Sunday, February 26, 2012

Jimmy "T-99" Nelson Was Indeed A Legend

Jimmy “T-99” Nelson is among the last of the shouters that arose during the swing era and who flourished in the early years after World War II when jump blues was a major part of the rhythm and blues market and before rock and roll adversely affected the careers of more adult oriented performers. Nelson, heavily influenced by Big Joe Turner, established himself on the West Coast and had some recordings make the rhythm and blues charts including the seductive slow blues, Meet Me With Your Black Dress On (not the Black Drawers tune made famous by the Cheathams) and T-99 Blues, a song named after the famous Texas highway and at least partially derived from Honeydripper Blues, first recorded by St. Louis singer Edith Johnson (I believe) and later a signature tune for that great blues and barrelhouse pianist, Roosevelt Sykes (The popular rhythm and blues hit, The Honeydripper, by Joe Liggins is a completely different song).

Nelson’s hit had him backed by the Peter Rabbit Trio, and they two recordings along with other wonderful blues from the early fifties waxed for Modern Records have been reissued by English Ace on Cry Hard Luck. He even recorded for Chess Records in the 1950s and later settled in Houston where he continues to reside. Rounder issued his first comeback album, Rockin’ And Shoutin’ The Blues, in 1999, followed by the marvelous Take Your Pick on Nettie Marie in 2002. Nettie Marie has just issued his latest disc, simply titled, The Legend, a disc where he is backed by mostly Roomful of Blues alumni including Duke Robillard (guitar), Sugar Ray Norcia (harp), Matt McCabe (piano), Marty Ballou (bass), Neil Gouvin (drums), Sax Gordon (tenor sax), Doug James (baritone sax) and Carl Querfurth (trombone).

Its a solid effort opening with an original, The Devil’s Sending Up a Blessing to You, which employs the It Hurts Me Too melody) and a nice personalized reworking of Sonny Boy Williamson’s Help Me, although Nelson and the band do not quite capture off the ebullience of Louis Jordan’s classic calypso number Run Joe. Most of the songs are Nelson’s originals and he is a witty writer and the band capably delivers I’m Sick and Tired of You, where he tells his woman “I can be bad by myself,“ One Step At a Time, with its nice walking groove, or Sunrise Blues, whose lyrics evoke some of Joe Turner’s classic sides with a strong tenor sax solo by Gordon.

While this is a very good album, it was not quite as strong as it could have been. The band plays a bit too tightly and a bit looser, limber feel would have made it a bit more swinging. I would love to hear Nelson backed with some of the musicians that made Deacon John’s Jump Blues, the standard for recent efforts in this vein. Otherwise, it is gratifying to hear that he remains in strong voice.

This review originally appeared in the August 2005 DC Blues Calendar. I do not remember whether I purchased this or received a review copy.  Here is a video of Jimmy doing one of the classics that his main influence, Big Joe Turner first sang.

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