The Many Jobs of Keith Nelson, Descendant of Legends
Operating the Blues Heaven Foundation for historical legend the late great Willie Dixon is just one of many jobs Keith Nelson does. As the grandson of Willie Dixon, Keith has the music industry in his blood. We at 1st Amendment Media had the opportunity to talk with Keith. He shared how he honors his grandfather’s legacy while operating his own endeavors outside the foundation.
As the CEO of Radical Rebels Production Company and the Arts and Opportunity Festival, Keith is a 26-year-old entrepreneur who has a true knack for the business.
His knowledge at his age is unparalleled. What most young adults know at his age about business and entrepreneurship doesn’t compare.
Keith’s Incomparable Legacy of Legendary Family Mentors
To truly understand how Keith has gained his incomparable knowledge, one must understand where it originated and who his teachers were. For those who may not know who his legendary grandfather, Willie Dixon is, here’s a brief synopsis. At the peak of his popularity, most every music fan knew Willie Dixon the entertainer. But what fewer people, even among blues fans know, is that Dixon catapulted the careers of many famous blues entertainers throughout history.
Willie Dixon “Father of Modern Chicago Blues” and Innovator
Willie Dixon was frequently called the “Father of Modern Chicago Blues.” He produced, wrote songs, played bass and sang. Dixon worked with legends like Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Howlin ‘Wolf,’ Little Water, Sonny Boy Williamson II and more. Known as one of the most distinguished blues singers and songwriters of his era, with over 600 hit records, Dixon was a standout among the historical legends that came out of Chess Records.
Dixon was an innovator. He was the prominent link that merged Blues and Rock ‘n’ Roll. Dixon formed the Blues Heaven non-profit foundation as a means to educate future entertainers. He wanted to ensure they understood the business aspect of the industry.
Influence and Joy of a Fun and Naughty Grandfather
Dixon’s grandson Keith grew up in the midst of it all. Keith characterizes his world renown grandfather as “grandpa who got me in trouble all the time.” Keith actually grew up in the same home where his grandmother and grandfather lived.
“My first words were not mom, dad, grandma or anything,” he laughed. “They were ‘shut up’, ‘stupid’ and ‘bum’, and my grandfather actually taught me all three of those words.”
“He would actually have me pick up his house phone and say ‘what do you say? Shut up, stupid and bum.’ And I picked up the phone as a kid and it was mom on the phone…he was like ‘what do you say,’ I said ‘shut up stupid and bum.’ We started laughing and I started laughing and it was my mom.”
Mother Also a Fountain of Industry Knowledge
Keith later got in trouble with his mother over his grandfather’s phone games, and yet the trouble didn’t even end there. He spent his childhood in and out of trouble over the fun he had with his grandfather. Although Dixon got Keith plenty of scoldings, being in the presence of his grandfather and his mother, who was also an entertainer, fed Keith the knowledge of the industry. Keith went from volunteering at the foundation to running it.
Blues Heaven Foundation’s Critical Role
Keith believes the foundation is very important. He noted that future entertainers as young as 13 come into Blues Heaven with talent. Yet, they have no idea about the business side of the industry.
“When I ask them what most of them want to do they say they ‘wanna be a rock star’ for the most part,” said Keith. “When I talk to them I ask them what is publishing and they don’t know what that is. I ask them do they write their own music and they say ‘yea’ and I’m like do you copyright your music and they’re like ‘I don’t know how to do that.”’
According to Keith, publishing and copyrighting is where you make most of your money in the music industry. Keith emphasizes that licensing, publishing and copyrighting make up a very critical part of the music business. He says that this part of the music business will leave an artist with an unwanted lawsuit. Therefore, he stresses that it is very pertinent for artists to understand more than just the music. And this points to the importance of the Blues Heaven Foundation. Keith says that what the foundation tries to do is keep the future generation of artists from failing in the business.
