Jimmy "T-99" Nelson
Jimmy "T-99" Nelson is one of the last of a dying breed, that of the big-voiced blues shouter. Gone before him were blues legends like Wynonie Harris, Roy Brown, Tiny Bradshaw, and the greatest shouter of them all, Big Joe Turner. A chance meeting in 1941 with the latter convinced Nelson that his future was in singing the blues rather than gospel.
Nelson's biggest hit was his 1951 Modern/RPB recording of "T-99 Blues." But, other than a few more recordings for RPM, Nelson recorded very infrequently after his big hit.
The paucity of Nelson recordings is the major reason why his 1999 album, Rockin' and Shoutin' the Blues should be treasured. Even though he was nearing the age of 80, Nelson still possesses a powerful set of vocal chords on the nine tunes here. It also helps that he's backed by some of the best session musicians to be found, notably the exquisite guitarist Clarence Hollimon and the Roomful of Blues horn and rhythm sections, supplemented by fellow Bullseye artist Sax Gordon.
The album kicks off with one of its strongest cuts, as Nelson sings about a very inviting place called "House of the Blues." Carl Querfurth contributes tasty trombone on this song, one of four originals on the album. The imagery of this particular house of the blues is very descriptive, showing Nelson to be a strong and creative songwriter.
Hollimon's guitar work dominates the version of Leroy Carr's classic "How Long Blues." Nelson takes a few liberties with the lyrics, continuing on ongoing fixture with using the phrase "...a wet tongue in my ear...," which also shows up in "House of the Blues."
One of my favorite numbers is Nelson's rendition of the great slow blues "Don't Let The Sun Catch You Cryin'." He lowers his voice enough to give this dirge-like number just the right tone and emotion, and the sax players provide restrained and tasteful accompaniment.
Matt McCabe leads Nelson through a spirited "Boogie Woogie Country Girl" with rollicking piano. Nelson has an inherent ability to constrain his vocals to give each song just the right amount of energy, without ever going overboard, and he demonstrates it to great effect on this number. I went back and listened to Nelson's recordings from the early 1950s, and found that he also possessed the same skill as a fledgling performer.
The album ends with the "stop time" slow blues "Sweet Mr. Cleanhead," a nice tribute to another great blues shouter, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson. Nelson updates the original with a mention of another famous "cleanhead," Michael Jordan. Hollimon again contributes his customary fine guitar to this number.
As mentioned previously with the "wet tongue in the ear" reference, Nelson's lyrics occasionally venture into the bawdy. Note his reference to "...big breasted, oversexed women...," but these blue lyrics come across with an air of innocence, similar to your grandfather telling you a cute, off-color joke.
Considering the limited number of albums by Jimmy "T-99" Nelson, all serious blues fans will want to add Rockin' and Shoutin' the Blues to their collections.
--- Bill Mitchell
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