From the office of Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals:
World renowned and beloved bassist Juan Nelson passed away this Wednesday June 9, 2021. Performing with Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals for nearly 3 decades, there’s no one that can match the versatility, virtuosity, and mastery of Juan Nelson. In addition to being an accomplished and soulful bassist Juan was also a record producer, composer, and songwriter.
Juan was born on August 24th, 1958 in Cincinnati, Ohio and he moved to California in the late 1960’s. As a child, he was always fond of music. However, the bass guitar was his first love, and he bought his first instrument as a teen while working several jobs. “My first bass was a K bass and it cost 70 dollars,” Juan told Bass Player Magazine. “I saved up to buy it, took it home to play it and then found out that I need an amp to hear it!”. Juan eventually got that amp and the rest is history. He recounted playing for hours on end, often in the bathroom where the acoustics were best. Juan’s first show with Ben Harper and the band that became the Innocent Criminals was on April 30th, 1994 when they performed at Nick’s Caffé Trevi in Claremont, California. The musicians went on to have a 27 year long friendship and musical partnership, starting with Ben’s 1995 Album Fight for Your Mind and the Grammy Award Winning There Will Be A Light with the Blind Boys of Alabama.
Ben and the Innocent Criminals toured the world many times over and Juan captivated fans worldwide with his eclectic riveting bass lines and flamboyant personality on stage.
In addition to his work with Ben, during Juan’s illustrious career, he toured, performed and recorded with many other artists including Big Advice with Ahaguna Sun and Werner Schuchner, who both formed Sunbear, Vesta Williams, All For One, Brenda Russell, Al Wilson, Freddy Jackson, Tower of Power, Yanni, Sunny Green, Joel, Neal Larson, Eric McFadden, Charles Wright, Piers Faccini, Victor Rocha. Juan was known for his incredible virtuoso bass solos that were a regular part of his concerts.
A deeply spiritual man, Juan also played and recorded at his church. He once said, “I love to play music, it fulfills me and if it touches somebody, that’s a blessing!”
Indeed Juan touched the hearts of many and will be greatly missed by his fellow bandmates, friends, family, and fans. He was a stellar musician whose music will always live on through his records.
Juan is survived by his wife Kathy and his children, Damion, Preston, Jeremy and Naisha Nelson; his daughters in law Ali and Sharizma and grandchildren Esscense, Deja, Gaylen and Jailei. Juan is preceded in death by his mother Carlita Nelson, his father Preston Nelson, and his only sibling, Edward Nelson.
In lieu of flowers the family set up their own GoFundMe page to help with immediate expenses including remaining medical bills: gofund.me/3f6316a0