RON OBERMAN REMEMBERS PAUL NELSON
On Thursday, Paula Batson sent me an email about the passing of Paul Nelson. I was shocked and saddened to hear this news.
Paul was a amazing individual. He was a great writer, whose passions for music were evident in his brilliant pieces. He also was one of the kindest, most sensitive and sincere persons I've ever known.
I first got to know Paul shortly after I started work in the publicity department at Mercury Records in Chicago. I had just given up a journalism career at the Washington (D.C.) Star, where I had just become a staff reporter and wrote a pop music column from 1963 to 1967.
Before I made my first trip to New York to meet some music writers, I decided that Paul was the first person I wanted to meet. So, I spoke to him on the phone and we decided to meet in New York. I met him and his girlfriend at the time in their third-floor walkup apartment. I made it a point to get together with Paul every time I came to New York. We had bonded really well, and felt a great connection to each other.
It was in 1969, I believe, that the Mercury New York publicist decided to leave. I had to find another person to fill the job. After much thought, I decided that Paul Nelson could make a great publicist. In my own mind, I knew it was a bit of an odd choice. Paul was very low key and reserved, and was not a salesman. But, he did have much credibility as a music writer and critic, and I felt that would go a long way in his dealings with other music writers.
I offered Paul the job. His big concern was that he would have to push acts that he didn't believe in. I told him that would not be the case. I assured him that he would only have to work on acts that he cared about, and that were more "press oriented." He accepted the job and wound up doing wonderful work as head of the New York publicity department.
Mercury was a bit short on credible acts at the time. David Bowie had been there, but left for RCA around the time Paul started. The two acts Paul wound up having the most passion for were Doug Sahm of the Sir Douglas Quintet (probably because Doug was an original much like Paul) and Rod Stewart. Paul was passionate about the Quintet's first album, "Honky Blues," which combined rock, blues, r&b, country, tex-mex, jazz and psychedelia flawlessly. He adored Doug, but would tell me he'd freak out when Doug would come in his office and light up a big joint.
At Mercury, I would often fly from Chicago to Los Angeles for business. Many times I would have Paul come out and meet me. His favorite restaurant was Musso and Frank in Hollywood. As soon as he got in the restaurant he would light up one of his trademark Sherman cigarillos, which would invariably be dangling from his lips. The first thing he would order was two cokes. Then, it was on to his favorite Musso and Frank dish, pounded steak.
In 1970 I left Mercury to manage a Chicago band, Wilderness Road. On a visit to Chicago Paul came with me to see the group. He just fell in love with them. In fact, he flew back to Chicago at least four times just to see the group perform their regular Thursday night gig at the Wise Fools Pub. Once, he even paid for Bud Scoppa to fly back to see them, too. Bud also became a big fan. When the band's first album came out on Columbia Records, Paul wrote an amazing review in Rolling Stone.
When I went to work for Columbia Records in New York in 1972, I would see Paul occasionally and we would talk on the phone. I'll never forget how devastated he was when someone burgled his apartment, and made off with his extensive collection of First Edition detective novels.
I had not spoken to Paul in many years and often wondered how to get in touch with him. A few years ago, Warren Leming, leader of Wilderness Road, emailed me Steven Ward's interview with Paul. I was able to track him down to Evergreen Video, where he was working. I phoned him and we had a great conversation. That was the last I spoke to him, and am grateful that I had that opportunity.
I feel privileged to have known such a talented, amazing individual.
PAUL NELSON LINKS
Warren Leming - IN MEMORIAM
Online Tributes to Paul Nelson
Rolling Stone - IN MEMORIAM
PAUL NELSON REVIEWS
Rolling Stone's SOME GIRLS
Bob Dylan's SHOT OF LOVE
Bruce Springsteen's THE RIVER
Willie Nelson's RED HEADED STRANGER
Bob Dylan and The Band's THE BASEMENT TAPES