Rick Nelson!

Gary: “Russ and I usually talk to some extent about music; he has the greatest knowledge about the composition, writing and actual performing, while I am definitely the better historian – much better at simple Rock and Roll, because it is what I grew up with.  I do love Delta Blues, Soul and R&B.

Tonight I am going way back to my teenage years and talk about someone that, to me, was as big as Elvis, Fats, Buddy and so on. I watched him grow up on television and read his book. 

There is some debate as to whether the first Rock Video was J.P. Richardson (the Big Bopper) 1958 Chantilly Lace or Rick Nelson in 1961.  I believe it was the one in 1961. (Most people today believe that rock video’s did not start until MTV in the 80’s with Much Music, etc.).

Rick Nelson’s actual music ability was very understated; he notably had, in my opinion, the best guitar player of that time, James Burton. He totally squandered his life, had some of the best song writers in the Burnette Brothers, Gene Pitney, Sharon Sheeley.

Everything came very easy to a very shy Eric Hilliard Nelson.  He and Elvis are the only two people who never appeared on American Bandstand.  Ozzie Nelson actually may have hurt Rick’s career by not allowing him any TV exposure other than the “Ozzie & Harriet Show”. 

It really does not matter to me; the book shocked me a bit, but I loved “all” of his music and I “grew up” with Rick in a way, as we were both born in the same year and month.

I will do my best to give you my idol growing up…

Rick Nelson

(Notice a very young James Burton on the right)

Rick / Ricky Nelson



1. “Travelin’ Man” – (1961) considered the 1st Rock Video – 2nd part from an Ozzie and Harriet show

2. One of his last filmed concerts:

3.  1985 / Fats Domino and Rick Nelson live at Universal Amphitheatre (last filmed concert of Rick before his Death) /

4. From the Johnny Cash Show with the Stone Canyon Band – Come on In (Live)

5. Never Be Anyone Else But You Live 1983

6. 1985 Boppin’ the Blues /

7. Rick Nelson – One After 909

8. From his very first album / Boppin’ the Blues

9. With the Four Preps / Bye Bye Love

10. His first song on TV / I’m Walking

11. With the Stone Canyon Band / Mystery Train

12. Rick Nelson & the Stone Canyon Band “My Babe”

13. Great Song “Life” great visuals of the Nelson’s /

14.  The true story of “Travelin’ Man” /

15. Rick’s Three Sons Matthew, Gunnar and Sam Nelson / Garden Party (priceless) /

16. The Nelson Twins with “James Burton” / (fantastic) /


Note:  A lot of Ricky / Rick Nelson’s hits were two sided!

I have not included every hit, just the ones I think are significant plus some others.

1A.   A Teenager’s Romance/Verve 10047/5/13/57/ # 2 on Billboard

1B.   I’m Walkin’/Verve 10047/5/6/57 #4 on Billboard (double sided hit)

2.   You’re My One And Only Love/Verve10070/9/16/57/ # 14 on Billboard

3A.   Be-Bop Baby/Imperial 5463/10/7/57/ # 3 Billboard

3B.   Have I told You lately That I Love You/ B side Imperial 5463/10/28/57/ # 29 Billboard

4A.   Stood Up/Imperial 5483/12/30/57/ # 2 Billboard

4B.   Waitin’ In School/B side of 5483/12/30/57/ # 18 Billboard (one of John Fogerty’s Favourites)

5A.   Believe What You Say/Imperial 5503/4/7/58/ # 4 Billboard

5B.   My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It/ B side/ # 12 Billboard

6.   Poor Little Fool (my favourite)/Imperial 5528/7/7/58/ # 1 (2 weeks) Billboard

7A.   Lonesome Town/Imperial 5545/10/20/58/ # 7 Billboard

7B.   I Got A Feeling/B side/10/20/58/ # 10 Billboard

8. Old Enough To Love/on an album called “Ricky Sings Again”/11/13/58/ #14 Billboard – also /Imperial 5935/5/4/63 #94

9A.   Never Be Anyone Else But You (my next favourite)/Imperial 5565/3/9/59/ # 6 Billboard

9B.   It’s Late/B Side (I guess)/3/16/59/ # 9 Billboard

10A.   Just A Little Too Much/Imperial 5595/7/13/59/ # 9 Billboard

10B.   Sweeter Than You/B side/7/13/59/ # 9 Billboard

11A. Travelin Man (first Rock Video)/Imperial 5741/5/1/61/ # 1 (2 weeks) Billboard

11B. Hello Mary Lou (written by Gene Pitney)/B side/5/1/61/ # 9 Billboard

Under “Rick Nelson”:

1A. A Wonder Like You/Imperial 5570/10/9/61/ # 11 Billboard

1B. Everlovin’/B side/10/9/61/ # 16 Billboard

2. Young World/Imperial 5805/3/17/62/# 5 Billboard

3. Teen Age Idol/Imperial 5864/8/25/62/ # 5 Billboard

4. It’s Up To You/Imperial 5901/12/29/62/ # 6 Billboard

“Rick Nelson & the Stone Canyon Band”

1. She belongs To Me/Decca 32550/1/3/70/ # 33 Billboard

2. Garden Party/Decca 32980/9/16/72

3.  Dream Lover (just because I love his version)

Born in Teaneck, New Jersey, Rick Nelson was the younger son of Ozzie Nelson (the leader of a big band), and Harriet Hilliard Nelson (the band’s singer).

