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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

After Hours - Jimmy Nolen

Jimmy Nolen (April 3, 1934 – December 18, 1983) was an American guitarist, known for his distinctive "chicken scratch" lead guitar playing in James Brown's bands. In its survey of "The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time," the English magazine Mojo ranks Nolen number twelve. Born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States, Nolen took up the guitar at the age of 14, teaching himself on a Harmony Acoustic guitar. Having played the violin since the age of 9, Nolen already had a sound musical foundation upon which to base his T-Bone Walker-inspired guitar playing. Nolen was "discovered" in a club in Tulsa, Oklahoma by Jimmy Wilson, a blues singer famous for his 1953 hit "Tin Pan Alley." Soon afterward, Wilson offered Nolen a job in his band. He took Nolen back to Los Angeles, California to play in a studio band with popular southern California players Monte Easter (trumpet) and Chuck Higgins (tenor saxophone). During this period Nolen recorded his own commercially unsuccessful singles, mostly for King Records' Federal subsidiary, on which he both sang and played period-inspired blues songs. In 1957 Nolen began to play for Johnny Otis, replacing the ailing Pete "Guitar" Lewis. He was the principal behind Otis' hit "Willie and the Hand Jive."He remained in Otis’ band until 1959 when he formed his own group, The Jimmy Nolen Band. They performed in small clubs and ballrooms in California and Arizona's "chitlin' circuit", backing many of the blues greats that passed through California. The principal influences that inspired his guitar technique were, T-Bone Walker, B.B. King and Lowell Fulson. The Jimmy Nolen band was popular but never released any records since their primary purpose was to work as live backup for more famous acts. In the early 1960s Nolen began playing with the backing band for harmonica legend George "Harmonica" Smith. In 1965, Nolen joined the James Brown band at the recommendation of Les Buie, Brown's guitar player at that time. Buie had grown tired of the road and recommended Nolen as a replacement when the band was in Los Angeles. Like saxophone player Maceo Parker, trombonist Fred Wesley and drummers Clyde Stubblefield and John "Jabo" Starks, Nolen was a staple in James Brown's band. He played with James from 1965 until 1970, when the entire band quit in response to Brown’s erratic behavior, withholding of wages, and demeaning treatment. During this time Nolen began to tour with Maceo Parker’s group Maceo & All the King’s Men. James replied to the mass resignation of his musicians by hiring a then-juvenile band called the Pacemakers who were based out of Cincinnati, Ohio. This band was composed of the young but heavy-hitting William "Bootsy" Collins on bass, his brother Phelps "Catfish" Collins on guitar, Robert McCullough on saxophone, Clayton Gunnels on trombone, and Frank Waddy on drums. The new band was named The J.B.'s and marked a new era for James Brown. Months after this new band was formed Starks and Stubblefield returned; this lineup can be heard on Brown’s album Soul Brother Number One. Despite this band's undeniable talent for playing breakneck funk, it were relatively short-lived as a group, as the Collins brothers soon left to join George Clinton's Parliament-Funkadelic organization. In 1972 Nolen returned to play with The J.B.'s. Nolen remained with Brown until December 18, 1983, when he died of a heart attack in Atlanta, Georgia

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