up with everyone from Buddy Guy to Eric Clapton over the years, the Grammy-winning guitarist played in Winter’s band for a total of 15 years later on in the blues icon’s career. On Thursday, Oct. 11, Nelson and his band will play at Indy’s historic Slippery Noodle Inn in support of his new record Badass Generation.
Nelson received a Grammy award for his work performing on and producing Winter's Step Back winning "Best Blues Album of the Year." He is also a recipient of the Blues Foundation's KBA "Keeping The Blues Alive Award".
A longtime session man, Nelson says the key to his success has been staying versatile.
“When I first started, I made sure that I joined bands [who played music] that I sucked at,” he says. “If I knew I needed to work on funk, I joined a funk band. if I knew I was bad at jazz, I joined a jazz band, or I formed one myself.”
After years of session work, Nelson finally got “the call” from Winter. Oddly enough, it came while he was recording on-air music for the now-defunct XFL.
“Johnny was in the other room, and he heard me playing,” Nelson recalls. “He came in and said, ‘Hey, I liked what you were doing. I’m here recording for my next album [I’m a Bluesman]. Would you mind writing a blues song for me?’”
After playing on Winter’s album, the logical next step was for Nelson to go out on the road with him.
“He said, ‘Since you’re on the album, now you have to come on tour with me,’” Nelson says. “I go, “‘Okay. When are we leaving?’ He goes, ‘Tomorrow! We’re going to England.’”
Just like that, Nelson was rubbing shoulders with some of music’s greats.
“All of a sudden, I’m in the England the next day, and I’m sitting in a giant castle at the biggest blues fest,” he says. “On my right is Van Morrison, who’s having a peanut butter sandwich. On my left is Taj Mahal. I’m sitting there going, ‘Wow, this is pretty cool.’”
Since the passing of Winter in 2014, Nelson has continued strong on his own. Nevertheless, he’s still grateful for the time he spent playing with the blues legend.
“He was like a father to me,” Nelson says. “He took me under his wing.”