Nashville R&B Mainstay James Nixon Laid To Rest

Funeral and burial services were held last week for one of Nashville’s classic r&b figures, James “Nick” Nixon.

Nixon was laid to rest on Monday, March 5. He was a singer, guitarist, producer, educator and songwriter who endured as a leading light of Music City’s soul scene for more than 50 years.

He sang gospel music as a child, but became enthralled with rhythm & blues and rock & roll as a teenager in the 1950s. He joined a local teen group called The Bear Lairs.

In the mid-1960s, he formed his own band, King James & The Sceptres and became a full-time music professional. This band became a popular nightclub and campus attraction throughout the South.

His next group was NTS Limited. It featured bass player Billy Cox, who went on to join Jimi Hendrix on records, on tours and at the Woodstock Festival. During the 1960s, the three top r&b guitarists in Nashville were Nixon, Hendrix and Johnny Jones. At one time or another, all three worked in the legendary Jefferson Street r&b band The King Casuals.

Nixon replaced Jones in the popular group The Imperial 7 when Jones went on tour with Bobby Blue Bland. He continued to perform intermittently with this group for the rest of his life. The ensemble was eventually billed as The New Imperials.

In 1974, Nixon signed with Chess Records with his group Past, Present & Future. Their records were produced in Nashville by future country and rock star Charlie Daniels.

Nixon tried his hand at record producing, himself. He worked with the legendary Fairfield Four gospel group on its 1979 LP Dig a Little Deeper.

Nixon, Cox, Jones, D.J. Hoss Allen and guitar great Scotty Moore collaborated on a novelty record titled “Over 50 Blues,” which garnered some sales and radio airplay during the 1980s.

In the 1990s, James Nixon returned to gospel music. He signed with Ted Jarrett’s Nashville label T-Jaye Records and issued Me, Myself & The Lord in 1997. The title tune to his 1999 CD Stand Up became a gospel hit single.

He also continued to perform with The Imperials and worked as a session guitarist for Mac Gayden, Richard Julian and others.

A resurgence of interest in Nashville’s heritage r&b artists occurred in the late 1990s. Artists such as Marion James, Roscoe Shelton, Earl Gaines, Clifford Curry and Johnny Jones enjoyed comeback careers. The Country Music Hall of Fame celebrated the scene with its Night Train to Nashville exhibit and Grammy-winning reissue CD of 2004.

James Nixon joined the trend with his comeback CDs No End to the Blues (2002), Back Down South (2005) and Live In Europe (2010). He appeared in the 2010 film Redemption Road and sang “Rising Sun Blues” on its soundtrack. He was given the “Keeping the Blues Alive” award by the Blues Foundation in 2000.

He joined The Andy T Band in 2011. The group was signed to the national blues label Blind Pig Records and issued the CDs Drink, Drank, Drunk (2013), Livin’ It Up (2014) and Numbers Man (2015) while Nixon was its lead singer and guitarist. Health issues caused him to retire from the band in 2016.

In addition to maintaining his performing and recording career for decades, James Nixon taught music for 35 years in Nashville’s Parks & Recreation Department. In 2010, he co-founded the Nashville Blues Society. He was also a board member of The Blues Foundation.

James Nixon died on Feb. 28 at age 76. He is survived by his wife Birdie, by sons David, Jeff, Jonathan and Jeremy and by 10 grandchildren.

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Category: Artist, Featured, Obituary

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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