Beaver Nelson – At last, his first
“I just wanted some kind of documentation of what I’ve done with the last seven years. And to not have anything — I mean, it’s hard to even consider yourself a legitimate part of any kind of music community or industry or whatever without something with your name on it that you can hand to somebody and say, ‘This is what I did.'”
Beaver Nelson knows whereof he speaks. The above statement summed up a half-hour conversation spent sifting through the rubble of various record deals that had all seemed like such good ideas at the time. Yet here we were in 1998, and the songwriter who had been a 19-year-old boy-wonder on the Austin scene in 1991 had nothing in record stores to show for nearly a decade of effort.
That finally changed this fall with the release of The Last Hurrah, a debut album on Freedom Records that, at long last, gives Nelson a calling card with which to revive his career. Backed by some of Austin’s finest roots-rock veterans, including Scrappy Jud Newcomb on guitar, Champ Hood on fiddle, George Reiff on bass and Mark Patterson on drums, Nelson delivers a 12-song set of raw but tuneful roots-rock that fulfills the promise of his early-’90s shows.
Actually, Nelson did release a couple of cassettes back then that he sold locally, but none ever made it to CD. Which isn’t to say they wouldn’t have warranted a more formal release: In particular, a six-song tape released in late ’91 featured some of his best songwriting to date, and even included backing vocals by Lucinda Williams on “Don’t Bend, Just Break”.
That tune and several others are currently locked up in music-biz limbo as a result of a re-recording clause in a deal Nelson signed in 1993 with Lightstorm, a company that specializes in movie soundtracks (including Titanic producer James Cameron’s projects). When Lightstorm signed Nelson, the plan was for the company to start working with new artists as well, through a distribution deal with Epic.
But none of that ever materialized — even though Nelson recorded a full album in Memphis in ’93’94 with a backing band that included bassist Tony Scalzo and drummer Joey Shuffield (now two-thirds of platinum-selling pop band Fastball). Nelson estimates Sony (Epic’s parent company) spent about $100,000 on a record that they never intended to release; once they secured the rights to Cameron’s film projects, he says, they decided not to pick up any new artists the label had signed.
It wasn’t the first time a deal with a Sony affiliate had gone sour for Nelson. In 1992, his development deal with Columbia fell victim to inner-office political struggles between the representative who had signed him and the company’s head of A&R.
Later, after the Lightstorm debacle, yet another tentative plan to release a small-budget record with a Los Angeles indie label fell through when that label lost its funding. Finally, Austin-based Freedom became interested in some largely acoustic sessions Nelson had done at a local studio in the fall of ’97. Further tracks were recorded with a more fleshed-out lineup a few months later, and voila, Nelson’s seven-years-in-the-making debut disc was finally on the shelves in the fall of ’98.
Most of The Last Hurrah’s songs, however, were written within the past two years, with the exception of a couple tracks — one of which, “Too Much Moonlight”, was co-written with renowned pop tunesmith Jules Shear. The record also contains “One Car Collision”, which Nelson co-wrote with fellow Austin singer-songwriter Michael Fracasso.
As for some of those old songs still held up by the re-recording clause in the Lightstorm contract, Nelson says the rights will revert back to him within the next year or two. And while he continues to write new material, he acknowledges that “there’s some old gems out there I’d love to resurrect at some point….I could probably name six or seven songs right now that hold up, that I’m still proud of as songs.
“And there’s probably some others out there that would as well. I mean, I could’ve made three records by now.”