Jimmy Nalls - Biography

Jimmy Nalls was born in Washington, D.C. in 1951, and raised in its Maryland and Virginia suburbs. Both of his parents were musical, and his father, James A. Nalls, Jr., gave Jimmy his first guitar instruction when he was five years old. Throughout junior high school and high school in Arlington, Virginia, Jimmy played in a number of accomplished rock and roll bands, including The Morticians, The Malibus, The Chessmen, Skin Flower, The Penny Arcade, and Ulysses.
Jimmy started his full-time professional career in music in 1970, when he moved to New York to play with Australian folk singer Gary Shearston, who was recording an album for Warner Brothers Records. The producer of the album was Noel Paul Stookey, the "Paul" of Peter, Paul and Mary. After the Shearston project, Stookey recruited Jimmy for the band that recorded the album Paul and, which includes "The Wedding Song (There is Love)." The quality and versatility of Jimmy's playing made him an in-demand session guitarist at the Record Plant in New York City.
In early 1971, Jimmy joined Alex Taylor's Friends and Neighbors band. The rock and roll renegade of the musical Taylor siblings, Alex was signed to Phil Walden's Capricorn Records in Macon, Georgia. With Alex and pianist Chuck Leavell, Jimmy co-wrote "Change Your Sexy Way's" for Taylor's critically acclaimed Dinnertime album. The late Timothy White, editor-in-chief of Billboard and a senior editor at Rolling Stone, wrote: "Each track on Dinnertime was polished but pungent in the manner of a tight, armed-to-the-teeth road band."
After Alex Taylor left Capricorn Records in 1972, Jimmy and the other members of the Taylor band backed Mac Rebennack, the New Orleans pianist, composer, and singer who is also known as Dr. John, the Night Tripper. Rebennack, who had a profound influence on the musical education of Jimmy and the others members of the band, provided hands-on instruction in playing "second line' rhythm, the syncopated beat based on music from New Orleans funeral marches. In September 1972, Mac and this band performed at the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival, where the voodoo tune "I Walk on Guilded Splinters" was recorded for Atlantic Records.
After returning to the Washington, D.C. area, Jimmy became a founding member of D.C. Dog, a short-lived Washington D.C. "supergroup," D.C. Dog included some of the city's best players - Gary St. Clair on keyboards and vocals, Mike Zack on drums, and Elliot Jagoda on bass. In a 1974 "Who's Who" of the city's cultural movers and shakers, the The Washington Post  called Nalls D.C.'s "funkiest" rock and roll guitarist. In addition to playing live shows, D.C. Dog did session work at American Star Recording Studio in Merrifield, Virginia, where the band backed New Orleans R&B legend Lloyd Price on his Music, Music  album.
In 1976, Nalls joined three musicians from the Allman Brothers Band - Chuck Leavell, keyboards, Lamar Williams, bass, and Jai Johanny Johanson, better known as "Jaimoe," on drums - to form Sea Level. This band created an innovative synthesis of jazz, rock, and R&B. Between its formation in 1976 and disintegration in the early 1980s, Sea Level recorded four albums for Capricorn Records and one for Arista Records. The late Robert Palmer, a music critic for The New York Times and the author of Deep Blues, said of Sea Level: "at its best it's one of America's most gifted and distinctive rock groups."
As Sea Level attracted the attention of discerning listeners, increasing numbers of guitarists and music critics appreciated the understated brilliance of Nalls's guitar playing. Charlie McCollum of The Washington Star described Nalls's musical contributions to the band as "clean" and "intelligent," providing "just the right accent to the work of Leavell and the rhythm section."
Guitar Player magazine summarized Nalls's playing for Sea Level this way: "superior taste, beautiful intonation, a refined sense of melody, and an obvious love for the blues."
In the 1980s, Nalls reconnected professionally with Noel Paul Stookey, recording with his Bodyworks band and touring with it in Australia. Jimmy also performed with pop singer B.J. Thomas's touring band. In 1986, Nalls moved to Nashville, where he played on recording sessions and toured with country singer Charly McLain.
In 1988, Jimmy joined the Nighthawks, the Washington, D.C. blues band led by harmonica virtuoso Mark Wenner. The addition of Nalls, and Jimmy Hall, a multi-instrumentalist and former singer with Wet Willie, led many Nighthawks' fans to conclude that this line-up was the best version of the band. The "two Jimmies" Nighthawks toured relentlessly, including shows in Europe and Japan. Although the Nighthawks recorded several fine tracks with Nalls and Hall, the only commercially available song is "Leave My Woman Alone" on Blues Live From Mountain Stage.
In the fall of 1990, Jimmy joined the touring band of T. Graham Brown, "country's great white soul man," in the words of USA Today. Notorious for his killer bands, Brown welcomed Jimmy's R&B inclinations. T.G.B. and his band were regulars on Ralph Emery's television program, Nashville Now. Nalls also played on Brown's Capitol Nashville album You Can't Take it With You.
In 1994, near the end of his tenure with T. Graham Brown, Jimmy began to experience the first symptoms of Parkinson's disease, a progressive and irreversible brain disorder that causes tremors, poor balance, and other muscle- and movement-related symptoms. The disease attacked Jimmy's ability to perform the quick, voluntary muscle movements essential to playing the guitar professionally. One of his first symptoms was the loss of his finger vibrato - the expressive technique that produces small variations in pitch by "shaking" a note with a finger of the fretting hand.
Twice, Nalls has had electronic stimulators implanted in his brain - while he was awake - to help control the Parkinson's symptoms. Surgery and medication have only partly slowed the progress of the disease. Nalls falls down a lot, and his muscles often fail to obey his mind's commands.
Despite the disease, Nalls has continued his musical career. In 1999 he released his first solo CD, Ain't No Stranger, which he co-produced with Phil Dillon for MRL Records. Guest artists on the album include: Chuck Leavell, Jack Pearson, Lee Roy Parnell, T. Graham Brown, Mike Henderson, Wayne Jackson, and Charlie Hayward. Critics hailed the CD's "rich roomy production, Nalls' warm, throaty singing, and a guitar tone to die for."
Nalls remains musically active, writing songs and recording in his home studio. He lives in Nashville with his wife Minni. They have a daughter, Jennifer Nalls Manso, a son, James A. "Buddy" Nalls IV, a granddaughter, Amanda Lane Manso, and twin grandsons, James and Tyler Manso.