Charters signed her to a recording contract with Prestige, and the result was 1965’s Deep Are the Roots an album of folk-based country blues with Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica and Peter Wolf on guitar. That may have been the same Peter Wolf who later came to prominence with the J. Geils Band, who seems to have been in Chicago around this time. Tracy also worked with and learned from Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Otis Span.

While you wouldn’t have expected Madison WI to be blues central a folk-blues scene developed there attracting Steve Miller, Danny Kalb, Boz Scaggs, Ben Sidran to the University of Wisconsin. While they were there The University Folk Society brought, among others, Reverend Gary Davis and Sonny Terry to town and attracted the likes Dave Snaker Ray, Spider John Koerner, Tony Little Sun Glover across from Minneapolis and Jesse Colin Young from the wilds of Greenwich Village for gigs and late night jams at The Pad and The Penny University.

Nelson, on the other hand had grown up in Madison and first heard R&B through WLAC radio out of Nashville, a station whose signal was picked up throughout the central South and Midwest, going on to sing folk music in coffeehouses and R&B at fraternity parties. She sang with a full-size soul revue called The Fabulous Imitations with Ben Sidran, three vocalists and the regulation bobbing-and-weaving horn section, polishing her vocal skills on songs by Irma Thomas and other gospel-influenced artists from New Orleans' Minit label. The Imitations may have drawn large audiences, but the combined influence of the Draft and the pressure from academia meant the band’s days were numbered.

Back performing solo, Nelson entered a competition staged by Randy Sparks, the entrepreneur behind The New Christy Minstrels, who was developing a new group, The Back Porch Majority. The first prize of $500 and a two-week gig at Los Angeles folk club, Ledbetter's got Tracy to California, but at the end of the fortnight, she was deemed surplus to requirements on the grounds that her singing was too ethnic

From Los Angeles, Nelson moved to Berkeley and worked at Discount Records while she looked for musicians who could fit her repertoire of blues, R&B and gospel, declining an invitation to audition for the Jefferson Airplane (singer Signe Anderson was retiring). Nelson was looking for an environment that would showcase her musical preferences, and she decided that the Airplane’s psychedelic acid rock wasn’t that environment. She found it in the form of a group of expatriate Texans.


B© Ian Hughes 2012