Music Reviews

Jimmy “T99” Nelson

Rockin and Shoutin the Blues


Jimmy Nelson is one of the last of the great blues shouters. Initially inspired by and later mentored by none other than Big Joe Turner himself, Nelson made his first recording in 1948 for the Olliet label. It wasn’t until 1951, when he signed with Modern/RPM, that he got his break. He recorded eight sides, one of which was “T-99 Blues” (referring to old Texas Highway 99 heading out of Fort Worth ), which reached the number six position on the national R&B charts. This song gave him his nickname, and is said to have served as a major inspiration for a later labelmate, B.B. King. Over the years, Nelson worked with many legends in the business, including Billie Holiday, Lowell Fulsom, Joe Liggins, Roy Milton, and many others. He cut a variety of singles for a number of labels, including Kent and Chess, and had several more national and regional hits, including “Meet Me with Your Black Dress On” and “Free and Easy Mind.”

He met his future wife in Houston and decided to settle down, opting to take a job with Hartney Construction Company for the next twenty years. He continued to play around Houston during this time. He finally returned to touring in the eighties, and has done many festival shows in the U.S. and Europe. He continues to develop new material.

This release lives up to its title. Nelson does fit right in with the good company of Big Joe Turner and Percy Mayfield. This release could’ve easily come right out of the fifties, and sorta recalls some of the Ray Charles sides of that era, an era that I consider Ray’s creative prime. This is timeless music. Nelson’s playing is backed by a very solid group including Clarence Hollimon, whose early credits include his late-fifties/early-sixties guitar work with Bobby Bland and Junior Parker. This recording also features hornmen Rich Laitaille and Doug James of Roomful of Blues, who lock right in the groove. Nelson penned four of the songs, and turns in some great versions of others, including Doc Pomus’ “Boogie Woogie Country Girl” and Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson’s signature tune “Sweet Mr. Cleanhead.” As with many of these great blues shouters, he does a turn on some songs that most couldn’t render into this style, including “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” and “When You’re Smiling.” As Nelson says, “the older a blues singer gets, the better he sounds! It’s life experience, man.”

Rounder Records, 1 Camp St., Cambridge, MA 02140;

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