Paul Nelson playing metal, rock, country, and blues, talks about his new album, Badass Generation.
Paul Nelson has toured with countless worldwide acts and performed live and or on recordings alongside a list of today’s top artists such as Eric Clapton, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, Leslie West, Joe Perry, Brian Setzer, Steve Morse, Joe Walsh to name a few.
Additionally, he studied with Steve Vai in his Berklee days, jazz fusion great Steve Khan and Mike Stern has created a tour de force with his latest all-instrumental rock/fusion solo release, entitled Look.
NRR: I was reading on your music background and its wow!
Nelson: Thanks, it just creeps up on you and when you’re in it you don’t realize it’s building like that. I have those moments and like wow, that’s something else, and that’s just part of it and very fortunate and of course playing with Johnny Winter was a big plus and playing with some of those guys, and I still am.
NRR: Just looking at some of the musicians you played with which very diverse which is fantastic. You have played with Slash, Joe Walsh, Rick Derringer, Brian Setzer, and Vince Gill.
Nelson: Yeah, I just got finished playing the Blues Cruise at Puerto Rico with Los Lobos, Ana Popovic, Quinn Sullivan, a lot of people there too. You know, once when you’re in it, you’re in it. It just starts culminating.
NRR: Looking at the many albums you’ve played on and one that stood out was Metal Blade Volume three. Who did play with on that album?
Nelson: (Laughter), that was with Liege Lord on Metal Blade Records. That was a band I was in when I was a kid. We did three albums and the compilation, and we toured all over the US and ended up doing some the Wacken festivals at Germany. That was my first introduction to the record label and recording. That was the heavy stuff, and after that, I started touring all over the planet and a lot of session work.
Then I ended up meeting Johnny at Cash House Studios where I did some of those records. And he was in there recording and heard me playing, and I was doing some music for the World Wrestling for one of their TV shows, and he liked the way I played, and we hit off. He asked me to write some songs; it turned for me to tour with him and playing with him that later on producing and getting that Grammy.
NRR: So basically wearing all the hats.
Nelson: Yes, you have to and I learned early on as a session guy and through taking lessons myself and with a great series of teachers that were honing me into a session guy that can do everything. You have to work so you have to be versatile in different styles from blues to rock, jazz, and reggae and pop. And I went that route.
NRR: You were taught by Steve Vai Berklee?
Nelson: Yeah, Steve Vai and I studied with Mike Stern and Steve Khan and a lot of jazz fusion guys. I always thought it was important to seek out private instruction and Berklee was great but that one on one is really important. Same thing with YouTube, YouTube is great where you have one on one with whoever you want so it’s a great tool.
NRR: I been listening to the new album that was released at the beginning of the year.
Nelson: The Badass Generation released on Sony?
Nelson: That’s up for a Grammy, in round one where the voting just happen and I doing two shows this weekend up on the East Coast to promote that record and finished up the Midwest and West Coast. That one is doing really well and got the keyboard player Gov’t Mules on it- Danny Lewis and the singer Morten Fredheim from Norway I produced several years ago, he number two on The Voice from over there.
And I got Chris Reddan on drums from Papa Chubby’s band and Chris Alexander from Samantha Fish. We just got together after Johnny passed and I started writing and Johnny took me under his wing, and he wanted me to do well and wanted to make sure when I was helping him out and pursuing my own stuff he was very supportive you know. I just kept on going.
NRR: This is a debut album for this band?
Nelson: No, I had a instrumental before that. This is a debut for me as a band with a lead vocalist. What is missing now is not many front bands and everybody hiding behind a guitar and I wanted to do that and at the same time pay homage to the 70s style production of playing like bands; Bad Company, Led Zeppelin, Queen early Aerosmith and Lynyrd Skynyrd and everything that came out of that era and Black Sabbath and anything. To flip the production of the sound of the drums and not to make it too dated and to write memorable solos, choruses you know really structure the songs and try to make a classic record now. What would happen if those guys were out now is what I was kind of thinking.
When some bands go into the studio they are trying to keep that sound live.
Nelson: But the production sounds cheap so you pay homage to the guitarist now but keep the production value current, that’s the key. Everybody likes the 70s but that doesn’t mean you’re going to throw a party and everybody wearing bell bottoms and a bandana (Laughter). You pay tribute to it somewhat.
NRR: You’re not stuck in a time warp.
Nelson: (Laughter) Exactly! That’s why I called it Badass Generation because when we were in the studio, everybody is saying wow look at the guitar! That’s badass, and I’m like ok. Wow did you hear that riff? That’s badass. Oh, check out that car, I’m like is this some bad ass generation? Everybody is using this term, and I’m like “uh-oh,” wait a minute this refers to our generation looking at that stuff and appreciating it, and that’s why I wanted an iconic figure on the cover something that represented it. It had to be the cassette because nothing represents that era like that and the art work was thought out. And make something that somebody would listen to all the way through.
I think that is the key to those records at that time where it wasn’t just one song, especially the classic ones, the whole album. It didn’t have to be like Pink Floyd’s The Wall if you listen to one song out of order you don’t get the theme of the whole thing. But at least they flowed together, and you like the whole thing. Not just track 2 and track six, so that was important to me that everything flowed and kept your interest so every time you listen, you hear new ear candy. As a producer, that’s what you do so I did it to my self.
