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Frisco's Other Blues Woman

Beginnings and the Madison Connection

Tracy Nelson was born in French Camp, California two days after the Christmas of 1944. But, ironically, though later performing in San Francisco, her family moved to Madison, Wisconsin and the teenage Tracy would listen to the night-time airwaves that carried afar the Nashville WLAC and its rich source of blues and rhythem and blues. The University of Wisconsin neighbor in Madison became her college in the early sixties, and with inspiration from trips to Chicago Blues clubs, even meeting Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, she had her own blues oriented group that played the local coffeehouses, The Fabulous Imitators.

Just twenty years old, Tracy went to Chicago's Prestige label where producer Sam Charters had her record a folk-blues album, Deep Are the Roots. Helped by Charlie Musselwhite on harp, songs like "Motherless Child," "Baby Please Don't Go", "Ramblin' Man" and "House of the Rising Sun" show her part in the folk movement that was paralled and copied, especially abroad. She was also part of the Minneapolis area hip scene playing with others such as Koerner, Glover and Ray. In 1965 Tracy made her way to San Francisco, California, by way of Los Angeles settling down for a bit.

Frisco and Mother Earth

After kicking around a bit, Tracy with the help of fellow Texan Powell Saint John, a songwriter whose material was far flung formed her most famous ensemble, Mother Earth in 1967.  This group made the big-time at the Fillmore West and the Avalon Ballroom crossing paths with Jimi Hendrix as well. She did some work for a United Artists' soundtrack for Revolution which put her on an album with Steve Miller and another Frisco band, Quicksilver Messenger Service. One interesting antecdote of this 'summer of love' is the incident where her dog bit the Animals' Eric Burdon. In 1969, at around the same time that other blues woman, Janis Joplin, was shouting the blues (as opposed to Tracy's soulful melodic style), their first album was released on Mercury, Living with the Animals.  The title cut was written by Powell St. John.  One most powerful song from this album that was played on the alternative radio stations like a single hit was "Down So Low" --the gut wrenching blues with vocal riffs is unforgetable. It has been covered by Maria Muldaur, Linda Ronstadt and Etta James. (Who called Tracy "...a bad white girl")

Tennessee and Beyond

Not too long after Mother Earth's album came out, she and the band moved to Nashville, away from the exesses of that time and place, but subsequent recordings in this new locale did not match the earlier success. But in hindsight, the music put out right after settling in Nashville is excellent pioneer country-rock work with Elvis' Scotty Moore helping out on "That's Alright Mama" on Mother Earth Presents Tracy Nelson Country featuring Pete Drake on pedal steel. She recorded six albums total with Mother Earth for their committment to Mercury; but eventually she went solo recording for Atlantic, CBS, Flying Fish and MCA continuing her trend of country, rhythm and blues and folk blues. 1974 she won a first grammy for a duet "After the Fire Is Gone" with Willie Nelson from a self-titled Atlantic album. The 80's saw Tracy more involved with performances rather than studio time, and one memorable time was singing with Neil Young at his 1985 Live Aid. Her first true blues album in three decades, however, was her 1993 hightly acclaimed release on Rounder, In the Here and Now, two years later she put out I Feel So Good, and then in the next was another well recieved work, and another Nashville Music Award in the Blues/R&B genre, Move On. On her last work with Rounder, she teamed up with other powerful vocalists, Irma Thomas and Marcia Ball on an CD in 1998, a grammy nomination and a smash, Sing It!. Thomas lauded Tracy: “She has a magnificent voice. She can truly sell a song.”  She was featured on an in-depth interview and retrospect around this time for National Public Radio that featured some of her work, and thoughts about her love of the music. Her latest album in the new millenium is Relentess/Nashville Electric Records, Ebony and Ivory with a wrenching songs inspired from the headlines, and a host of the best musicians from Robert Cray's Jim Pugh on keyboards, and another - Stevie Ray Vaughn's Reese Wynans, as well as well known players New grass to the Memphis Horns. Reviewers online the Wide World Web have rated it a four out of five star production. In 2007 she gave us You'll Never Be a Stranger at My Door.

After the Fire is Gone

Her house in Burns, Tennessee burned down in 2010, and she gave an interview on PBS Weekend Edition and recalled, “The firemen told us they could save one room — we had to decide —we said ‘the studio.’"

Love is where you find it,
When you find no love at home.
And there's nothin' cold as ashes,
After the fire is gone.
Quite the irony how her tragedy poignantly coincides with that song.

We are so very blessed to have Tracy still performing and recording, -- belting out the blues, with an uncompromising authenticity that ironically keeps her out of the popular mainstream.

Her schedule (2013) is on her website, http://tracynelson.com/. She  appeared with Maria Muldaur and Marcia Ball in a production called Women Who Rock: Saluting the Pioneers.


1965 -- Deep Are the Roots, Tracy Nelson
1968 -- Living With the Animals; Mercury
1968 -- Revolution (soundtrack) (Mother Earth); UA
1969 -- Make a Joyful Noise (Mother Earth); Mercury
1969 -- Mother Earth Presents Tracy Nelson Country; Mercury
1970 -- Satisfied (Mother Earth)
1971 -- Bring Me Home(Mother Earth); Reprise
1972 -- Tracy Nelson/Mother Earth; Warner
1973 -- Poor Man's Paradise; Columbia
1974 -- Tracy Nelson; Atlantic
1975 -- Sweet Soul Music; MCA
1976 -- Time Is On My Side; MCA
1978 -- Doin' It My Way; Audio Directions
1978 -- Homemade Songs; Flying Fish
1980 -- Come See About Me; Flying Fish (CD 1992)
1993 -- In the Here and Now ; Rounder CD
1995 -- I Feel So Good; Rounder CD
1996 -- Move On; Rounder CD
1998 -- Sing It!; Rounder CD
1998 -- Poor Man's Paradise
2001 -- Ebony and Ivory; Relentless/Nashville Electric Records
2007 -- You'll Never Be a Stranger at My Door
2011 -- Victim of the Blues; Delta Groove Music / Delta Groove Productions


Source: Blue Flame Cafe a bad white girl Blues Ring

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