FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Jimmy T99 Nelson, a Blues Legend and the Songs that Made Him Famous

You passed me flying in my brand new Oldsmobile Yes you passed me flying in my brand new Oldsmobile Your hair all messed up and some playboy at the wheel

Between 1951 and 1961, Jimmy T99 Nelson cut some of the greatest sides in the history of rock and roll or, as it was known in those days, rhythm and blues. Two of his tunes were substantial hits: “T99 Blues” and “Meet Me With Your Black Dress On,” one of the sexiest performances ever recorded. Most of the others, every bit as good, never got played on the radio or promoted effectively. Had people heard them, they would have stormed record stores to buy them.

There’s no need to doubt it. As of this November 4, half a century later, the songs that established T99 as a blues legend will be available for the first time “officially” on CD, from Ace Records. The sound is wonderful, and some of the tracks have never been commercially available in any format.

Those who get this CD and play it will realize before the opening number ends that Jimmy T99 Nelson is not only the last of the great blues shouters, he should have been and with any luck easily could have been a major rock star of both the Fifties and early Sixties.

This is hard-hitting stuff, crisp as newly minted money and with a groove that won’t quit.

T99 is often compared to his mentor, Big Joe Turner. Since I performed with both of them, I feel qualified to say for the record that in my opinion Jimmy Nelson is every bit Joe Turner’s equal, and then some. While it is true that Big Joe came first and that T99 learned from him and in some ways modeled himself on Turner, it is also undeniably true that Nelson’s achievement, which is ongoing, extends well beyond his master’s reach.

For one thing, as he also demonstrated on his more recent albums, Nelson not only has a magnificent voice, he is a great songwriter as well. Of the 23 selections on CRY HARD LUCK, 22 are Nelson originals. The alternate takes are wonderful, especially the originally unreleased take of “T99 Blues,” with completely different lyrics as great if not greater than the other more familiar set.

This collection can only enlarge the already near-mythical status of Jimmy T99 Nelson. He is, after all, a figure whose legend is as large as the country that produced him, elevated him, relegated him to obscurity and then rediscovered him. This is a man who actually hoboed virtually coast-to-coast during Segregation, picked fruit to survive in California, worked with Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday, made records in a bathroom, performed at the Apollo Theater, poured cement to build the Astrodome and recently had his picture taken backstage with Elvis Costello, who by all accounts was thrilled to meet him.

At major blues festivals in Europe and America Nelson has been a real knockout artist since his return to the scene. His comeback album, “Rockin’ and Shoutin’ the Blues,” was hugely successful and his latest effort, “Take Your Pick,” may be even better.

I was invited to write the liner notes for “Take Your Pick” and I have written elsewhere [on rebelangel.com] about working with T99 on a still-unreleased session in Houston with Milton Hopkins on guitar. Perhaps that one, too, will see the light of day eventually. I hope so, because Jimmy’s singing on it is absolutely superb.

How sweet it is that Jimmy Nelson has lived long enough not only to see his lifetime contribution recognized but to remind us of what making music’s really all about. B.B. King may be the undisputed king of the blues, but the greatest living blues shouter by far is Jimmy T99 Nelson. In this so-called Year of the Blues there could be no more essential collection than T99’s Cry Hard Luck.

Ace has done right by the music. One can only complain that they could certainly do better by the artist.

Jimmy Nelson, who is alive and well in Houston, was not consulted on this project. Why not? The failure to enlist the input of a living artist when putting together a major retrospective of his work is hard to justify.

Rather than interview T99 himself for the liner notes, Ace simply went online and cribbed (without asking permission) from Jeffery St. Clair’s definitive CounterPunch interview with the Jimmy.

When I called Jimmy Nelson to congratulate him, he had not even received a copy of the CD.

DAVID VEST writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He and his band, The Willing Victims, just released a scorching new CD, Way Down Here.

He can be reached at: davidvest@springmail.com

Visit his website at http://www.rebelangel.com

 

More articles by:

DAVID VEST writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He and his band, The Willing Victims, have just released a scorching new CD, Serve Me Right to Shuffle. His essay on Tammy Wynette is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on art, music and sex, Serpents in the Garden.

July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
Gary Leupp
When Did Russia Become an Adversary?
Uri Avnery
“Not Enough!”
Dave Lindorff
Undermining Trump-Putin Summit Means Promoting War
Manuel E. Yepe
World Trade War Has Begun
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Stomps Britain
Wim Laven
The Best Deals are the Deals that Develop Peace
Kary Love
Can We Learn from Heinrich Himmler’s Daughter? Should We?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Franklin Lamb, Requiescat in Pace
Weekend Edition
July 13, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Brian Cloughley
Lessons That Should Have Been Learned From NATO’s Destruction of Libya
Paul Street
Time to Stop Playing “Simon Says” with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of Formula and Honey
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s Intellectuals Bow to the Queen of Chaos 
Michael Collins
The Affirmative Action Silo
Andrew Levine
Tipping Points
Geoff Dutton
Fair and Balanced Opinion at the New York Times
Ajamu Baraka
Cultural and Ideological Struggle in the US: a Final Comment on Ocasio-Cortez
David Rosen
The New McCarthyism: Is the Electric Chair Next for the Left?
Ken Levy
The McConnell Rule: Nasty, Brutish, and Unconstitutional
George Wuerthner
The Awful Truth About the Hammonds
Robert Fisk
Will Those Killed by NATO 19 Years Ago in Serbia Ever Get Justice?
Robert Hunziker
Three Climatic Monsters with Asteroid Impact
Ramzy Baroud
Europe’s Iron Curtain: The Refugee Crisis is about to Worsen
Nick Pemberton
A Letter For Scarlett JoManDaughter
Marilyn Garson
Netanyahu’s War on Transcendence 
Patrick Cockburn
Is ISIS About to Lose Its Last Stronghold in Syria?
Joseph Grosso
The Invisible Class: Workers in America
Kim Ives
Haiti’s Popular Uprising Calls for President Jovenel Moïse’s Removal
John Carroll Md
Dispatch From Haiti: Trump and Breastfeeding
Alycee Lane
On Heat Waves and Climate Resistance
Ed Meek
Dershowitz the Sophist
Howard Lisnoff
Liberal Massachusetts and Recreational Marijuana
Ike Nahem
Trump, Trade Wars, and the Class Struggle
Olivia Alperstein
Kavanaugh and the Supremes: It’s About Much More Than Abortion
Manuel E. Yepe
Korea After the Handshake
Robert Kosuth
Militarized Nationalism: Pernicious and Pervasive
Binoy Kampmark
Soft Brexits and Hard Realities: The Tory Revolt
Helena Norberg-Hodge
Localization: a Strategic Alternative to Globalized Authoritarianism
Kevin Zeese - Nils McCune
Correcting The Record: What Is Really Happening In Nicaragua?
Chris Wright
The American Oligarchy: A Review
Kweli Nzito
Imperial Gangster Nations: Peddling “Democracy” and Other Goodies to the Untutored
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail