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Paul Nelson - Interview Part 2

  by Lisa Torem

published: 9 / 2 / 2015

Paul Nelson - Interview Part 2


PB: In Johnny’s autobiography, ‘Raisin’ Cain,’ you talked about rebuilding his career when he really needed help. PN: You’re living day-to-day trying to make sure that he’s alive tomorrow. That’s

PB: In Johnny’s autobiography, ‘Raisin’ Cain,’ you talked about rebuilding his career when he really needed help. PN: You’re living day-to-day trying to make sure that he’s alive tomorrow. That’s how bad it was. You’re in it. You don’t see the time going by. You talk to people that haven’t seen him for a while and they give you the feel; you can see the weight, the healthiness, the talkativeness, the singing and the playing getting better. Just to see him smile at the end of the day or see him have a full conversation, or talk to interviewers or talk to fans from before he was in this cocoon and nobody could come near him - that warms my heart, and plus we became really close friends and when I saw the shape he was in, I couldn’t take it and I said something had to be done. I was his guitar player. That was it. All this other stuff developed out of me helping out a friend, whatever the title was. I’ve never liked managers (Laughs) so I didn’t really want to be one. I was something different. I was his guitar-playing friend acting as that and I think I was able to help him more because I knew the psyche. I was a musician. I knew what he goes through. So, he really had a tremendous trust in me. There were times I couldn’t look at him like Johnny Winter. I just had to look at him as a friend that was in a lot of frigging trouble, Otherwise when people are in that condition, they’re very crafty and they use whatever they can to get what they want, be it their title, their stardom. I told Johnny, “I couldn’t fall for that. I can’t compliment you on everything you do.” He’d say, ‘You didn’t say I did a good job.” So that’s what fuelled it. He was always trying to impress me. “Oh, look, I did this and I did that.” We had that kind of a relationship and eventually I’d say, “You did good,” and it’s amazing because here’s Johnny Winter, the greatest guy in the world telling me… You can get all the credit you want, go outside the bus. That’s what drove him. That’s how I did it. And once he saw the results of the work, and it was work. He got off the methadone, the alcohol, the antidepressants, the smoking stopped and that’s what the movie is all about too. People, when they see the movie, they’re going to go, “Wow.” PB: ‘Johnny Winter: Down and Dirty’ seems to be a candid profile. PN: Unbelievable. You’re sitting next to him. You’re here. You’re me. You’re the eyeballs. You’re the director. Nothing was scripted. Nothing was taken out. Three stories developed: the drug use, the fame, reverse racism. Being too white. It’s a real eye opener as far as what he went though. It crosses all barriers. It’s a road story. It’s a rise to fame. It’s about the elderly. It’s about blues. It’s about rock. It’s got cameos. It’s about a friendship, he and I. PB: Did anything about the process surprise you? PN: You’re always afraid - how is this going to look? How am I going to come across? You don’t know until the director edits it - it’s three-years worth of stuff. Why’d you pick that? Are you going to pick this? And the director just becomes quiet and you’re sitting there and you’re waiting and it unveils itself and, “Wow. Really. That’s smart” and then it all comes together, like a record or a painting. When it was shown to us, there were no edits necessary. Johnny said, “This is perfect. This is me.” And everything else was, this is us. He captured us on the road and he also captured him getting off the methadone. That’s pretty intense. It shows how I got Johnny off the methadone and how I let him know on Christmas that he was methadone free for a year and didn’t know it. PB: That’s the greatest present of all. PN: That’s what he said in the movie. PB: A fan told me he named his newborn, Johnny Winter. PN: Johnny’s fans were of the intensity of Allman Brothers’ fans, Grateful Dead fans. “This is my 72nd show” and “He saved my life when I was in the army listening to his music” and in Prague, it was said that Johnny was responsible for the downfall of communism because the music made blood boil so much they ran in the streets and were running in front of tanks. He was a hero, worldwide. It wasn’t just the U.S. It was generations. Those fans are amazing. PB: The documentary premiered in SXSW, didn’t it? PN: It got great reviews. Johnny saw it. I bought him popcorn. We sat in the back. He said, “I’m watching myself.” He loved it. Then he and I sat in with Jimmy Kimmel’s band that night and Lady Gaga was one of the guests. Johnny said, “What the hell does she have on?” She had a whole dress made of white, coffee filters and I said, “Johnny, we can’t talk loud. We’re taping.” He said, “What the hell?” He was cracking up. Now with these tribute shows, the people see the movie and everything that really happened and the band comes out. We’re getting his whole life story and we’re seeing the guys who were there and some guests. It’s been something else. It was a huge honour to be his guitar player and to then be his producer and friend, so now this tremendous responsibility has been placed on me to carry the torch for him and I’m going to keep on playing, and his fans are behind me. It’s not like I’m trying to ride on the coat tails. It just happened. I didn’t know this was going to happen. And everybody is telling me; “There’s a reason why you played with Johnny for so many years.” So I plan on continuing on. ‘Step Back’ has been the highest charting album of his career on Billboard. It hit 17. The only reason it didn’t go higher was because Amazon couldn’t keep up with the orders. They were two thousand over and didn’t list it in the first week, which would have shot it up to number 10 in the top 10 and this was with all of the artists of today and it wasn’t just because of what happened. People knew this was going to be a great record because they knew he was healthier; they knew the guests, the work behind it, the musicianship, so this was going to be a big part of the comeback. You combine that with the tragedy and it’s like the double whammy - they knew the movie was coming out. The amount of material he has, still that the estate has, like the Hendrix estate, is incredible. He was playing a lot longer than Jimi Hendrix. Just think of all the shows when he was really healthy and doing his thing even after Jimi passed. The stuff that’s coming out and will continue to come out is amazing and people got to hear this and it’s not like people are trying to bastardize his name. Everything that’s being done right now was planned and sanctioned by Johnny from merchandise products to everything. He even had his own coffee and he loved it. This was all part of the thing and that’s why it was such a shock. Edgar and the family said, “He left on such a high note.” Had this happened years ago when he was really in bad shape, they would have just left him to say, “Yeah, of course. This is how they all end up when they do this stuff,” but this was a comeback. And Johnny’s favourite line was, “How come everyone’s calling this a comeback? I never went anywhere.”