Eric Hilliard Nelson (May 8, 1940 – December 31, 1985) was an American rock and roll star, musician, and singer-songwriter. He placed 53 songs on the Billboard Top-Hot 100, between 1957 and 1973. 19 of his singles went Top-10.
Ricky came from a musical family. His Dad, Ozzie was a very successful band leader and singer himself. Harriet Hillard, his Mom, was also a vocalist in the orchestra. From 1930-1940 Ozzie & orchestra had 17 Top-10 singles on Billboard. “And The Some” being the biggest peaking at No. 1.
Big brother, David, grew up to be an actor, director & film/TV producer. He’s earned his very own star on Hollywood Walk of Fame. The Ozzie & Harriet Show was a Radio/Television. Both brothers started appearing on the radio show playing themselves in 1949. The show eventually transformed to the, then, new media Television.
While in High School, Ricky was a television star when, on a date, he said “Elvis’ record came on the radio and she went nuts”. Ricky continued “I had to say something so I told her that I was going to make a record, then she laughed at me”. Out of pride, Ricky asked his Dad, already well connected in the industry, to help him get a record deal at Verve. Verve was a jazz label but a label that could release a record none the less. Rick was only interested in handing the girl ONE copy of it out of pride. He recorded three (3) songs for Verve, “I’m Walking” (a cover of the Fats Domino tune), “A Teenager’s Romance” & “You’re My One And Only Love”. On April 10th, 1957, on the suggestion of Ozzie, Ricky performed “I’m Walking” on the show. It was an after thought he later said. “I’m Walking” was released and peaked at Number 4 on Billboard with the ‘Flip’ “A Teenager’s Romance’ peaking at No. 2. The single sold a million copies within weeks and, at the age of seventeen, Rick had his first gold record. He ceased dating the aforementioned young lady. Above, from my record collection, are photos of the single. The 78 R.P.M. on the left and the 45 R.P.M. version on the right.
Because of the success of the first single, the third song “You’re My One And Only Love” was released with an instrumental, “Honey Rock” as the “B” side. Both sides charted and peaked at No. 14. Again, the 78 on the left and the 45 on the right.
The challenge for Verve to capitalize on Ricky was met with the release of this E.P. (Extended Play” 45 R.P.M.) A “Mini” album containing the three songs Rick recorded for Verve plus the instrumental. In other words, both complete singles. Above is the cover.
Ricky was then signed to Imperial records, ironically the same record label as Fats Domino who wrote and recorded “I’m Walking” originally. Fats said in an interview, he felt Lou Chudd, owner of Imperial, signed Ricky in direct response to Rick’s success with Fats’ song. The first single, “Be Bop Baby” went to No. 3 on Billboard and sold a million copies. “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You”, originally a Red Foley song that was covered by Elvis Presley, was the ‘Flip’ side and peaked on its own at No. 29.
Here we go, my FAVORITE song, bar none, of Ricky’s is “Stood Up”. The song peaked at No. 2 and, according to Billboard, it’s his third biggest selling single. This is also my favorite picture sleeve of any of his 45 R.P.M. releases. The ‘Flip’ side, “Waitin’ In School” peaked at No. 18. Both sides had some GREAT “Lead” guitar playing by Nashville session man Joe Maphis.
Hanging on my office wall is this, the Gold Record award for “Stood Up”. In the 1950’s only two copies were made of these awards. One went to the artist and the other to the record label or owner of said label. Lou Chudd passed away and his estate put all the gold records by Fats Domino, Ricky Nelson and Slim Whitman up for auction. I’m happy to report that my wife, Gawd Bless her, didn’t kill me. I won gold record awards for “Stood Up” by Ricky and “Whole Lotta Lovin” by Fats Domino. It was NOT cheap!!!!!
After that came the single “My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It”, originally recorded by Hank Williams Sr. and “Believe What You Say”. “Bucket” was the “A” side of the single, peaked at No. 12 and received a gold record while “Believe” went to No. 4.
Then along came “Poor Little Fool”, peaking at No. 1 and, according to Billboard Magazine, is his biggest hit single. Written by Sharon Sheeley, Ricky reportedly HATED the song. The story goes that she got him to record it because “If you don’t, Elvis Presley will”. When the song picked up air play and was released as a single, against Rick’s wishes, he exercised his contractual right to approve any artwork and vetoed a picture sleeve. Thus no picture sleeve was ever issued in the U.S. Rick “Flipping The BYRD” and having the “Final Word”. Above on the left is the original 45 R.P.M. that my sister Ginny bought. I was with her the day she bought it too. I was, for the record, two and a half years old but I STILL HAVE THIS RECORD! On the right is the 78 R.P.M. that I bough years later.
