About The Artist
Todd Nelson is a highly regarded guitarist who has plays Jazz, Rock, Blues, Country, Folk, and Classical guitar. He is equally at home accompanying vocalists, leading an instrumental trio or playing in a large band, preferring to make the most appropriate contribution whether as a sideman or featured artist.
He began guitar lessons at the age of 10 outside of Providence, Rhode Island and his first band, The Incidentals was started in grade school. That was followed by the psychedelic Sophist Intrigue. The name was suggested by the drummer’s older sister who lived in San Francisco and painted concert posters for shows at the Fillmore West. She also painted Todd’s guitar case which is lost to history, unfortunately. Next came the blues-rock flavored Citadel and Beggars’ Farm. An early inspiration at this time was Duke Robillard who played blues in the style of B.B. King in the greater Providence area.
In 1971 Todd’s family relocated to Upstate New York where he continued playing in high school bands such as Willie Waffle and the Flapjacks (yes, really) and Noonward Race. The latter was named after a Mahavishnu Orchestra piece. In fact, “Dance of Maya” from the Inner Mounting Flame album was part of the band’s repertoire, along with the requisite Deep Purple and Savoy Brown songs. As you might guess, John McLaughlin was a significant musical influence on Todd in the early 70’s and still is today.
Todd studied music at the State University of New York at Albany and began his post high school career with Mullin’s Bench. His professional career really started with a band called Country Joe Higgins and the Playboys. He made his first recording of a single with that group. “Old Five and Dimers” backed by “My Heart’s Still Doing Time,” After leaving that band and spending time travelling in California and the Canadian Rockies he joined a country rock outfit called Silver Chicken. The band was fronted by Jim Fish, an aficionado of The Byrds and their guitarist Clarence White. It was in Silver Chicken that Todd began co-writing songs with Jim. Todd considers Jim one of the most important influences in his musical evolution. As a sideline, he also began playing slide guitar at this time, having been inspired by Ry Cooder, Lowell George and Bonnie Raitt. The band broke up when Jim hit the big time with an offer to join Henry Paul, formerly of The Outlaws in his new southern rock band. Silver Chicken reunited for a concert in 2012 and released enhanced recordings from 1977 as a CD called “Storm Ride.”
By the late 1970’s Todd was eager to branch out from the confines of southern rock. He formed a band with roommate Steve Cohen on bass, Val Haynes on vocals, and Australian drummer, Al Kash, who had returned to the US in the middle of the decade. For 1 or 2 years they were joined by the late Doug White on guitar and keyboards. The Units was a band that played anything from Steely Dan to Parliament/Funkadelic to Talking Heads. It was a conversation with the members of Little Feat at a record store appearance that inspired The Units to begin writing their own material. Before long half of the repertoire was original while the band was still working every weekend in local bars and colleges. The band continued into the 1980’s, opening shows in the Northeast for many English bands including The Police, Squeeze, XTC, The Specials, as well as new American acts like the B-52s and REM. The name, the Units, had come from Al Kash who had played in a band of that name in Perth, West Australia. Unfortunately with the explosion of local bands writing their own material, making DIY recordings, and getting international press, conflicts arose. A synthesizer band, called The Units, from San Francisco was getting some notice, and a dispute over the rights to the name ensued. After some pointless legal wrangling it was decided that the band would change its name even though it had been in use professionally in Australia by Kash before the San Francisco Units were even out of high school. It was settled that Fear of Strangers would be the new name of the band and they went on to release their first and only album for Faulty Products, an appropriately named label owned by Miles Copeland, the Police’s manager. The Units worked that album hard but were ultimately unable to break out of its regional status. Kash returned to Australia for a couple of years; while Cohen and Haynes relocated to New York City where they continued working together as Lonesome Val. The four original members of Fear of Strangers remain close and still get together every few years to play. Their fanbase is still very interested in attending live performances and turns out to see the band whenever possible.
Todd stayed in New York’s Capital District and formed the short-lived Squareone, with friends Mark Foster on drums and Rick Bedrosian on bass. The fourth member was multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Jim Sande whose songwriting approach was another strong influence on Todd’s composing. Unfortunately the band split up due to outside pressures before it could record any material. For the next few years Todd played oldies with the Newports, worked days in a frame shop, and wrote songs on the side. Todd also played guitar and mandolin in a Celtic folk group called Donnybrook Fair, a completely new experience that opened musical doors that were previously unknown to him. He eventually contributed tracks to solo CDs by the group’s mainstays Kevin MacKrell and Jeff Strange.
