Born in Louisiana, Bob Nelson grew up in a musical family and remembers his father taking him to barbecues and fish fries where he was exposed to blues, cajun and zydeco. Taking up harp at the age of 8, he would later be tutored by Slim Harpo and Lazy Lester who along with Jimmy Reed and the two Sonny Boy Williamsons are his main influences. He spent his summers with an aunt in Chicago and met most of the great blues legends playing there in the 1960s. Muddy Waters gave him his nickname ”Chicago Bob.” He toured with Luther “Snake” johnson, and John Lee Hooker as well as performing on his own. In recent years he moved to Atlanta where he has been based. In the 1990s he recorded for KingSnake, Ichiban and HighTone, and now Roy Roberts’ Rock House Records has issued “Rock Them Blues,” backed by the North Carolina band, The King Bees. This is apparently a recording from several years ago that is at last being issued.
The music here is pretty straight forward. Nelson sings without any annoying mannerism, suggesting James Cotton at times. He may not be among the harp virtuosos, but his direct, simple crying attack enhances the overall performances. The King Bees provides restrained, solid, backing for Nelson. The opening “Locksmith Blues,” is an original where Bob’s baby has a locksmith change her lock for free but the part that hurt was him keeping a key, while poor Bob has to knock on his own door. Quit Me Baby,” originally down by the late Silas Hogan, is one of several swamp blues covered here and is a nice easy going shuffle, and followed by a restrained rendition of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Too Close Together.” Roscoe Shelton’s “Think It Over,” is a particularly fine performance with a first-rate vocal and notable playing from Champ Young’s organ and Hound Dog Rob Baskerville’s guitar here. At the same time, Penny “Queen Bee” Zamgani’s bass and Russ Wilson’s drum, provides the welcome, understated foundation. Another Silas Hogan tune, “Goin’ in the Valley,” is a terrific swamp blues performance by everyone, with fine harp in the manner of Hogan’s harp player, Whispering Smith. The title track, a Nelson original, has some of this same lazy swamp blues flavor. Again one can’t underestimate the importance of the King Bees playing to the success here because it is so easy to overplay such material. “Comin’ Back Strong,” mixes the swamp blues with a dash of Muddy Waters, while there is an appealing cover of Slim Harpo’s wistful, “Dream Girl.” “Juke Joint,” is a down home, if occasionally messy, rendition of Little Walter’s “Juke.”
“Rock The Blues,” shows Chicago Bob Nelson to be a genial, engaging blues performer who is heard on a very entertaining release with a number of very strong performances. It can be purchased through Rock House Records website, http://rockhouserecords.com/index.html.
For purposes of FTC regulations, I received a review copy of this CD from a member of the King Bees.