Years later, when I was old enough to have my own allowance money, I bought my first Ricky Nelson record. The E.P. was purchased at Woolworths in the Westlake Shopping Center in Daly City CA. My 2nd favorite song by Ricky is on this. “My Baby”, written by Willie Dixon and recorded originally by Little Walter in 1955 on the Checker label out of Chicago. Rick’s version truly ROCKS!
It also contains “Down The Line” written by Roy Orbison.
April, 1961, the “Double Sided” smash “Travelin’ Man” (No. 1) and “Hello Mary Lou” (No. 9). Travelin’ Man”, according to Billboard magazine, is Rick’s second beigest hit behind “Poor Little Fool” and ahead of “Stood Up” (in 3rd place).
“Travelin’ Man” was written by this guy, Jerry Fuller. Originally intended for Sam Cooke. Ricky Nelson recorded it instead and the record sold six million copies worldwide. Fuller wrote 23 of Nelson’s recordings, including the US Top 10 hits “Young World”, and “It’s Up to You”. He discovered The Knickerbockers, and produced their 1965 hit “Lies”. He also discovered Gary Puckett & The Union Gap and wrote and produced the group’s hits “Young Girl” “Lady Willpower”, and “Over You”. In 1970 he started Moonchild production company, producing and writing the hit “Show and Tell” for Al Wilson in 1973. He’s been around eh?
Let’s take a minute to stop and take a look at Rick’s band from 1958 – 1965. From left to right, James Burton (Lead Guitar), Ricky (Rhythm Guitar), Richie Frost drums and James Kirkland Bass & Upright Bass on the right. Pianist Gene Garf not pictured here.
Now James Burton, aside from Scotty Moore, is my favorite guitar player. Throw in Joe Maphis and Hank Garland and you got a REALLY good Idea of what my playing soundz like. Ricky wanted James in his band after hearing his “Lead” guitar on THIS:
The original version of “Suzie Q” by Dale Hawkins. Sorry CCR fans, they DID do it but it’s not there song!
Delmar Allen “Dale” Hawkins (August 22, 1936 – February 13, 2010) was a pioneer American rock singer, songwriter, and rhythm guitarist who was often called the architect of swamp rock boogie. Ronnie Hawkins was his cousin. Dale was one of a very few number of White artists to record on the Chess/Checker labels out of Chicago. Rick heard James’ “Lead” guitar and knew immediately who he wanted in his own band! Above on the left, is the 78 R.P.M. version, the 45 is on the right.
On the backing vocals of Rick’s records from 1957 – 1965 were the Jordanaires the very same guys who appear on Elvis Presley’s records. From left to right, Gordon Stoker (1st Tenor), Neil Matthews (2nd Tenor), Ricky, Hoyt Hawkins (Baritone) and Ray Walker (Bass on Rick’s records 1958-1965). Hugh Jarrett (No pictured) (Bass on Ricky’s songs from 1957-1958).
The change in labels plus the British Invasion resulted In Rick’s last Top-10 single on Billboard from the 1950s-1960s. The song “For You”. Rick is quoted as saying, “I was getting bored, the music was getting boring” which also had something to do with it. In 1965 he stopped recording and performing. James Burton went on to become part of the Wrecking Crew in Los Angeles.
Rick found himself going back to his roots, that being Country Music. Like the Everly Brothers, Rick was part of the genesis of the “Country-Rock” scene in Los Angeles. Also like the Everly’s, Rick doesn’t get the credit he deserves for helping to start this, then, new sound like Eagles, Poco & Linda Ronstadt get.
The Troubadour was THE nightclub in L.A. where all of these “Country-Rock” cats & chicks hung out. This L.P. was recorded LIVE there. With the original “Stone Canyon Band” Tom Brumley, Pedal Steel Guitar (He played in Buck Owens Buckaroos), Allen Kemp (Lead Guitar) & Pat Shanahan (Drums) both moved on to play with the New Riders of the Purple Sage. On bass, last but not least was Randy Meisner who played with Poco before Rick and became a founding member of the Eagles after leaving Rick.
Rick put out two singles in 1969-1970, both recorded in the studio. “She Belongs To Me” written by Bob Dylan peaking at No. 33. Reportedly, there was no picture sleeve released with the single in the U.S. I did a google search and this came up so if anyone knows what country it comes from LET ME KNOW!
“She Belongs To Me” Live!
