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Bluesman "Chicago Bob" Nelson, R.I.P.

By January 27, 2013

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Chicago Bob NelsonWord comes from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper that blues singer and harp player Robert "Chicago Bob" Nelson passed away on Thursday, January 17, 2013 from heart and kidney failure. Nelson was 69 years old.

Born in Bogalusa, Louisiana in 1944, Nelson's father Versie was a musician, playing upright bass and harmonica. Following in his father's footsteps, the younger Nelson started playing the harmonica at the age of eight, often accompanying his father to fish fries, house parties, and other events. Family friends like Lazy Lester and Slim Harpo taught the young Nelson how to tell a story with his instrument, and after spending his summers at an Aunt's house in Chicago as a teenager, Nelson moved to the Windy City during the early 1960s.

Nelson would play anywhere and with anybody during this time, gigging with well-known bluesmen like Howlin' Wolf, Buddy Guy, Earl Hooker, and Muddy Waters, his sound a unique mix of Southern blues, zydeco rhythms, and urbane Chicago blues. It was Waters that gave him his "Chicago Bob" nickname after saying that he saw the young harp player "all over Chicago." Nelson would later tour extensively with Luther "Snake Boy" Johnson and John Lee Hooker. Nelson formed the Heart Fixers with guitarist Tinsley Ellis in 1981, recording two albums with the band - 1981's The Heart Fixers and 1983's Live At The Moon Shadow - the latter for the Landslide Records label.

Sometime during the early 1980s, Nelson relocated to Atlanta, where he would become part of the regional blues scene, performing at the Atlanta blues club Blind Willie's when he wasn't touring the Southeast United States or Europe. Poor health eventually sidelined the talented harp player, although he continued to perform locally. Nelson recorded sporadically throughout his career, and is perhaps best known for two albums recorded during the 1990s for King Snake Records, 1992's Hit and Run Lover and 1996's Back to Bogalusa.

During the latter part of his life, Nelson hooked up with the folks at the Music Maker Relief Foundation, which released his final album, Tell Me Mama, a collection of acoustic blues that displayed a different facet to the Chicago bluesman's talents, in 2009. Our thoughts go out to Nelson's family, friends, and many fans around the world.

Photo courtesy Music Maker Relief Foundation


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