In 1986 an opportunity arose for Todd to record three original songs with Terry Adams of NRBQ producing. Helping out were two Newports bandmates: Bob Boyer on bass and Dan McCarroll, who is now the president of Warner Bros. Records, on drums. These recordings eventually were released by the band Tornado Bait as cassette only. Tornado Bait consisted of Todd, Rick Bedrosian, Al Kash and Brad Jarvis. Though the band didn’t last, a memorable night took place in Woodstock, New York at the Tinker Street Café when The Sugercubes, Iceland’s avant-pop band asked if they could play a set on our gig while they were in town to record. After much agonized deliberation the band agreed. The lead singer, Bjork acted like the star she already was in Iceland while the lovely keyboard player, Margrét Örnólfsdóttir was friendly and curious about their American hosts.
In 1992 Todd moved to Woodstock and with the assistance of the late Dan Griffin found more opportunities for recording and accompanying different artists. A spur of the moment opportunity came when he was asked by producer/musical genius Jon Brion to hurriedly play a guitar track on “I Should’ve Known” from Aimee Mann’s first solo CD, “Whatever” (he had a gig to get to). Only the playing on the intro survived the mixing process, which is probably for the best. He played acoustic guitar in an ensemble led by Argentinian Jorge Heilpern which included jazz bassist John Menagon and the late Betty MacDonald on violin and vocals. He also accompanied singer/ songwriter Pal Shazar live and on her CD, “There’s a Wild Thing in this House,”,and contributed lead guitar on demos for Jules Shear’s “Healing Bones” CD.
After a couple of years with an acoustic trio called The Hottentots and accompanying the duo Smith and Bakken, another relocation to the Boston, Massachusetts area in 1994 brought Todd some opportunities to play and record in new situations. The Wheelers and Dealers was a traditional country band based in Cambridge, where Country Music was definitely not King. A large dose of Irony was required. The Apples was a power pop band led by Darin Ames, and Jackie-Oh, which included extraordinary bassist Jim Haggerty and keyboardist Jamie Edwards who is now a member of Aimee Mann’s band, played alternative rock. Both bands worked the Cape Cod summer circuit, a burn-out scene if there ever was one. After 2½ years Todd returned to Upstate to settle and attend graduate school for Urban Planning.
Music was clearly on the back burner but Todd remained active playing for singer/songwriter Bruce Kean, in the acoustic group Imaginary Friend and recording acoustic and slide guitar with Raisinhead. Rumdummies was formed in 2003 to play original R&B with a large dose of slide guitar. Singer/harmonica player Pat Conover and Todd wrote a number of songs together for the band that were released on the CD “Too Dum to Quit”. He also performed with alt-country artist Hayseed.
Todd made a conscious decision around 2007 to concentrate less on songwriting and instead become a better guitar player. Until this time his musical role was either accompanying vocals or playing lead guitar. Rarely had he carried the melody of a piece. Slide guitar took a back seat and he resolved to learn some jazz standards as well to study jazz harmony. He also began to arrange songs he had written for an instrumental ensemble of guitar, bass and drums. Eventually that resulted in his first solo CD, “Here” with Kyle Esposito on fretless bass, and Manuel Quintana on drums. Kyle and Manuel are simultaneously members of TN3 and two-thirds of Nelson Esposito Quintana, a cooperative version of the same group. NEQ recently released a CD, “None of the Above” consisting of Nelson’s originals combined with pieces composed by the group and spontaneous jams. The CD was recorded over a three year period at the band member’s home studios as well as at Coldbrook Productions (Julie Last, engineer) and Flymax Recording (Pete Caigan, engineer). The band’s live repertoire is rounded out by unusual arrangements of rock, folk, classical and gospel covers.
Todd currently divides his musical time between TN3, NEQ, The Cutaways (a new Rock/R&B band with area veteran musicians), Lonesome Val and singer/songwriter Steve Candlen; he remains open to new projects and musical challenges.