Tracy Nelson, Victim Of The Blues, Embraces Muddy & Lightnin'
Long acclaimed as one of the truly great singers of the modern era, at 66 Tracy Nelson still has the fire for performing great songs. Her latest project, Victim of the Blues, is a loving caress to her original passion: Old-school blues, particularly the Chicago variety.
Nelson's first album, Deep Are the Roots, was on the vintage Prestige label, home to people like Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Otis Spann. For a 19-year-old white girl of Norwegian descent, recording with Charlie Musselwhite in Chicago for Prestige and cutting blues standards must have been a dream come true and a huge nod to her talent.
And while Nelson's repertoire has always included the blues from her days leading seminal hippie blues-rock band Mother Earth, through her Nashville period where she made country albums that only hipsters got - except, of course, her giant, Grammy-nominated duet with Willie Nelson, "After the Fire Is Gone" (1974), which alerted a much wider listening audience to the power of her golden throat.
The song is still in regular rotation on classic country stations.
These days Nelson lives 30 miles outside Nashville with her significant other, producer/engineer Mike Dysinger. Rocks Off spoke with her by phone there about Victim of the Blues and life in general.
"This new record is just songs I hadn't done and wanted to do," she says. "It really was inspired by hearing Otis Spann's "One More Time" on Bill Wax's XM radio show while I was on a driving trip."
"I just love iTunes," Nelson explains. "I lost most of my records and CDs in a house fire about a year ago, so it took a while to put together a list of songs I wanted to do on this album. This is the only record I've ever made where I actually had to do some serious research.
"And thank God for iTunes. I'd just call up a subject like Muddy Waters, and iTunes threw up basically everything he ever did. It took some time to wade through it all and come up with a list that hung together, but what a wonderful tool to have."
While most of the tunes are by noted Chicago bluesmen like Waters, Willie Dixon and Howlin' Wolf, Nelson also reached down to Houston for a Lightnin' Hopkins tune, "Feel So Bad," although she noted that her version is truer to Little Milton's version.
"I played Liberty Hall in Houston about 1975 and I was on a bill with Lightnin'," she says. "In fact, I'm standing right here in front of the poster from that show that I have on my wall. I always liked playing Houston.
"And Lighnin' was so kind to me, we had a lot of fun on that show."