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Johnny Winter's manager, band carries on his legacy

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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When Johnny Winter passed away unexpectedly on July 16 in Switzerland, Paul Nelson, Winter's longtime manager and guitarist, knew what he had to do.

Carry on.

Nelson made sure that Winter's final album, "Step Back" -- which features guest appearances by Eric Clapton, Aerosmith's Joe Perry, ZZ Top's Brian Setzer, Leslie West, Dr. John, Joe Bonamassa, Ben Harper and the Blues Brothers Horns -- was released in September and got its proper due. Now he's leading Winter's band around the country, sworn to keep both the legacy and the music alive.

"I can't tell you how proud I was playing with him," says Nelson, who started playing with Winter in 2001 and became his manager in 2008 and also helmed Winter's critically acclaimed 2011 album "Roots" and helped the Texas blues-rock legend recover from substance abuse and health issues. "He was my idol. I did for him what any fan would have done. And he took me under his wing and showed me stuff and wanted to make me a better player because he saw promise in me.

"It wasn't all easy, but it was a great relationship. I really feel like we got him back to a good place, certainly better than where he had been. Once I got all the crap out of his system, boom!, there he was again."

Nelson is confident fans can hear the fruits of Winter's recovery on "Roots" and especially "Step Back," which spotlighted more of his aggressive rock style than his predecessor.

"I listen to the album and it's as if he's still standing there," Nelson says. "The album was already great without this tragedy. Johnny knew this. He worked and got healthier and he had come back. The growl was back. Then the tragedy happens; we all went to the funeral, then two weeks later the whole album release takes over. It's all happened so fast.

"But he knew about this record. He approved this record. He was proud of it, was proud of his singing and his playing and very happy with the guests I brought in for him."

Two more albums in a similar, guest-filled vein were planned after "Step Back," according to Nelson, who says that there are "two or three" songs that weren't finished from these sessions that may come out at some point.

Johnny Winter Remembrance Show featuring Paul Nelson & the Johnny Winter Band with Jason Ricci and Jim McCarty

8 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 9

Callahan's Music Hall, 2015 South Blvd. Auburn Hills.

Tickets are $50 and $60.

Call 248-858-9508 or visit www.atcallahans.com.

Web Site: www.atcallahans.com

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