15 Dec 2020

Vale Russell Nelson

by Tony Wilde

Industry veteran has died aged 59, after a two year battle with cancer.

Russell spent over 40 years full-time in the music industry, in many roles ranging from audio engineer to guitar tech, musician and music teacher.

I first met him in September 1980 when we were thrust together by a band manager who had booked a two-month tour of gigs up the coast to Cairns and an inland return for a local Melbourne band.


It involved us as a two-man crew in a seriously overloaded old International C1300 truck and the band in a station wagon that belonged to the drummer.

I had already been working for local bands, but Russell had just bailed out of his panel beating apprenticeship early to follow his music industry dream, so live gigs and touring was all new to him.

It was a tough but memorable tour, with some hugely funny moments that we often reminisced about in later years.

We stayed friends once back in Melbourne and crossed paths a lot over the years while each working for different acts, and of course having the same road crew and muso colleagues socially.

Sometime in the mid-80s, I couldn’t re-join Matt Finish as stage tech for their next tour, so got Russell to fill in for me. While they were in Melbourne, staying at the trusty old Diplomat Motor Inn, their guitarist went out to do his laundry and never came back.

So Russell put his hand up to fill in for him at that night’s gig. Well, he ended up doing the rest of the tour and became a full time member of the band, so just as well it wasn’t me doing stage on that tour or a lot of shows would have been cancelled until they could find and rehearse a new guitarist!

He also filled in on guitar and keys when required while on the road with Midnight Oil a few years later.

Another band he covered for me with when I couldn’t do their next tour was Wendy & The Rocketts. They ended up taking him on his first overseas trip where he had the fantastic experience of touring as support act to bands such as ZZ Top and Bryan Adams.

Back in Australia in the mid-80s he was constantly working, doing audio and backline work for many bands, such as the Oils, Aust Crawl, The Church, always gaining the respect of those he worked with.

His main passion was playing music, and his first love was guitar. So late in the 80s he permanently moved to Sydney to study at the Australian Institute of Music, where he excelled with honours, obtaining his Diploma of Music.

Not known to a lot of people was his other passion of Martial Arts, where he rose way above Black Belt, making it to 4th Kyu. He became a Sensei in training and was probably going to compete for Australia at the World Masters in Japan this year.

And of course, he loved motorcycling, getting out for long rides on his sports bike as often as possible.

When our mutual friend, audio veteran Greg Thompson passed suddenly four years ago, Russell was straight on a plane to Melbourne with his guitar to play a song at the funeral, and then played late into the small hours at the huge wake.

I know Russell really loved getting back to Melbourne for that and valued the big catch-up with old colleagues he had while here. Little did we know he would become so ill himself only two years later.

He was a kind and sensitive soul, who I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone speak ill of, which is pretty rare in our industry!

In the 90s he married Belinda who often sung in a duo with him, and they had three daughters. During this time, they opened their own music school, Russell’s Music in Beecroft, which grew successfully for many years until he had to wind it down a bit when he became ill with tumours on the brain.

He endured very serious surgery and amazed the doctors by tackling this condition until he seemed to be clear. He continued running his business part-time, and was even back gigging, playing guitar at some of his regular venues, and also picking up new ones.

But the beast returned, along with various other medical issues, and he was determined to beat all of them.

Just as it looked like he was getting back on track again he suddenly declined rapidly and he passed away on 1st November 2020. His positive attitude, physical fitness and love of life probably bought him a priceless extra 12 months or more.

He is survived by his three lovely (and musically talented!) daughters who adored him, Belinda, his mother, two brothers, and sister.

No matter how serious a situation was in life, we could always have a laugh together, and I will really miss that ….until we laugh again.

Rock on, Russell (aka Rex Calypso).

NEWS from CX Magazine – December 2020   

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