Vintage Guitar - October 2017 - open - 22

Guitar Stars Honor a Fallen Hero

O

n June 22, the musical journey of guitar
great Jimmy Nalls ended due to the effects
of Parkinson's Disease and injuries sustained in
a fall at his Nashville home. He was 66.
In bittersweet irony, his death came three days
after the release of the star-studded Jimmy Nalls
Project - what was to be his sophomore solo
album, shelved in various stages of completion 18
years prior, after Parkinson's rendered him unable
to play. Nashville luthier Joe Glaser, along with
Gabriel Hernandez, of Blues Vintage Guitars, Inc.,
helped organize the project, with Warren Haynes,
Robben Ford, Larry Carlton, Joe Bonamassa,
Johnny Hiland, Chuck Leavell, Kenny Greenberg,
Aerosmith's Brad Whitford, and others lending
their talents, along with engineers and studios,
with 100 percent of the proceeds going to help
defray medical and funeral expenses.
Growing up in Maryland and Virginia, Nalls
learned his first chords from his father at age five.
He cited Roy Buchanan as his biggest influence,
along with Duane Allman, Leo Kottke, and
Lowell George for slide.
He was probably best known as a founding

member of Sea Level, formed in '76 as sort of
a splinter group of the Allman Brothers Band.
Chuck Leavell first played with Nalls in 1970 as
part of Alex Taylor's band, then the pair joined
Dr. John.
"We traveled together, ate together, rehearsed
together, played gigs together," the keyboardist
wrote on his website. "Jimmy and I... shared
our dreams together, talked of our hopes and
aspirations, as well as our disappointments and
frustrations. We laughed and cried together. We
were brothers."
The quartet (later adding guitarist Davis
Causey) was the perfect showcase for Nalls'
versatility, spanning Southern rock to SteelyDan-esque jazz, with Nalls occasionally serving
up a blistering take on Freddie King's "Hideaway."
His resume also revealed his range, with
recordings by Doug Kershaw, Don McLean,
Gregg Allman, Livingston Taylor, Bill Anderson,
Bonnie Bramlett, and Bobby Whitlock. He also
played on the famous "Wedding Song" by Noel
Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary.
In '86, Nalls moved to Nashville, where he

VINTAGE GUITAR

22

October 2017

- Dan Forte

Jimmy Nalls: Jon Sievert.

JIMMY NALLS,
1951-2017

worked with country singer Charly McClain, and
in '88 he joined D.C. blues band The Nighthawks.
"I first met Jimmy when he came to Nashville
in the '80s," Haynes recalled. "I had admired his
guitar playing for many years, but what I realized
in getting to know him and hearing him in a lot
of different situations was that he was holding
a lot of cards he didn't always play. Each time
I heard him and in each different situation, I
would hear different sides of his playing that all
seemed equally natural. There was a time when
I toured with The Nighthawks, not too long after
he did, and I got to hear the tapes of him playing
straight-up blues, and he sounded great. His
playing could be beautifully understated; then
out of left field, he would explode with some s***
you didn't expect. He was also a very kind, shy
human being who always made other people feel
good about themselves."
Despite being diagnosed with Parkinson's in
1995, Nalls recorded his first solo record, Ain't
No Stranger, in '99.
"Jimmy had such a natural relationship with
the instrument that it seemed easy for the music
to come through him, like he couldn't help but
play in a way that touched on all the nuances
that guitar players revere, but not in any obvious,
showy, ego-bound way," said songwriter/guitarist
Gary Nicholson. "He had plenty of chops but was
always in service of the song. The times I got to
talk with him were few, mostly just guitar-nerd
stuff. He played with my friend T. Graham Brown,
who recorded many of my songs, and we had
quite a few common pals. I was honored to play
on 'Wood And Wire,' a very cool commentary
on the guitar-playing profession."
"I met Jimmy at a recording studio in Nashville,
while doing guitar overdubs for his record,"
Ford detailed. "He came in in a wheelchair with
friends, and he appeared to be shining - very
bright-looking. He was obviously happy to be
in a recording studio and around musicians. I
really liked 'Natural Thing' and have considered
playing it myself. I know Jimmy's a legend, and
I'm happy that I was able to work on his record."
Hiland became a fan through Nalls' work with
T. Graham Brown, "...plus, I'd heard that he was
a killer session musician from other guitarists
around Nashville. When Joe Glaser called and
told me of this project for Jimmy, and that he was
suffering with Parkinson's, I jumped onboard
immediately. To me, it's always important to
help any fellow musician who has fallen with
major illness, and I was deeply honored to be
asked to be a part."
Bonamassa summed up the feelings of many:
"The world cannot afford losses like Jimmy. I
am so sad to hear of his passing. It's an honor of
a lifetime to have appeared on his last album."


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