LAFAYETTE, LA. – Call it a necessary nuisance, an old addiction or simply what he was meant to do.
T.J. Nelson can’t seem to stay away from country music.
He tried. He suppressed it. He ignored it. He stayed busy breeding dogs and tending to his customers at Nelson Automotive as a certified mechanic and U-Haul neighborhood dealer.
“I tell everybody that music is a disease,” Nelson said. “It never gets cured. It goes into remission, but it always comes back.”
T.J. Nelson classifies his genre as “Outlaw Country,” a term that may have accurately described his stance toward the music industry after shelving his guitar and microphone in 2007 and disappearing into the Louisiana shadows.
Prior to that, Nelson enjoyed success across several platforms with his debut album “It’s a Country Thang,” which featured the hit single “My Old Flame.”
“I quit because of some management issues,” Nelson said. “The day after Thanksgiving (in 2014), I made the decision to come back to music. After eight years of being away, I have made the decision to come back.
“I know this will make some people happy, because I have been getting my butt chewed out for quitting. I knew in my heart this day would come.”
New Deal, New Single
Nelson’s first call was to Nashville. Dino Bradley, his former guitar player and one of the industry’s favorite fixtures, answered the phone. Nelson asked if Bradley would play with him again.
Bradley, the owner of Melchez Records, a division of Supreme Tone Records, made him a better offer. Bradley signed Nelson to a record deal and purchased Phideaux Records, Nelson’s label, in the process.
The next step will be assembling a band and returning to the studio to record “Southern Renegade,” the tentative title of Nelson’s new album.
“That’s why I drove down to Louisiana, to sort out the details,” Bradley said while Nelson could be heard assisting a U-Haul customer in the background.
“We were being pushed to do a single,” Bradley added. “The single was actually already recorded. We’ve got the advantage of putting the single out (in February). It’s called ‘Cowboy Up.’ We’re getting a ripple out of it right now. We did a pre-release and sent it to some country music organizations, some rodeo organizations. We’re not at liberty to divulge where the interest is, but the interest is very big on that particular song. It’s been compared to kind of a Chris LeDoux- or Garth Brooks-type energy. That’s why we’re trying to act so quickly. So the single will be out, and we’re in the process of organizing the recording session in Nashville.”
“Cowboy Up,” “My Old Flame” and many more of Nelson’s songs can be heard and downloaded at www.reverbnation.com/tjnelson1. His work also is available through CD Baby, Spotify and Itunes.
Nelson’s career reboot will require commitment, a lot of elbow grease and some help on the sponsorship front. He is confident that his music will lure fans, and Bradley knows there is still a niche for throwback artists who take pride in the twang and tradition of country music’s roots.
“T.J. is a little wider in focus than most traditional artists,” Bradley said. “If you read the last three or four reviews from Indie music releases, a lot of them enjoy the up-tempo stuff but they’re pretty taken by his ballads in that he’s delivering a lot in the kind of (Merle) Haggard and (George) Jones tradition. They have made comparisons with people like Alan Jackson that it was refreshing to see real country music come out.”
Just a Country Boy
That “real country” stemmed from Nelson’s upbringing in South Dakota. He epitomized small-town country life, from roping and raising horses to cowboy hats to shotgun rifles displayed in the back windows of pickup trucks.
Raised in Ethan, Nelson was one of 13 kids in his high school graduating class. There were only 83 kids in the entire school. When school was finished, the patriotic Nelson pledged his immediate future to the U.S. Army.
“I was in field artillery with the Fifth Infantry Division at Fort Polk, La.,” Nelson said. “I played in a house band during the time I was in Fort Polk in Leesville. I had a chance at a record deal in 1986 with SugarHill (Studios) out of Houston and couldn’t take it because of Uncle Sam. That was the first time the door slammed in my face.
“In 2006, I was negotiating a deal with Broken Bow Records. The door slammed again. So I’m kind of gearing up for 2016. I ain’t letting that son of a (expletive) close again! I got my foot in it this time.”
Nelson Automotive, located at 2016 NE Evangeline Throughway in Lafayette, won’t be impacted by its owner’s return to music. Gary Nelson, better known as “Bub,” runs the garage alongside his father and can pick up the slack.
Appreciation for U-Haul
U-Haul has been a significant part of Nelson’s business since 2010, attracting locals in need of a pick-up and drop-off hub for a moving truck or trailer. U-Haul Area Field Manager Todd Boudreaux said Nelson was almost immediately interested when they first spoke about a potential partnership.
“He is involved in so many things: running a busy garage, breeding dogs, installing fuel efficiency devices in fleet vehicles, and now resurrecting his music career,” Boudreaux said. “When he first started (the garage), he worked 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week to get his business off the ground, and did what he needed to do to make it successful.
“I first learned about his previous career as an artist the first year that he was a dealer. He showed me a copy of the CD that he produced and said that he did not miss that business. It was only recently that he started to get the desire back and is trying to make something of this opportunity.”
Nelson said he wouldn’t change a thing and still appreciates his longstanding relationship with the industry leader in do-it-yourself moving and self-storage.
“It’s been amazing,” Nelson said. “I would say probably 30 percent of my customer base started out as U-Haul customers. People move into town – they may not even know who their doctor is going to be, but they know who their mechanic is. U-Haul has been really one of the best things we’ve ever done as far as building our shop. Even local customers that didn’t know our shop existed, just renting a U-Haul and bringing them here, they’ve found out there’s other alternatives to getting their vehicles fixed.
“There’s a few customers (who discovered my country music background), but I kept my music as a low profile. A lot of people were shocked when I announced I was coming back. They said, ‘I didn’t even know you were out.’ I did really good hiding myself.”