Elliott Murphy

Paul Nelson

By Elliott Murphy

In 1972 I had a friend who had a friend who knew somebody at Mercury Records when I was making weekly trips into New York City from Long Island looking for a record deal. My friend told me I could go see Paul Nelson, who was head of A&R at Mercury Records and so I did. I played him a rough demo of 3 songs - Last of the Rock Stars, How's The Family and White Middle Class Blues and although it was difficult to ever judge Paul's enthusiasm (except when he was writing a record review) I detected something positive behind his ever-present dark glasses, moustache and Sherman's cigars. Anyway, he invited to take me out to lunch which was a good sign and he agreed to come see me play at the Mercer Arts Center next time I played. I found out he came from Minnesota, went to school with Bob Dylan and was currently trying to sign the New York Dolls to Mercury Records. He came to see me play with Bud Scoppa who was also working at Mercury and Bud liked the show and wrote a review of myself and The New York Dolls in Penthouse magazine. I still have my copy. Paul wanted to sign me and the Dolls to Mercury Records but I don't think there was enough money for both of us. Anyway, he offered me a deal but then the article in Penthouse came out and Polydor offered me twice as much money and a better contract all around. I asked Paul what I should do and he told me to take the deal with Polydor as he didn't have much faith in Mercury's director at the time. So I signed with Polydor and Aquashow, my first album, came out the next year and Paul reviewed it for Rolling Stone where they misparaphrased his review and called me the next Bob Dylan. What Paul actually said was that Aquashow was (ironically) the best Dylan album since 1968. No matter. All the critics picked up on the headline and were off to the races. Paul also reviewed Lost Generation, my second album, for Rolling Stone and (I think) Night Lights, my third. For a while he was review editor at Rolling Stone and I would see him up at the RS offices where I was working on my novel Cold and Electric with Rolling Stone Books. He also came to many of my shows at Tramps in the 80's. It was a time when Bruce Springsteen was exploding and I was going through a rough patch. As he was leaving Tramps one night he turned to me and said "It could have gone either way." I'm not sure if he was right but his sentiment was always sincere and the seriousness in which he treated my work has served as my artistic compass to this day. We use to eat burgers together at Jackson Hole in New York City and I bought his collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald first editions when he needed cash. I spoke to him by telephone a few years ago and he told me he was working on a screenplay for a detective movie. I always wanted to see him again sometime ...

Elliott Murphy
l'ile de Re, France
7 July 2006

Also read an obituary at rollingstone.com HERE.