Musicians : Juan Nelson


Firstly JUAN NELSON on bass. His nickname is Juan "Improvise" Nelson.

He is the older member of the band and he decided to stay with Ben in spite of more tempting proposals on the financial aspect. The main reason is the fact that he has more and more liberty on scene; he has fun more than always, according to his own terms.

He plays bass but he has tried the drums, the keyboards...He wrote with Ben Fight for your mind " and he continues to compose with the hope to come out a solo album



Here is the interview of Juan done in 2000 by Sandra Salazar for Guitar Collector's :

Sandra Salazar: It seems that you like to be in France?
JUAN NELSON: France is our second country. We spend a lot of time here, more than in the United States. There, they just begin to understand our music. That pleases us, even if I like France.

Sandra Salazar: You said in the past that you had chosen to work with Ben 'cause he makes a positive music. In what Ben Harper's music is positive, according to you?
JUAN NELSON: His songs evoke the injustices of this world, even if this last album (Burn To Shine) evokes lightest sides, there are more songs of love, of fun. But in a general way, the message is a message of love and integration, it's there that are the positive elements of his music.

Sandra Salazar: From here, we always have the impression that this message of tolerance emanates rather from the Black community than the White Americans, even at the time when the Blacks were the most discriminated. How do you explain that?
JUAN NELSON: Our two communities must live in peace. Otherwise, we're heading for disaster. It's necessary to make peace with the past and the present. For the good of our children, it would be better that things turn out all right and quickly. It's necessary to preach the love of his neighbor.
"Jah work is never done", sure!
We've fought during all our existence, we try to transmit the message. There are enough people who die, it's such a mortar. To my opinion, it's crucial.

Sandra Salazar: Would you say that this desire of tolerance ensues from a past of oppression of the Black population either that the Black community is by nature more spiritual, more turned to God?
JUAN NELSON: This is a part of our cultural heritage, sure! We are very spiritual. When a people is reduced to slavery, when there is nothing else that God and the spirituality to rise, people try to free themselves through that. You can be a free man in your mind, even if you are chained. You reach your freedom by touching God. It's what we continue to do now.
I believe it's also that which attracted me to Ben, he wasn't indifferent to what happens in the world, around him. He writes songs about things which preoccupy me, and not only "baby, I love you" or Hip-Hop, even if there is positive and negative things in the Hip-Hop. Ben is a guy who speaks about things deeper than what you can find in a lot of songs and he makes a good music too. Will we do a difference in this world? I don't know, but we contribute to make it a little better.

Sandra Salazar: In the life of every day or in a large-scale?
JUAN NELSON: In the life of every day, there are people who say me that we have changed some things in their life. To know if that changes the life of people, it's different for each one. It's what Bob Marley did for me, at least. What he had to say made a difference in my life. I believe that it's for that that we are successful, we do what seems good.

Sandra Salazar: You are the most older member of the band, you chose to stay with Ben, even if in a time, peopke proposed to you better?
JUAN NELSON: It's true, some people have proposed me things which were better paid, in the short run, but on the long term, I am there for the music, I play because I like that. I believe that I made the good decision and then I have more and more freedom on stage, I enjoy myself more than ever, I improvise a lot. It's moreover my nickname: Juan "Improvise" Nelson!

Sandra Salazar: What was your musical education?
JUAN NELSON: I began with Gospel and Soul music. Later I learnt Jazz and Blues, because I wanted to study the differences between these two music styles. All the musics have different musical approaches. My parents listened of everything, I had the luck to listen to any sorts of stuff when I was kid.

Sandra Salazar: They were musicians?
JUAN NELSON: Yes! My mother plays keyboards, my grandfather plays saxophone. When I was twelve years old, my mother bought an organ, I played it non-stop. I invented things on the organ. One said to me: "uses this chord" and I invented around that, it was great! There was music all the time at home.

Sandra Salazar: How many instruments do you play?
JUAN NELSON: The one that I play seriously, it's bass, but I tried drums and keyboards... I write also my own music and I co-wrote the song "Fight for your mind"....
I continue to write. I hope to release an album, one day, later. At the moment, I'm with Ben and perhaps that one day, one of my stuff pleases him, and he will put it in his album. Now, we are in mission, both.

Sandra Salazar: What mission?
JUAN NELSON: Make a difference in the life of people, in the music industry, the most possible touch of people. The music stays, even when you've left this world. It's your heritage, it's important that this heritage is positive.

