step back with a grammy-winning blues artist and producer
“I always went back to acoustic to give songs an earthiness, a pulse, a drive.” And while much of blues, today, is electric, the traditional blues guys were traveling minstrels playing acoustic guitars because they were so inexpensive. That was their one guitar.”
~ Paul Nelson
Paul Nelson, a 2015 Grammy Award Winner for Best Blues Album, for “Step Back,”which he produced and played guitar on for blues legend, Johnny Winter, plays mostly electric, but has many thoughts on writing, producing and recording with acoustics.
AL On Paul’s first guitar
PN “I think it was like a nylon little classical guitar. It drove me nuts. The spacing was so far apart. It was really difficult and I think it made me want to stop until I figured out how to stretch and grab the chords. It was such a pain in the neck to play in the beginning! The acoustic is actually responsible for the electric only because of ease of playability. Let the record state that.” And, he adds, “Once people do play electric, as they go back (they find) an acoustic that has the playability of an electric, but still has the tone of an acoustic.”
AL On his go-to acoustic guitar
PN “I’m really into Taylor’s. My go-to guitar is a T5 that they gave me with my endorsement. I love it. Because it’s got a full sound for tracking and the spacing is such that you can really play lines on it. It’s got a great sound.”
AL On using acoustic guitars when tracking albums
PN “I’m a big fan of using acoustics in production. On my new record, I’m playing acoustic. When you track, you take one guitar and then when you go to track it again, you don’t use that same guitar. You use a completely different guitar. If I have a guitar part that I like on acoustic, I’ll play it with a six-string and then maybe double it with a 12-string.”
“A nice little acoustic in the background or some kind of tasty strum. It adds to the choruses. It’s the kind of thing if it’s not there, it sounds empty, but if it’s there, you don’t notice it. You know that it’s fuller in certain kinds of a recordings. I do a lot tracking with acoustics to add to the overall production. I even put acoustic on Johnny’s Blues album, which was very risque’…on a song called “Who do you love?” We paid homage to the original version of the song. It gave it a more radio commercial type of sound that got it a lot of airplay. That’s another thing an acoustic guitars does.”
AL On blues purists versus the masses
PN “I had to be very careful in the blues world. If you start putting anything like acoustic guitar on it, you’ve got to be very, very careful because you start leaving the realm of the blues category and the historians start going bananas. I knew that with Johnny (Winter), I had to play on and produce a record that was not just written for historians, it was written for people that enjoy music in general. Not just trying to satisfy the category makers and the politically correct. It’s a fine line. You bring them to it.”
AL On writing songs on the acoustic guitar
PN “The acoustic becomes the go-to guitar for vocals and songwriting. Because it’s not amplified, you can just sit there and start writing. You don’t have to whip out the amp and that kind of thing.
“On the song ‘Please Come Home,’ I started co-writing it with my singer, Morten (Fredheim), and we were up late at night and we were writing and writing and writing and all of a sudden this song is just developing…and I wrote the words to it. Then we brought in all the percussion instruments. I started playing slide. People ask, “Which comes first? The lyrics or the music?” Well, in this case, the acoustic guitar itself. I’ve never had that happened where the actual instrument was the springboard for the song. I went back to the band with Morten and we said, “We have to apologize.” They asked “What happened?” “Well, we wrote this thing!”
AL That “thing” was “Please Come Home,” which appears in Paul’s latest album, Bad Ass
PN “Make no mistake that “Please Come Home” was strategically placed in the middle of the album to add a little breathing room until we hit them hard with the electric.”
AL On Paul’s acoustic heroes
PN “What I always liked is when I saw bands like Led Zeppelin, when I saw them play acoustic numbers. (And).. I’m thinking of a Yes song, like ‘Mood for a Day,’ that kind of stuff. I love, I love, I love James Taylor. Just the chord voicing. And his voice. I mean who doesn’t?”
AL If you could see one acoustic show this year, only one, who would it be?
PN “Anders Osborne. He’s a good friend of mine. I met him in Jamaica and played with him when I was playing with Warren Haynes and Sonny (Landreth) at Gov’t Mule’s Island Exodus. What a fantastic singer, songwriter, acoustic and electric player.”