NRR: The songs do flow on this album. It’s right up there with a Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Steve Lukather albums.
Nelson: Somebody told me that this sounds like an album I already own or I forgot to get to add to my collection like my classic rock collection sitting between my Aerosmith and Free albums (Laughter) or Boston album. Technically, I could have gone the shredding route, but I wanted to play for the sake of the song. I guess everybody who listens to a song they’re tired of getting a guitar lesson.
I have always been a big fan of a Brian May solo or a Jimmy Page solo. I mean those are songs into themselves and not just riff, riff, riff. You know how many stretching you can do, how many notes and everybody knows I can do that. For this, it bounces off the singer and bounces off the song, so that was what I was going for.
NRR: When I saw the title of album I said it’s about time somebody put that wording out there.
Nelson: Oh, the shit I got from the record company (Laughter), we don’t know if we can put this in the stores and don’t know if Walmart will carry it because you use the word “Badass”. I am like it’s on everybody’s sweat pants.
NRR: I’ve seen words that are worse.
Nelson: Yeah, so yeah. I was going to call the band that but forget it, and I will tone it down a little bit. But I go everybody is using it. It’ the new cool, the new word.
NRR: It’s been recycled.
Nelson: The first thing you say when you like it is badass and I can’t put that on the fucking cover.
NRR: (Laughter) When I first got this, oh that’s the name of the band is called “Badass Generation” then I looked at it again and it’s the album title.
Nelson: I appreciate it and it’s doing really well and I’m out here supporting it.
NRR: When did you start writing songs for this and decided to step out in front and not be the session player and on the side of the stage?
Nelson: When Johnny passed I have to do this to continue to play and will always be Johnny Winters guitar player and proud of that but he wanted me to play and a big fan of my playing or wouldn’t ask me to play with him.
And so I have this stuff I’ve been working on at sound checks and on my own and when the guys came over we just wrote there on the spot. And Sony was like we want to hear your stuff and I gave it to them, and they went for it, and that’s how it happened. It was a lock down in the studio for weeks. Writing, recording, writing, recording, editing and mixing.
NRR: Were these songs written mainly by you or a band effort and tinkering with the lyrics?
Nelson: They were written mainly by me, and I had such faith in the artists it was really comforting to know the chances whatever material I was putting to them what it turns to being extra harmonies or vocal phrasing, or rhythms or this and that. I wrote pretty much all the music and all the lyrics. Most of the music came first, and the lyrics came later. I kind of work that way.
NRR: Some bands put the lyrics first than the music.
Nelson: Exactly! I wrote the music and how is this moving me? What am I thinking? What kind of mood? I try to keep little stories in there and little messages.
NRR: On the Grammy side, what category or genera they are putting this album under?
Nelson: They put this under “Contemporary Blues, ” and it’s weird too because I am also up for “Producer of the Year” and I produce an artist I play with on his album- Joe Lewis Walker. And his album is up for a Grammy in the same category (Laughter). So I have a one in three shot than a one in one. And when they match right with tune.
NRR: How many songs did you write for this album and had to choose from?
Nelson: None, everyone I accepted like eleven or twelve. I couldn’t throw any of them away because I put so much work into each one of them, there are no throwaways I can’t do it.
NRR: Are there songs in the pipe line for the next album?
Nelson: Yeah, working on songs now and I guest appeared on Yonrico Scott album that just came out a the drummer with The Tedeschi Trucks Band and with the Royal Southern Brotherhood for a song called “Red Clay” that came out today. And James Montgomery a harp legend, I produced his album for Cleopatra Records. I am on that with Jimmy Vivino, Up Town Horns (Rolling Stones) and the original keyboard player Mark Naftalin from Paul Butterfield’s band and that came out and is doing really well and a lot of stuff and working the next one already.
NRR: The vocalist Morten Fredheim, was he the vocalist you were looking for when you were putting the band together?
Nelson: Absolutely, because I remember him, producing him in the past and he was available so he was perfect and we flew him over and it was lock down.
NRR: And the bassist Christopher Alexander, he is the bassist for Samantha Fish?
Nelson: Yeah, she is great and they’re all doing great and were good friends.
NRR: I saw her on You Tube with you and I was just blown away.
Nelson: I can’t believe it! We did “Sympathy For The Devil,” and it has a quarter of million hits. And if there is a band I like to be part of on the side, I fit so well being with her.
NRR: You might do any collaboration with her?
Nelson: That could be next; I know she works with Mike Zito as producer so I will throw my hat in the ring, so absolutely
NRR: I think you be a good pairing.
Nelson: Exactly and another band I played with I really love is Anders Osborne. He did the New Orleans Jazz Festival and he works a lot with Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule is a friend of mine, and we did Island Exodus at Jamaica, and that band is wow! The song playing and writing yes, I kind of got an open invitation with those guys.
NRR: Things are fluid but are any plans to tour the US and the West coast?
Nelson: Yeah, we just played in Seattle or Spokane, and we came back on the East coast and did some dates through the Mid West a couple of months ago. So yeah, a lot of stuff going on.
NRR: Thanks for your time.
Nelson: You did your research and thanks (Laughter).
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