. PB: It’s hard to come to terms with Johnny being gone. He’s been so loved and gave so much to the fans, musically and emotionally. PN: And part of it is that when he was in such bad shape, a lot of fans thought, “Hey, whatever happened to Johnny Winter? Did he pass away?” It’s very eerie in that respect but he started popping up, being invited to these shows.. This guy’s viable again. He enjoyed every minute of it. “I’m doing so much now. I have so much to talk about. I’m so happy.” And in the movie, he says, “I’ve had a full life.” It’s another one of those weird situations. Those last words, kind of thing. I’m happy to be part of it. I really miss him. I hear him in my playing. His damn riffs are coming out of my fingers. It’s killing me. And I play a riff and I don’t want to play it because now he went here, but it’s really strange. When you’re around something that long, it sticks. PB: Will you be mostly concentrating on projects with the band in the future? Before working with Johnny, you played many types of music, not necessarily the blues. PN: I play everything. I’ve been a session guy. I’ve been asked to guest in a lot of situations now because of the producing with Johnny. Now they want me to do their records. I’m working with Joe Louis Walker and I’m working with a lot of other artists doing their records, producer stuff. I have a solo deal, which I had during Johnny’s time that was being developed and he was going to play on my record. I’m working with Megaforce and Sony, so I have all that going on. There’s a ton of stuff. The powers that be have told me that the worst thing I can do is make a hasty decision and go into something that doesn’t make sense. They told me that my association with Johnny is important, and the fact that the fans knew that I was a player, too means that they’re going to accept me and they have, and I need to give them some stuff. At first, it was very hard, but now, I’ve got to do it. I can’t stop. Why should we stop? Whether it’s honouring Johnny, which I plan on doing, working with the estate and making sure that Johnny’s legacy is carrying on -I’m going to be doing that forever. I’m close with the family and that’s what I will do. If stuff comes out that is in poor taste that represents Johnny, it will be squashed, as the Hendrix Estate does, but as far as myself I’m going to continue on. I’m going to give the fans stuff. I’m going to play the blues, rock and whatever I do and give it a shot. I’ve got some great musicians together that I’ve met over the years. I’ve got tons of guests that would join me in a second. I want to do my own thing, too, and Johnny always told me, “Paul, I appreciate your helping me, but I don’t want you to give up your music. I want you to continue to push that and I’ll support that.” That’s where I’m at. He’s not here to be by my side. So right now, I’m at the NAMM show and I’m out here doing performances for products: guitars and amps. You’ve got to carry on but he’s always in my head. It never leaves. You do your thing and stop for a minute. It’s like family members and that kind of thing and then a fan will remind you, “Hey, I saw you here with Johnny. I’m so sorry,” and they’re worrying about saying that to you, but I say, “No, that’s okay.” They say, “I don’t know if I should say anything, but how are you feeling?” You know what? It sucks. And then they’re like, “Yeah, I can imagine.” It sucks. It really sucks. It’s a bummer and it was for everybody and his wife, Susan, of forty-two years. No one has really mentioned that she has gone through a lot. We’re very close. All our families are close, Edgar and her. It’s a huge, support system. And the tribute thing is a really good healing process for the musicians as well. It kind of made that reality landing not as harsh. We slowly eased into it. We’re back on the road playing his music and it reminds us, but as we’re mourning it really helped us. That sounds kind of weird, but it really did. It really helped us over the months since July when we were out playing and seeing the fans. PB: Johnny would have loved the support. PN: Absolutely. He loved blues. We’re pushing blues. We’re pushing his music. Not that he needed it, but you do need it. In this social media world, you need something to keep stuff fresh and Johnny had so much material. You need to keep on keeping it in all the social media elements and to keep up public awareness. There’s an influx of new people every year and a fifteen-year-old that becomes sixteen and becomes a fan of Johnny because he saw it online. Someone has to be out there cranking out that material. It’s very important because Johnny in the 1990s was being written out of history. He didn’t speak. He didn’t do documentaries, so we were playing an amazing game of catch up getting Johnny to where he was and we just go there and then it was like he was done. At the end of the day, he was my best friend; he was my father, my icon. I did what any fan would have done. PB: Thank you. More information can be found at www.paulnelsonguitar.com. The photos that accompany this article were taken by Jim Summaria. www.jimsummariaphoto.com

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737 Posted By: Noel Oudsema, Muskegon, MI USA on 14 Feb 2015
The first time I heard Johnny I was 13 and something clicked, the song was Black cat moan( I think ) but it caught my attention like no other music, and I was never dissapointed in any thing he did sense then. I guess Johnny's version of " I'll drown in my own tears " will always be stuck in my head, and it explains my feeling's on his passing! And thank you Paul for being the friend he needed at that time!!

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