Paula Nelson in the News

Janis from Texas took this picture of Paula Nelson at a show in Tulsa last year.
by By Michelle J. Mills

You would think that a child of legendary artist Willie Nelson would find their way to a music career smoothly paved, but that wasn’t the story for Paula Nelson. The shadow of her father’s career made Nelson insecure; she thought she was compared to her dad rather than judged on her own merits. Over time, she has become tougher and wiser.

“I’m not terrified anymore with what people think of me,” Nelson said. “I’m proud of the stuff I’m putting out there because it’s totally honest and an open book of my thoughts and feelings. I don’t really have anything to hide anymore.”

She is lead vocalist of the Paula Nelson Band, backed by guitarist Landis Armstrong, acoustic guitarist George Devore, keyboardist and harmonica player Matthew Hubbard, bassist Chris Johnson and drummer Kevin Remme. The group has been receiving raves for its release, “Lucky 13” (Pedernales Records/Justice Records), as well as its live performances.

Nelson was born in Houston, but spent a lot of her childhood on a tour bus with her father and his band.

“I was surrounded by all these great musicians,” she said. “I started with the piano when I was about 5. Plinking around on the piano, I didn’t really know what I was playing. I’d make stuff up and sing.”

She didn’t have any formal training in music. At 18, Nelson worked at an Alzheimer’s treatment center; at 19, she was an 800 number operator and later, she attended massage therapy school. She also did a stint as a waitress.

“I was bad. I didn’t believe the customer was always right,” Nelson said.

As a fan of the Judds, Nelson felt the urge to sing, but needed to work through her stage anxieties. She started going to karaoke bars with friends. One night, after performing Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” Nelson noticed her father’s name in the song credits. She hadn’t been aware that he had inked the tune; it seemed a portent of her destiny.

“I just started playing music the way I felt it,” Nelson said.

Like her father, who called his music genre “outlaw,” Nelson seeks her own style.

“My dad didn’t consider himself country and we don’t consider ourselves country,” Nelson said.

Her songs reflect a wide range of styles, from rock and blues to country and a smattering of other genres across the board.

Back home in Texas, she formed the Paula Nelson Band, which has been together for 12 years.

Nelson has great rapport with her players, not only as musicians, but as friends and mentors, still, after a lot of touring, she decided to take a break.

“I quit the road for a while for mini-tours, but they were grueling, nonetheless,” she said. “Touring in a little van with five guys is difficult for everybody.”

On her 39th birthday, Nelson’s father gave her his old tour bus, Honeysuckle Rose. The gift was a mixed blessing.

“Of course I’m extremely grateful, but people are around it like, `Oh my god, a tour bus, you’ve got a tour bus.’ I realize that I grew up on one and it’s hard,” Nelson said.

Despite the rigors of touring, Nelson’s band has been performing steadily for the past three years.

“More time on the road means more adventures, more stories and more life to write about,” she said. “I’m content with that.”

After performing at the Coffee Gallery Backstage in Altadena, the Paula Nelson Band will continue touring the West Coast and Southwest. In March, they will head to the East Coast and in July, they have performances in France. Nelson is hoping to snag a tour in Sweden, too.

In the meantime, she keeps writing. Nelson wants to be sure there is plenty of music from which to pick and choose when the band sits down to work on its next album.

“I’ve got 10 new songs already,” Nelson said. “Writing is therapy and I always have the last word.”

To find out when the Paula Nelson Band will be a a town near you, visit

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