Paul Nelson

Paul Nelson

Paul was a Grammy Award winning guitarist, performer, record producer and songwriter who worked with​ everyone from​ Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, ​and Johnny Winter to ​members of The Allman Brothers Band and a ton of other icons. Born in Manhattan, Nelson grew up in Connecticut where​ he first started playing guitar; joining and forming as many bands in as many different styles as possible. He lived in Weston and North Stamford when he was not on the road gigging. His early influences were Billy Gibbons, Jeff Beck, Robben Ford, Johnny Winter, BB King,​ Albert Collins, Freddie King, Jimi​ Hendrix​ and Stevie Ray Vaughan.​ ​Wanting to pursue his music, he enrolled at Berklee, and lived on campus in ​Boston’s Back Bay near the intersection of Boylston Street and Mass. Ave., right next to the school.

At Berklee, Nelson discovered Miles Davis, Coltrane and Wes Montgomery. “When I was there I spent most of my time studying and practicing and didn’t get out too often to see bands. I was heavy into fusion at the time. I went to a few shows at The Orpheum and The Paradise, and it was really cool when I went to The Paradise years later to play with Johnny. At school, there was a lot of rock and fusion, jazz and some blues and fusion; Jeff Beck and Allen Holdsworth.”  Nelson spent most of his time ​honing his craft and soon met and studied privately with Steve Vai.  “I was in one of the practice rooms at Berklee when I heard this great guitarist and it was Steve Vai, who was playing guitar and smoking a cigarette at the same time. I asked him if he gave lessons and he told me he had never given them before. His fee was a carton of cigarettes a lesson​!” (laughs)  ​After attending Berklee, Nelson soon built a name as an A list session player and touring musician; recording on albums for Metal Blade Records with the CT. band Liege Lord and appearing on dozens of other albums released by Century Media, Drive Thru, Lion and other labels. Always wanting to grow as an artist, he began studying with fusion legends Mike Stern and Steve Khan.  It was his session work that le​d​ to his teaming up with his mentor, Johnny Winter,​ at the famed Carriage House Studios in CT​.

With Winter, ​Paul performed and wrote songs including the title track ​on Johnny’s I’m A Bluesman album on Virgin Records for which he received a performance and song writer Grammy Nomination:  and played on and produced Roots (2011) and Step Back (2014), on Megaforce Records​ which won Paul​ the Grammy for Best Blues Album and debuted at #1 on the Billboard Blues Album Chart, ​staying for weeks​; and #16 on the Billboard​ Album Charts  making it Winter’s highest charting album ever. It also won​ Paul and Johnny​ a Blues Music Award​ (BMA)​ for Best Rock Blues Album for the Step Back album​.

“I called up Joe Perry and asked him if he’d be interested in playing on Step Back and he said it would be a ‘huge honor’; and then he said ‘let me tell you, I wouldn’t have picked up the guitar if it wasn’t for Johnny Winter.’ ” Another local legend, Susan Tedeschi, appeared on Johnny’s Roots release. Paul remembers: “I ​wanted female vocals on the album and I had played with her husband Derek Trucks, so I called him. For the “Bright Lights Big City” track, I told Susan ‘I need you to sing the whole song.’ I recorded Johnny singing the whole song too, and then edited it as a duet and it sounded like they were in the same room. In the final mix, I had Johnny singing the first verse and Susan the next, in the chorus they answered each other and in the outro they both sing together. Neither of them knew I was going to produce the song this way either.”

Highlights of his career include: Being credited as the composer and performer for music heard on t.v. broadcasts around the world on NBC, TNN, and UPN as well as the WWF where he wrote the music for their XFL League. He has also been featured in Rolling Stone, Billboard, USA Today, Guitar World, Guitar Player, Premier Guitar, Classic Rock and Vintage Guitar magazines. Nelson also performed on the Halifax song ‘Anthem For Tonight’ from their Inevitability Of A Strange World CD featured on the Xbox game ‘Prey.’ People today remember him for this cool contribution too. Nelson notes: “Gamers still come up to me. I was hired to play the solo for the band’s MTV video and the song got picked up by Xbox and charted at #1 on Billboard’s Heatseekers Album chart. In the game, players go in and decide what kind of music they want played while picking out weapons to kill aliens. The other bands in the game are Ozzie, Heart, and Judas Priest, so I’m in pretty good company. (laughs) It’s hugely successful.”

Nelson produced all thirteen albums for Johnny Winter’s Live Bootleg Series​ charting in the top 10 on Billboard’s Blues Charts ​and was also the executive producer and appeared in Johnny’s documentary Down and Dirty.  Paul ​stands out with Johnny on the Dave Letterman Show January 26, 2012 and the Jimmy Kimmel Show March 13, 2014 and you can see him in the documentary Sidemen: Long Road To Glory alongside Gregg Allman, Bonnie Raitt, Elvin Bishop, Pinetop Perkins and Hubert Sumlin.