The second single, “Easy To Be Free”, was written by Rick. That’s him on the acoustic guitar with the “Drop D” tuning. As a guitarist, Ricky really dug this tuning and used it a LOT! This one peaked out at No. 48 on Billboard. Now both singles were recorded in the studio but the versions used on the “In Concert” L.P. were obviously recorded live. These studio versions weren’t issued on L.P. for years after.
“Easy To be Free” LIVE P.S. I WANT RICK’S JACKET!
The L.P. “Rudy The Fifth” was released Oct. 4th, 1971 and contained the single “Gypsy Pilot”. This was written by Rick and was the single that was released just before “Garden Party” and it ROCKZ! This was also the last album with the original Stone Canyon Band. While Randy Meisner & company WERE on the Madison Square Garden gig that“Garden Party” was written about, Randy is not on that song. He left the group right after “Rudy The Fifth” was recorded to be a founding member of the Eagles.
Here’s a live version of “Gypsy Pilot” from this album. Note, Rick is, again, using a “Drop D” tuning. Basically you take your low “E” string and tune it down to “D”. Lots of players use this. Good examples are “Don’t Be Cruel” by Elvis Presley. Scotty Moore uses it on that record. Lindsay Buckingham used it as well on “Over My Head” by Fleetwood Mac, Dig this video and YES, Rick Nelson really could play guitar! Oh yeah, you’ll dig Kenny Rogers in this!
Okay, that brings us to Rick’s last Top-10 single, “Garden Party”. In the U.S. this single did NOT come in a picture sleeve. I, again, found this during a google search, dunno what country it’s from. The sleeve says the record label is “MCA” but, at the time of release he was still on Decca. Decca became MCA at a later date.
“Garden Party” reached number six on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the fall of 1972; it was Nelson’s last top 40 hit on the US pop charts. The song also topped the Billboard easy listening chart for two weeks, and reached number 44 on Billboard’s Country Singles chart. The song likewise reached number six in both Australia and South Africa, and number one in Canada.
Above is the cover to the L.P. Now on October 15, 1971, Richard Nader’s Rock ‘n Roll Revival concert was given at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The playbill included many greats of the early rock era, including Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and Bobby Rydell.
Nelson came on stage dressed in the then-current fashion, wearing bell-bottoms and a purple velvet shirt, with his hair hanging down to his shoulders. He started playing his older songs like “Hello Mary Lou”, but then he played the Rolling Stones’ “Country Honk” (a country version of their hit song “Honky Tonk Women”) and the crowd began to boo. While some reports say that the booing was caused by police action in the back of the audience, Nelson thought it was directed at him. Nevertheless, he sang another song but then left the building and did not appear onstage for the finale. John Lennon was there and it was John who consoled him.
1974 brought us the “Windfall” L.P. The singles was “One Night Stand” and it charted to No. 89 on Billboard’s Country Chart. I was listening to a LOT of Country & Country Rock at that time. I remember this on the radio in pretty heavy rotation. Here he is doing it Live. I believe this was off of the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson:
Somewhere along the line, Rick changed his name back to Ricky and started doing his hits from the 1950’s-1960’s in their original formats and arrangements. Though he did his Country Rock songs in their original formats as well. It was in the early 1980s that I saw Rick three different times in concert. He and his band were awesome! Here, performed live, is one of his last singles from 1979. “You Know What I Mean”. This song REALLY took us fans back t the days of songs like “Stood Up”. Dig It:
and yes, the Jordanaires are BACK!
1985 was a tour that paired Fats Domino with Ricky Nelson and the two of them performed “I’m Walking” together:
Sadly the end came shortly after this on New Years Eve December 31st, 1985. I was playing at the Sportsman Club in San Bruno CA, Because I was gigging I had not heard the news. A fella in a black satin jacket, much like the one Rick is wearing in the above photo, comes up to me and asks me if I know any Ricky Nelson songs. I asked him “Do you want 5 minutes or 45 minutes?”. He said 45 and put $100.00 in my tip jar. When he turned around, the back of his jacket said Rick Nelson Tour on it. It turns out this guy was Rick’s former sound man and while I was on break he told me what happened. The rest of the gig is a blurr to me now.
Nelson’s L.P. “After The Rain” went Top-20 on the L.P. Charts as well and sold a million copies. This makes the Nelson family the first in the history of Billboard’s charts to have three generations of musicians to have a No. 1 single. No other family has done this….yet.
In the end, Ricky Nelson was a Rock Star, not just a “Teen Idol”. Most “Teen Idols” of the 1950’s, when the phrase was coined, were trying to sound like Sinatra where Rick’s main influences were Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and the folks out of Sun Records.