Guitarist returns to Bop Shop Records on April 20
Kinloch Nelson’s latest album is a labor of luck — and of decades of hard work
Imagine it’s the late 1960s. You’ve been listening to guys like Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Dylan and Donovan. You’re a year out of high school, and you’ve been playing guitar with your buddies for a couple of years. And you manage to finagle some studio time and you get a pretty good recording of the best of what you’ve written and what you’re playing.
And John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas — yes, that John Phillips — catches wind of what you’ve got going on and wants you and a friend to work up a little Mason Williams for him.
But as these things go, the gig doesn’t come to pass and the recordings get set aside. And if you’re Rochester’s Kinloch Nelson — the guitarist we’re talking about here — life gets in the way and you move on to playing with a slew of bands in your adopted hometown, teaching guitar to hundreds of musicians around town, and settling in to a solo acoustic career of your own.
But those late ’60s recordings manage to stay with you, despite their somewhat tumultuous journey into the 21stcentury. And they’re destined to become a complete album way in the future, in 2019.
See, one day in the summer of 1970, Nelson decides to hop in his family’s Ford Fairlane station wagon with a friend and take those tapes over to the friend’s house to check them out on the friend’s dad’s stereo. The Sony reel-to-reel player is in the back seat, along with the tapes he and another friend made, and his guitar, a Gibson J-50.
The family car, with its stick shift, blue interior and precious cargo, passes through an intersection it has rolled through countless times before. But this time, a guy driving a Mustang with beer cans scattered all over the floor blows through the intersection and T-bones the black Ford wagon.
As Nelson says now, if he’d been driving just a little slower, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
All the windows in the car shatter. Tapes fly out into the road, along with the tape deck. The J-50? Let’s just say it was collateral damage.
“The first thing on my mind was to make sure nobody was dead,” Nelson says. “We were kind of dazed. I made sure my friend was OK, and then I realized, ‘Oh, God, the tapes are all over the highway.’ The tape recorder was in the road, cars were going by, people were stopping.”
The car got folded in half in that crash. But the artist and his friend survived, the tapes rescued, and the guitar ultimately repaired.
Fast-forward nearly 50 years, and Nelson is unabashedly enthusiastic about all aspects of guitar work — he’s moved on from a 25-year dalliance with the pedal steel guitar and rock ’n’ roll bands and now works strictly in the acoustic milieu, occasionally using harp guitar to fatten up some of the tunes.
In Rochester last year, Nelson connected with fellow guitarist Duck Baker, shortly after Baker had worked with the Tompkins Square label to produce his collection of unreleased demos, Les Blues Du Richmond: Demos & Outtakes 1973-1979.
The two had brunch and were shooting the breeze, like guitarists do. “He was telling me about a project he was doing with Tompkins Square that involved old recordings from years ago. And I said, ‘Well, you know, I’ve got some stuff that might fit.’ And he said, ‘Let me hear it.’ And so I sent him something, and he said, ‘Oh yeah, this would fit.’ … And here we are.”
The resulting recording, Partly On Time: Recordings 1968-1970, on CD and vinyl from Tompkins Square, came out in March 2019. Nelson’s solo tour started at Bop Shop Records in early April with a capacity crowd of friends, family and long-time fans. It’s the harp guitar that enables Nelson to replicate the music he recorded with his friend Carter Redd on those reel-to-reel tapes back in the ’60s.
And the guitar case Nelson is carrying on the cover of Partly On Time? A high school graduation present. A year later, it was lost in that car crash.
— Jann Nyffeler for Bop Shop Records
“Are you aware of the Rochester-based acoustic guitarist Kinloch Nelson? Sounds like he’s been working in obscurity, but Tompkins Square just released some recordings he made in the late ’60s. I just saw him in Boston this week, and he’s remarkable, just a brilliant musician. The audience loved him. I figure you probably know him, but if you don’t you should seek him out. I know you’d dig what he’s doing.”
— Michael Tarbox
Kinloch Nelson’s “Partly On Time” Tour
After a tour that took him to Brooklyn, Philadelphia, D.C., Harrisburg and Boston, Nelson returns to Rochester this Saturday for a second show at Bop Shop Records.
What: Kinloch Nelson, guitarist, celebrating the 2019 release of Partly On Time: Recordings 1968-1970, on CD and vinyl
Where: Bop Shop Records, 1460 Monroe Ave., Rochester, New York
When: 8 p.m., Saturday, April 20
How much: $10 at the door.
Check him out: kinlochnelson.com