So far Nellie's talent has been observed mainly in the Chicago area and among blues fans, but with the release of her latest CD, Wanna Be With You (Da-Man; '05), chances are that also soul folks start paying attention to her music.
The entertaining and genuinely soulful set was produced and written by Floyd Hamberlin Jr and it was recorded at Da-Man Records in Chicago. Nellie: "Floyd has written quite a few songs for different other people. He used to write for Malaco. I just asked him one day 'Floyd, you need to do something with me'. And he did. We actually finished the CD over a year ago, and now just got it rolling."
With the exception of drum machine on certain tracks the programming is quite skilfully done. "There were a guitar and a piano, too. When I went into the studio, all the music and background vocals were basically done."
One classy slowie on this CD, Super Woman, remotely reminds you of the song by the same name that Gladys Knight together with Patti LaBelle and Dionne Warwick recorded for Gladys' Good Woman CD on MCA in 1991, and also vocally Nellie at times is very close to Gladys. "Amazingly people say that a lot, and that's a good compliment. As a matter of fact, at the end of this month (September) I'm gonna be with Gladys Knight in Las Vegas. Super Woman I love so dearly, because it relates to a lot of things that's happened in my past, like being single mama and raising your kids… You would think I had written it. It hit me."
Two hooky dancers, Baby Mama Drama and You Gone Make Me Cheat, are the ones that get most airplay these days. Alongside some snappy mid-pacers (Sex Machine, Baby Baby Baby, Who's Fooling Who?, If I Back It Up - an answer song - and the catchy What You Won't Do) there are attractive slowies, still. One Of These Days is a way too short interlude, Teary Eyed a big-voiced beat ballad and on top of everything I Wanna Be With You, a melodic and touching ballad sung in a poignant, longing tone. "That is my favourite. They allowed me to title the CD, and I Wanna Be With You came from me. It's a little more heartfelt. I think I do better with ballads. I love ballads, and to do them live is totally different than recording."
When talking over the phone, Nellie sounds anything but a female "tiger", on the contrary she leaves you with an impression of a very kind and warm person. "I came to Chicago in 1992, and when I got here I started singing the blues. A lot of the females had different names, not just their real names. I was sitting down one day at a club in Chicago and said to my cousin 'I want my own name', and with my cousin we started going through names. I said 'how about Angel'? 'No, that will not fit you… but I got it - Tiger', and I've been having that name for about six years."
"I was born in 1960 in Mayflower (Mound Bayou, MS), Mississippi. I started in church, doing gospel. I was raised by my grandmother, and I was influenced by my uncles, who were singing gospel. I got into blues later in my life. My biggest idols later were Koko Taylor, Tina Turner and - believe it or not - Gladys Knight."
Nellie's first secular group was called SSIPP. "That's short for Mississippi. I gave the band that name. We formed the group with Ed Townsend, who's deceased now. It was me, another young lady and five band members. We started recording, but nothing was ever released. We were together probably a couple of years. We had a chance to open for Ray Charles once. Ray came to Mississippi, and they put on a huge show. It was the first big time in my life. Ray came out and as people applauded he felt like it wasn't enough people, so he just didn't do the show. It hurt my heart real bad. As a matter of fact, I had bought a pair of new shoes for that event" (laughing).
"I moved to L.A. in '87 from Mississippi. In California I was doing top-40. I didn't have a steady group in L.A. I was singing with different bands. It was so different to me that I just left there and came to Chicago in '92. I started working at a bar. In May 1993 I hired a band for my birthday party, and I started using that band to do other gigs and they started calling me to do gigs with them."
"I Got It Like That (B.C.E. Records in 2000) was my very first album. It was a blues album, but it has a couple of soul songs on it, like I've Got Amnesia. This is a song that I wrote, and it's more like a Gladys Knight ballad. I also did one gospel song, Thank You."
"The Heart And Soul album (Bluesox in 2000) were all covers. I'm singing on eight tracks on there. The guitarist, Shun Kikuta, lives here in Chicago. He has a contract with a record company in Japan. It was basically his CD, but as far as I'm concerned it's mine, because I did most of the work. He just got paid for it."
"Nellie Tiger Travis Live I recorded at a night club. It was basically cover tunes. It was close to two years ago. That was on the Bcreative label."
Nellie is backed by a band named The Men In Black. "Whoever guys I have there are called The Men In Black. One of the guys that was working with me in the first line-up was a Japanese guy. He played with Koko Taylor. The bass player was with the Chi-lites and my drummer was a drummer for Tyrone Davis. They all had been playing with people that were bigger than me. The guys I'm working with now have been with me for almost three years." When asked about her future plans, Nellie half-jokingly answers "my plan in life is to be rich, happy and well-known." (Acknowledgements to Magnolia Revue and Stan Mosley).