Romeo Nelson

Iromeio "Romeo" Nelson, b. March 12, 1902 in Springfield, TN, d. – May 17, 1974 in Chicago, boogie woogie pianist whose recordings from 1929 are regarded as some of the finest, and certainly the fastest, boogie woogie showpieces on record.

Born in Springfield, Tennessee, he moved to Chicago at the age of six. For most of his life he played piano at rent parties in the city, although he also lived in East St. Louis for a while in the early 1920s. In 1929 he made his only series of recordings for Vocalion Records. These included "Gettin' Dirty Just Shakin' That Thing", renowned for its raunchy "signifying" lyrics, and "Head Rag Hop", featuring talking by Tampa Red and Frankie Jaxon. "Head Rag Hop" also was released on the Brunswick Collector Series label, which read: "Head Rag Hop", Romeo Nelson, recorded September 1929. On the b-side of this 78 rpm record is "Wilkins Street Stomp", by Speckled Red. The record was part of a Brunswick album titled: Boogie Woogie Piano, Historic Recordings by Pioneer Piano Men. Also featured were: Montana Taylor, Speckled Red, and Cow Cow Davenport. Nelson died of renal failure in May 1974.

Romeo Nelson Biography by Eugene Chadbourne

"Now Sister Fullbosom and Brother Lowdown" sings boogie-woogie pianist Romeo Nelson at the beginning of his song "Getting Dirty Just Shaking That Thing," setting the stage for a barrelhouse blues so raunchy that it might still raise eyebrows in the age of rap music. The song is one of a handful this artist recorded, a small supply of titles to be sure, but material so well liked, and so obviously accessible to copyright claim jumpers, that it has appeared on more than a dozen different piano anthologies.

Born Iromeio Nelson, the pianist stayed put in Chicago from the age of six, except for an interlude of about five years in East St. Louis beginning in 1915. Ironically, it was during this period that he learned the piano skills that he would use the rest of his life on the Chicago music scene. He got busy playing rent parties and clubs until the early '40s, but otherwise supported himself by gambling. In 1929, he recorded four titles for Vocalion, among them "Head Rag Hop," one of his most often anthologized numbers and even the subject of a three-minute color short created in 1970 by director Peter Turner. Blues piano fanatics tend to pick Nelson's recordings as some of the finest boogie-woogie showpieces on record. The music is multi-dimensional, involving great amounts of keyboard technique, an interesting harmonic imagination, and an obvious sense of humor. He often takes the works of his competitors on the piano, such as Pinetop Perkins, and plays them at greatly enhanced speed, an effect as overwhelming as it is comical. An interview conducted the '60s by the Jazz Institute of Chicago indicated that Nelson had retired from music, yet they might not have been talking to the right guy, since an alternate theory of the man's biography has him checking out for boogie-woogie heaven as early as 1940.