Guitarist Paul Nelson’s resume reads like a Who’s Who of rock, blues and jazz fusion royalty.
He’s recorded with such notables as Eric Clapton, Slash, Billy Gibbons, Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks, James Cotton, Joe Perry, Dr. John, Larry Carlton, Joe Bonamassa, Dickey Betts, Joe Walsh and more. Nelson also spent years as a hand-picked protégé, bandmate and producer of legendary blues-rock icon, the late Johnny Winter, with whom he toured world-wide.
On Nov. 11, Nelson will take the stage at Goodland’s Little Bar Restaurant with his five-piece ensemble, The Paul Nelson Band, for an evening of blues-rock featuring his interpretations of classics, as well as songs from the band’s most recent album, “Badass Generation.”
The Paul Nelson Band has played Southwest Florida before over the last few years, but this will be the first visit to Marco Island and Goodland.
“I toured Florida extensively with Johnny,” said Nelson recently from his home in Connecticut. “I was with him for about 10 to 12 years. He had a huge fan base in Florida and I’m seeing a lot of those fans, a lot of my fans and new fans. We’ve been playing all the venues. We sold out the Funky Biscuit in Boca (Raton). The Barrel Room (in Fort Myers); we played there and that sold out.”
Nelson enjoys the environment provided by club dates.
“There are places in New York like The Iridium and the Blue Note, these intimate guitar rooms,” he explained. “I love those types of venues and Florida seems to have a ton of them. I love this kind of touring. With Johnny, I played all the arenas and all over the world, Japan and China; Letterman. But these gigs are the meat and potatoes, the gigs that are juke-joint kind of things, and I love it. We’re playing all these kind of places that I missed playing with Johnny. So I’m really excited to do these.”
Nelson is a Manhattan native who began playing guitar as a youth before eventually studying the instrument at the world-famous Berklee School of Music. He also studied privately with influential jazz-fusion guitarists Steve Khan and Mike Stern.
“I was grooming myself to be a session guy, as well because I knew if I was going to choose this as a profession, I had to be well-rounded,” he said. “I knew that I couldn’t just play music. So I got into producing. I got into consulting other bands. I got into engineering. As long as I was under the umbrella of music, I knew I would be happy.”
His involvement with Winter came about through a chance encounter. Nelson was working in an East Coast studio, where Winter was just starting to record an album.
Winter heard Nelson playing some blues and was so blown away that he asked him to write a song for him. Nelson presented him with the song the very next day, which led to the legend requesting a couple more tunes. Winter was so impressed that he included them on the album and asked Nelson to play on the session. He next asked the young musician to join him on tour, with the first date set for the following day in England at the Bishopstock Blues Festival.
“Here we were, sitting at a table, in a giant castle, in front of a green law and I have Taj Mahal on my left and Van Morrison on my right, as we’re all having peanut butter sandwiches and I’m like, ‘Aw, this is great,’” said Nelson.
Over the years, the relationship between Winter and Nelson grew from one centered on music to one of trust and friendship. Nelson said he was ultimately able to help Winter kick a long dependency on drugs and alcohol that had damaged his health.
Eventually, Winter asked Nelson to produce an album, “Step Back,” which received a 2015 Grammy Award for “Best Blues Album of the Year,” the musician’s first as a solo artist. The album also won the Blues Music Foundation’s “Best Blues/Rock Album” award.
After Winter’s death in 2014, Nelson corralled a group of top-notch musicians to record 2016’s 70s influenced, blues-rock collection, “Badass Generation.” His catalog also includes an earlier jazz fusion album, entitled “Look,” and a new release is slated for a February release.
Nelson describes his music as melding of two musical loves, just like the man who played such an integral in his life and musical career, Johnny Winter. “It’s blues infused, it’s Southern Rock, it’s ‘Mutt Rock,’” he explained with a laugh. “It’s everything.”
That description is at the heart of what the Little Bar audience will enjoy on Nov. 11.
“It will be a great night out, good music, a tight band and songs that they’re familiar with,” said Nelson. “I really like tipping my hat to the traditional songs. I want to play my version of “The Stumble,” my version a Freddy King song or an Albert King song. It’s like a history lesson for myself and the crowd. They’ll hear my version with a little rock edge to it and they’ll hear some of Johnny’s songs, which are great songs; “Highway 61” and “Bony Moronie” and “Good Mornin’ Little School Girl.”
For more information about Paul Nelson and the Paul Nelson Band, visit paulnelsonguitar.com. The Little Bar Restaurant is located at 205 Harbor Drive. For more information, visit littlebarrestaurant.com or call 239-394-5663.