Paul Nelson was inducted into the New York Blues Music Hall Of Fame​ three times​, and became the recipient of the prestigious KBA Award for keeping the blues alive; from The Blues Foundation. In 2017, he was nominated for a Grammy Award for his work as producer and performer on Everybody Wants A Piece the latest release from blues icon Joe Louis Walker.​ He also released a highly acclaimed solo instrumental album Look (2001) and in 2017 signed a solo deal with Sony Music and released Badass Generation. He was the co-host the Johnny Winter Rock and Blues Hour on WPKN in CT. (89.5 FM).​ 

Paul died of a heart attack March 10th, 2024 while on the road touring.


  • Johnny Winter
  • Buddy Guy
  • Billy Gibbons
  • Vince Gill
  • Slash
  • Brian Setzer
  • Joe Perry
  • Derek Trucks
  • Edgar Winter
  • Ben Harper
  • ​Dr John
  • Hubert Sumlin
  • Rick Derringer
  • Robben Ford
  • Joe Bonamassa
  • James Cotton
  • ​Warren Haynes​
  • Steve Vai
  • Sonny Landreth
  • Earl Slick
  • Dickey Betts
  • Mark Knopfler
  • Joe Walsh
  • Pat Travers
  • Larry Carlton
  • Elvin Bishop
  • Ronnie Earl
  • Susan Tedeschi
  • ​Blues Brothers Horns
  • Harvey Brooks
  • Larry Carlton​
  • ​Los Lobos​
  • Kenny Wayne Shepherd


  • The Worldwide Mega-Book of Heavy Metal Bands (Rock & Roll Reference Series) (book) 
  • Wacken Open Air (DVD) (2000)
  • Look – Paul Nelson (2001)
  • Warmth in the Wilderness: A Tribute to Jason Becker – various artists (2001)
  • Gigs From Hell: True Stories From Rock and Roll’s Frontline (book) (2003)
  • A Return To Fantasy: A Tribute To Uriah Heep – various artists (2003)
  • A-Z of Power Metal (Rockdetector) (book/CD) (2003)
  • Beyond Inspiration: A Tribute to Uli Jon Roth – various artists (2003)
  • I’m a Bluesman – Johnny Winter (2004)
    Guitarist, Song Writer​
  • The Collector’s Guide To Heavy Metal (book) (2005)
  • Prey – Xbox 360 (2006)
  • The Mob (2006)
  • The Inevitability of a Strange World – Halifax (2006)
  • Pigswear EMI/Virgin (2007)
  • Johnny Winter Live Bootleg Series Volume 1 (2007)
  • Warmth in the Wilderness, Vol. II: A Tribute to Jason Becker – various artists (2007)
  • Johnny Winter Live Bootleg Series Volume 2 (2008)
  • Johnny Winter Live Bootleg Series Volume 3 (2008)
  • Johnny Winter Live Bootleg Series Volume 4 (2009)
  • Raisin’ Cain: The Wild and Raucous Story of Johnny Winter (book) (2010)
  • Live On The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise – Joe Louis Walker (2010)
    Guest Guitarist​
  • Johnny Winter Plays The Blues (Book/CD) (2011)
    Rhythm Guitarist​
  • Roots – Johnny Winter (2011)
    Performer, Producer​
  • Live From Japan – Johnny Winter – DVD (2012)
  • True to the Blues: The Johnny Winter Story – Johnny Winter (2014)
  • Step Back – Johnny Winter (2014)
  • Everybody Wants a Piece – Joe Louis Walker (2015)
    Guest Guitarist Producer​
  • Blues Christmas – various artists (2015)
  • Southern Rock Christmas – various artists (2015)
  • Badass Generation – Paul Nelson Band (2016)
    Performer​ Song Writer Producer
  • ​Lance Lopez – Live in NYC (2016) Producer​
  • Johnny Winter: Down and Dirty documentary (2016)
    Feat Artist Executive Director​
  • Sidemen: Long Road To Glory documentary (2016)
    ​ Feat: Artist​
  • The James Montgomery Blues Band – James Montgomery (2016)
    Guest Guitarist and Producer with Jimmy Vivino (Conan) and Mark Naftalin (Butterfied Blues Band) Grace Kelly (Stephen Colbert Band CBS)​
  • Life of a Dreamer – Yonrico Scott (Derek Trucks) (2016)
    Guest Guitarist on “Red Clay”​
  • 10,000 Feet Below – Eliza Neals (2017)
    Guest Guitarist​
  • InstrumentHead – Michael Weintrob Photography Book (2017)
  • Eyes of The Sun – Otis (2017)
    Guest Guitarist and Executive Producer​
  • Next in Line – Tyler Morris (2018)

​ (By A.J. Wachtel)

Published On: June 19, 2018