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Tracy Lee Nelson got his inspiration for his music when he was a punk rocker.
“When I was young, I used to play a lot of different songs and music, but nothing really had a message or a purpose for me,” he says, recalling he once had a blue Mohawk haircut. “As I grew up, I started thinking about my purpose in life. You know, being a punk rocker, it’s all about being different. I started to get myself together, and realized I had a purpose: being a Native American.”
That led Nelson, a Luiseno/Digueno Native California Indian and a former tribal chairman of the La Jolla Indian Reservation in Pauma Valley, to the blues. “I wanted to share the natives’ perspective and history,” he says. “If you’re going to tell a story and tell the truth, the only way it’s going to really come across powerfully and honestly is through the blues.”
Nelson, who once served a short stint in the Native American band Redbone, has been playing blues since the 1990s, recording several albums. His music carries with it a hard-hitting perspective on reservation life, which has spread in California, Montana, New Mexico, New York and Washington.
“Ever since our discovery by Christopher Columbus, we’ve always had the blues, he says. “So I always share that with people. So there’s plenty of blues to sing about.”