Born in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico on May 30, 1948, Nelson González is distinguished for his mastery of the Cuban tres guitar. This traditional instrument is indispensable to the interpretation of ‘Son’, the most popular form of Cuban dance music.
His love of Puerto Rican and Cuban music developed at an early age and was nurtured in New York City, where he arrived at the age of 12. During the 1960s, many of today’s acclaimed and virtuoso Latin musicians convened regularly at the home of Andy and Jerry González to participate in weekly ‘jam sessions’. Nelson joined these young and notable musicians that included talents such as Dave Valentin, Hilton Ruiz, Oscar Hernández, Milton Cardona, Nicki Marrero, Tommy López, Jr., Eladio Pérez, Charlie Santiago, Papo Vásquez, Orestes Vilato, and the powerful voices of Adalberto Santiago, Willie Garcia, Justo Betancourt and Virgilio Martí. It was during this period that Nelson explored his interest in the tres.
Nelson’s attraction to the Cuban tres was initially driven by its reputation as a formidable challenge to achieve technical mastery. The tres guitar is comprised of three sets of double strings and is known for the degree of technical difficulty it imposes in order to generate a full chord from a limited number of strings. His first tres was borrowed from Andy González and it marked the beginning of his journey with an instrument that represents the richness and tradition of Cuban folklore.
Essential to his development was René López, musicologist and leading authority on Cuban music. Through him, Nelson learned the fundamentals and history of Cuban music. He used the recordings of Arsenio Rodriguez and ‘El Niño’ Rivera, two masters of the tres guitar and pioneers of the Cuban ‘son’, to guide his training. Their genius and the ‘descarga’ of Israel López Cachao strongly influenced Nelson’s music style and skill in incorporating the Tres to the rhythm of the drums. Inspired by the paucity of tres players in Latin America and the Caribbean, Nelson vowed to preserve tradition through his dedication to this instrument and is regarded by Cachao as the ambassador of the tres.
His first opportunity as a performer in the Latin music scene was in 1971 as a member of the Justo Betancourt Band. He later played with Orq. Harlow during which time he developed a close friendship with Ismael Miranda that later served to create Orq. Revelacion and soloist for the band. During the 1970’s, Nelson recorded with all of the top Latin bands including Charanga Típica Ideal and two international recordings with African Charanga groups. He was invited to join Grupo Folklórico Experimental Nuevayorquino and in 1972 joined Típica ’73 for four years. After its dissolution he served as a founding member of Los Kimbos with Adalberto Santiago. He formed his own band in 1976, Nelson González and his Band and recorded two albums, with one produced by the TR (Tito Rodriguez) Record label.
Nelson has won five Grammy Awards for participation on the following albums: Cachao Master Sessions I ,Cachao Master Sessions II, Gloria Estefan’s Mi Tierra, Gloria Estefan’s Alma Caribena, and Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri’s Masterpiece.
His other accomplishments include: winner of the ‘Best Salsa Band In Latin America’ Award for Tipica ’73 at the Primer Festival Mundial de Salsa in 1976; winner of the 1977, 1978 and 1979 ‘Best Tres Player of the Year’ Award from Latin NY Magazine.
He has made numerous television appearances and his performances throughout Latin America, Europe and the United States span 25 years. Nelson formed part of Danny Rivera’s band, who is regarded as the National Voice of Puerto Rico. He also collaborated with and co-directed three of his albums, one of which won the “Tu Musica” Award in 1997 (Hágase La Luz.) His indispensable contribution to the Broadway Musical production, The Capeman. and member of the guitar and string ensemble, led to friendship with composer and musical director Paul Simon that will inevitably lead to future collaboration. He has served as a guest artist with the singer, La India. He toured with Grammy Award winner Marc Anthony, and he and his band Son Mundano headlined as the opening act for Marc Anthony’s October 4th 2000 Oscar De La Hoya Foundation benefit concert in Los Angeles.
His album Son Mundano, honors Cuban roots, integrating a particular Puerto Rican style that strengthens their musical-spiritual bond.
Nelson González played in 5 Grammy Award-winning albums: Mi tierra by Gloria Estefan (1993); Master Sessions Vol I by Cachao (1994); Master Sessions Vol II by Cachao (1995); Alma Caribeña by Gloria Estefan (2000); and Masterpiece by Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri (2000).
In 2005 he published the book Tres Guitar Method (Mel Bay).