Featured Musician: Sonny Boy Nelson

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Sonny Boy Nelson (real name Eugene Powell) recorded in the 1930s, and played along side legendary country blues musician Hacksaw Harney. I first discovered Nelson a few years into playing blues music.

It was a revelatory experience. 

Nelson’s intricate and sorrowful playing made me see the possibility of what my guitar playing could turn into.

When I studied with John Miller, I asked him to help me figure out some of Nelson’s playing because it was so unconventional, but so familiar. Only a master of this style like John could unravel this playing.

Watching and learning Nelson’s playing gave me a new outlook and perspective in what’s possible in country blues playing. It also helped me figure out the playing of blues-great Sam Chatmon who was undoubtedly in contact with Sonny Boy Nelson in his lifetime.

Here are some examples of Nelson’s incredible blues picking:

Nelson definitely has a unique style, but also has some clear influences. I can hear riffs from Tommy Johnson’s Lonesome Home Blues and a lot of stylistic borrowings from Blind Lemon Jefferson.

Matchbox Blues was a cover of a Blind Lemon Jefferson song, but Nelson’s version is a great example of making something your own.

For the same reasons as I love Scrapper Blackwell’s playing, I love Sonny Boy Nelson’s. They both have a clear way of playing in a key, and they constantly improvise, but their style is a recognizable trademark of their craft.

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