Conducted in Lyon, France by Ben Harper & Gavin Conaty on November 14, 2003.

Q: You've got a new CD coming out in late February with the group Big Advice. How did you get together with the guys?

A: I've been playing with them years before I joined the Innocent Criminals. They called me way back in '91 to play a gig. Before that I had my own band and picked up one of their records. They were called Sun Bear at the time. I already knew their music so there was a connection.

Q: Where did you record the music?

A: Electric Monkey in Beverly Hills.

Q: How long did it take?
A: 3 months to record, mix, and finish.

Q: How many songs?
A: 14 songs.

Q: Are you writing individually or a group?
A: As a group.

Q: What's your role in the band?
A: Lead singing on some songs, and background on others. Bass. I'm playing Fender 5-strings exclusively.

Q: Did you enjoy stretching out on the vocals?

A: Yes I did, although I'm not the lead singer. But I enjoyed stretching out vocally.

Q: Did it take getting used to or was it natural?
A: Natural.

Q: Tell us more about the 5-string bass. Why play this versus a 4 or 6-string?

A: 6-strings are for soloists. With the 5-string, you can get more chords and different voicings. When I used to work with the other band, I had to compensate for those missing notes. They required a lower register. I was covering the synth bass position by tuning down the 4 string. So why not just get the 5? The 5th string lets you hit lower octaves and registers.

Q: Did you have a chance to experiment with any new instruments or sounds?

A: Not really. It's a classic big band sound with horn arrangements. Earth, Wind and Fire style. Jazz-soul.

Q: Is this your first solo project?
A: This is my first solo step.

Q: What label is it on?
A: Electric Monkey Records.

Q: Did you produce it as a band?
A: Yes, and with a producer named Georgio.

Q: Are you working on any other projects?
A: Right now this is a band I'm in, but I'm looking forward to making a solo record in the future.

Q: What drives you to make a solo record?
A: For personal satisfaction to be able to put out that statement. It's about the art and the self-expression. There may be a limited market for that.

Ben: Juan can break the mold and do something highly extraordinary on that level.

Q: What are the highlights on the road for this tour?
A: The fans. They're over the top. Enthusiasm. They're loud. Ready to party.

Q: What's it been like with the expansion of the band?

A: I'm the happiest I've ever been. It feels more musical now. Not that it wasn't musical before, but it's expanded and evolving into something quite unique.

Q: When you first discussed expanding the band, how was that conversation?
A: It was an easy conversation to have. It's musically broadened my horizons.

Q: How do respond to fans who feel you should have left the music alone?
A: The other guys have expanded the music and really iced the cake.

Q: Gimme a couple magic moments from this tour?

A: All these gigs have a magic moment over here in Europe. Everyone is singing along, knowing the words, even when they don't speak the language.

Q: Have there been any low points?
A: On this particular tour, there have been no low points. Even when we have a harder night, there's still a cohesiveness.

Q: Have you received any gifts from the fans?
A: An electric Gibson!

Q: What do you do in your off-time?
A: Rest, shop, read, practice.

Q: Your son Jeremy beat-boxed on the Live at the Hollywood Bowl DVD. You're quite a musical family!
A: My mom played keyboards in church. Dad was a singer. Grandpa played numerous instruments. Grandpa got me into music by playing this old rusty c-melody saxophone.

Q: How old were you?

A: 13

Q: How did you start playing bass?
A: My father's Christmas party. The only person I could focus in on was the bass. The vibrations were so groovy. So I worked hard enough to buy my first bass. Then I quit my job after I got my bass. Then I found I had to have an amplifier! [laughs] So I found myself with no amp, and I had to find a way to hear it. I'd go into a little bathroom, put the butt of the bass up against the wall, and that's the only way I could hear it. And it worked!

Q: What is the one thing you look forward to the most?

A: Spending time at home with my family, then going back out on the road.

Q: When will we get to see "Fight For Your Mind" live again?
A: That question might kick off the sound check rehearsals tonight!

Q: For the tech-heads, what strings are you using?

D'Addario strings. Fender Jazz 5 stings. SWR amplification. Moe bass head. Goliath cabinets.

Q: In closing, is there anything else you want to talk about?

A: I'm getting together an instructional video. When it's closer to release, we'll let everyone know.
Find out more about Juan at

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