Lessons from a Legendary Mom
Keith learned all these things from his mother, Shirley Dixon, who learned everything from her father, Willie. At the young age of 17, Shirley had the grand responsibility of managing her father’s career. From managing her father to becoming a performer, Shirley can is arguably a legend in her own right. Her resume is just as prestigious as many of the greats. She was an entertainer and manager who also worked with legends. Her resume includes Coco Taylor, Etta James, and Dr. Dre in the early part of his career. Additionally, Shirley was one of the phenomenal entertainers who closed out the Chicago Blues Fest every year.
Keith’s mom passed away years back. After she died, he pursued sports, boxing in particular.
“My mom kept pushing me into music while she was alive,” he said. “I was like ‘aw she’s not around, I don’t think I want to do music anymore.”’
Music, Boxing, and/or Music Festivals
After his mother passed, he devoted time to boxing and became quite good at it. However, he found his niche with the business side of the music industry. Pursuing his interest, he created an arts festival called the Arts & Opportunity Festival. Originally called Rebel Fest, the event is a place for artists to showcase their talent and learn the business facet of the industry. The festival features all types of artists, from tattoo artists to barbers, to models and singers. Arts & Opportunity Festival is open to all creative works.
“It gives them [the artists] the chance to talk to people about making money in their field,” he said. “It’s not just for music, it’s for everybody in the arts industry.
Additionally, Keith adds, “It’s really a way for artists to showcase what they’ve done and have a platform and stage to show off.”
Global Aspirations for Arts and Opportunity Festival
The young entrepreneur aspires to take the arts festival international. He wants to host one every month in a different state or country. The Blues Heaven foundation hosted the first one, this past July. The inaugural event drew over 600 people. However, with the festival still in its beta phase, he predicts the next one will not be until the spring of 2017 in Atlanta. Following Atlanta, six months later, he will host a festival in Texas. Keith says that the foundation has opened the doors for the festival to possibly become international.
I’ve gotten people that come to the foundation and I told them what our festival does,” he said. “I’ve gotten kids from Mexico City that came in and were like ‘would you guys be willing to come to Mexico to do this.'”
He continued, “I’ve had kids come from Canada and it’s really starting to snowball effect because the young artists that came are gaining a lot more exposure,” Keith continued. “They’re getting jobs that they never had before.”
A Teenaged Company Co-Founder and Entrepreneur
It doesn’t stop there for Keith. Additionally, he co-founded and runs a production company along with his business partner Marlon Hulett. They started Radical Rebels Production Company when they were in their late teens working at a national retail ice cream store.
Keith manages his time by sleeping less and incorporating business with pleasure. Having a meeting at the gym where he trains in boxing and mixed martial arts is not an uncommon practice for him.
His life always centered around music. Yet he’s never desired to be at the forefront of the industry.
“My grandmother asked me that while I was in high school and I said ‘I wanted nothing to do with the music industry at all,’” he said. “I thought she was gonna kill me and she actually walked over to me…and she actually gave me a hug and kissed me on the forehead and said, ‘you are the [smartest] person in this family. That is the crookedest industry you can go into.’”
A Legacy of His Own
Keith grew up in a family full of legends. However, he desires to establish his own legacy.
“I’m happy to set up my grandfather’s stuff and help my grandmother as well. But, I have other aspirations and want to build my own legacy,” Keith said proudly. “My grandfather’s legacy is definitely something I wanna build on.”
He continued, “Chuck Berry, Etta James they were like family, so I don’t feel like I should do anything to full-out tarnish their legacy. So I will help…but I still wanna build my own legacy.”
“I want to do martial arts full-time.” Additionally, Keith continued, “I want to get my production company up and running where I shoot the thing I wanna shoot all the time,” he explains. “I want artists to have a platform to help show off what they do.”
Holding on to Family Legacy of Excellence
Keith concluded by saying his grandfather’s excellence will always be a part of him. In fact, he believes his aspirations and goals reflect the legacy his grandfather spent his life building.
“I’m fine with giving back and that’s what my grandfather wanted to do. So, in a way I will always be helping my grandfather’s legacy,” Keith said.