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Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals bassist Juan Nelson dies, aged 62

Juan Nelson
(Image credit: Jordi Vidal/Redferns)

Acclaimed bass player Juan Nelson has passed away at the age of 62. The news was revealed yesterday (10 June) by Ben Harper, who Nelson recorded and toured with for the 27 years as part of The Innocent Criminals. Nelson's cause of death has not be revealed at this stage.

"Beloved husband, father, musical genius, BHIC band member of 27 years, and the finest man I’ve ever known," Harper wrote in tribute on his Instagram. "It’s near impossible for me to put words to this pain and loss. Rest In Glory our beloved Reverend Juan.

Nelson leaves a rich legacy of music from his work as an integral part of Harper's band, joining the lineup in 1994 ahead of Harper's second solo studio album Fight For Your Mind. For 1999's Burn To Shine, The Innocent Criminals, Harper's band with Nelson in, were sharing billing with the songwriter and guitarist. 

When I met Ben he was doing a lot of strictly folk, a lot of ballads and kind of medium tempo stuff," Nelson recalls in the short documentary below. "I guess the reason I was in there was I kind of bring the up, funk stuff to his thing."

Nelson's sense of groove and melody quickly became an essential part of the band's live energy. He was a musician's musician – his love for playing the primary motivation.

 "As long as a I get to play music it's not really important who it's with or how much money I make," he explained in the documentary short. None of that stuff, as long as I get to play and keep my chops up. Keep playing music." 

In 2004 Nelson won a Grammy with Harper, The Innocent Criminals and The Blind Boys Of Alabama for their collaborative gospel album, There Will Be A Light.  

In addition to his work with Harper, the bassist toured, performed or recorded with artists including All For One, Vesta Williams, Tower of Power, Sun Bear, Neal Larson, Big Advice and Yanni.

In his downtime from The Innocent Criminals, Nelson also played in guitarist Victor Rocha's RNB band. "Sometimes, I would stop playing just to watch him play," Rocha said in tribute on Twitter. "The guy was a monster talent."

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Rob Laing

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before that I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar.