The Dickson Herald
Editor’s note: This story is part of an ongoing series about Dickson County artists: musicians, craft artisans, painters or songwriters.
Dickson County is home to one of the best blues singers in the country. The gifted, and to many music critics enormously underrated, Tracy Nelson has now lived in Dickson County for decades and is releasing a new CD this month with her buddies The Blues Broads: Nelson, Dorothy Morrison, Angela Strehli and Annie Sampson. The CD is titled “The Blues Broads Live.”
The Blues Broads grew out of casual performances with Strehli and Nelson about a decade ago at Rancho Nicasio, a restaurant and nightclub in the town of Nicasio in Marin County, California.
“It started with me and Angela and then Annie Sampson was doing most of the shows. Annie had a group called Stoneground in the Sixties,” says Nelson. “I think we were both on Warner Brothers. So Angela and me and Annie were kind of the core. Generally these gigs were on Memorial Day weekend, and if Maria (Muldaur) was in town, she’d come and sing with us. Carlene Carter was living up there for a while, so she came in for a few of the gigs. It was just a bunch of girls getting together and jamming together. Then we got the current unit and it because serious.”
For perspective, Dorothy Morrison sang lead vocals on “Oh, Happy Day,” Angela Strehli helped build the Austin, Texas Blues scene and Annie Sampson had recorded with Taj Mahal, Buddy Miles, Eddie Money Bonnie Raitt and Boz Scaggs,
“I mean all of us are good strong singers, so we just get these wonderful harmony things going. It’s so much fun, I can hardly stand it,” Nelson says.
And Nelson has had a lot of fun.
In the late Sixties she formed the country/rock band Mother Earth in San Francisco, and the band shared the stage with the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. Her fans are loyal and long-term. Her more recent fans happen to just stumble across her in her abject refusal to be pigeonholed. She’s been quoted as saying she’s successfully avoided fame.
“I just did what I wanted to do, realizing that a lot of choices I made would not have necessarily translated into big money,” Nelson says. “Some of the things I was supposed to do, according to managers or record labels, would have made me very unhappy.”
Still, she’s not gone without industry recognition. In 1974, Nelson’s duet with Willie Nelson, “After the Fire is Gone,” was nominated for a Grammy. She was nominated for another in 1998 for her collaboration with singers Irma Thomas and Marcia Ball.
To hear Nelson sing her blues classic “Down so Low,” which she wrote with Mother Earth, is to be drop-kicked into heartbreak, the vibrato in her voice so muscular it’s shocking. She vacillates between Blues and Country, but it’s Blues more than not even though her most recent Country album, “You’ll Never Be a Stranger at My Door,” was released in 2007.
Some dub her genre Americana because it embraces not just Blues and Country but also Folk and Roots Music. The Sacramento Bee once dubbed her “The Queen of Americana Music.”
After Linda Ronstadt and Etta James recorded “Down So Low” Nelson was financially set up. She bought a farm in Vanleer and took a hiatus from recording during the 1980’s. She now lives with her boyfriend and producer Mike Dysinger on his family farm in Burns.
She and Dysinger made national news when his 1910 house, along with belongings and memorabilia from Nelson’s over-40-year career, went up in flames. The insurance covered a lot but not everything. Nashville countered with a benefit concert that included Delbert McClinton, Steve Cropper, Lee Roy Parnell, Jimmy Hall and Kentucky Thunder.
She thanks the Burns Fire Department for saving her studio and what would become her latest solo CD ironically entitled “Victim of the Blues.”
“They were here in seconds,” Nelson says. “They came in and they said, ‘If there’s one room that we need to concentrate on to save what would it be?’ The room I would have chosen was already totally burned up, and that’s where I had all of my memorabilia. So, we took the studio. The first thanks we put on the new record is to the Burns Fire Department.”
The collaborative album is “a little bit of everything,” says Nelson.
“None of us except Angela are strictly Blues. We do some Gospel; we do a lot of R&B. It’s a pretty broad spectrum,” says Nelson noticing the pun and adds laughing, “That went right by me.”
“The Blues Broads Live,” a wall of sound, is now available through Delta Groove Music.