Along with brother David Nelson, the family starred in the long-running radio and television series “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” from 1944 to 1954 on the radio, and 1952 to 1966 on television. However, David and Ricky Nelson did not join the cast until 1949; for the first five years of the radio show, the sons were played by professional actors.


Ricky Nelson, who was the first teen idol to utilize television to promote hit records, began a rock and roll music career in 1957. He recorded his debut single, the Fats Domino song “I’m Walkin’”, seeking to impress a date who was an Elvis Presley fan.

After he performed this song on TV, it was a hit, reaching #4 on the charts and selling over a million copies. Soon, each episode of Ozzie & Harriet ended with a musical performance by “Ricky”.
It was during the sitcom’s run that Ozzie Nelson, either to keep his son’s fans tuned in, or as an affirmation of his reputed behind-the-scenes persona as a controlling personality, kept Ricky from appearing on other TV shows that could have enhanced his public profile, American Bandstand and The Ed Sullivan Show in particular.
Ironically, Rick finally did appear on the Sullivan show in 1967, but his career by that time was in limbo. Rick also appeared on other TV shows (usually in acting roles).
In 1977, he guest-hosted on Saturday Night Live, where he proved to be a good sport in spoofing his TV sitcom image by appearing in a Twilight Zone send-up, where, always trying to go “home”, he’d find himself among the characters from other 1950s/early ’60s-era sitcoms, Leave It to Beaver, Father Knows Best and Make Room for Daddy.

Nelson knew and loved music, and was a credible performer before he became a teen idol, largely due to his parents’ musical background. In addition to guitar, he played drums and the clarinet. (He showcased his drum skills in the same episode where he made his singing debut.)
Unlike many teen idols of the time, Nelson showed his personal taste in working with strong musicians, including James Burton, Joe Maphis, The Jordanaires and Johnny and Dorsey Burnette. While Elvis may have served as the catalyst for Rick’s musical career, his real inspiration came from none other than Carl Perkins.
One of Ricky Nelson’s best-selling singles, “Hello Mary Lou” / “Travelin’ Man
Hello Mary Lou

Travelin’ Man

From 1957 to 1962, Nelson had 30 Top-40 hits, more than any other artist at the time except Presley (who had 53) and Pat Boone (38). Many of Nelson’s early records were double hits with both the A and B sides hitting the Billboard charts.
When Billboard introduced the Hot 100 chart on August 4, 1958, Nelson’s single “Poor Little Fool” became the first song ever in the #1 position on that chart.
Poor Little Fool

While Nelson preferred rockabilly and uptempo rock songs like “Hello Mary Lou”, “It’s Late”, “Stood Up” and “Be-Bop Baby”, his smooth, calm voice made him a natural to sing ballads.
It’s Late

Stood Up

Be-Bop Baby

He had major success with “Travelin’ Man”, “Poor Little Fool”, “Young World”, “Lonesome Town” and “Teenage Idol”, which clearly could have been about Nelson himself. (It was Life magazine that reputedly coined the phrase “teen idol” in an article it did about Nelson in 1959).
Young World

Lonesome Town

Teenage Idol

In addition to his recording career, Nelson appeared in movies, including the Howard Hawks western classic Rio Bravo with John Wayne and Dean Martin (1959), plus The Wackiest Ship In the Army (1960) and Love and Kisses (1965).
On May 8, 1961 (his 21st birthday), the singer officially changed his recording name from “Ricky Nelson” to “Rick Nelson”. However, not too long before his untimely death, Rick realized a dream of his. He met his idol, Carl Perkins, who, while musing that they were the last of the “rockabilly breed”, addressed Nelson as “Ricky”. As the story goes, Nelson felt somehow validated by Perkins calling him by the name he stopped using at age 21. He contacted his manager, instructing him to restore the “y” to his name.

In 1963, Nelson signed a 20-year contract with Decca Records. After some early successes with the label, most notably 1964’s “For You”, Nelson’s chart career came to a dramatic halt in the wake of The British Invasion.
In the mid-1960s, Nelson began to move towards country music, becoming a pioneer in the country-rock genre. He was one of the early influences of the so-called “California Sound” (which would include singers like Jackson Browne and Linda Ronstadt and bands like The Eagles). Yet Nelson himself did not reach the Top 40 again until 1970, when he recorded Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me” with the Stone Canyon Band.
In 1972, Nelson reached the Top 40 one last time with “Garden Party”, a song he wrote in disgust after a Madison Square Garden audience booed him when he tried playing new songs instead of just his old hits.
Garden Party

Garden Party” reached #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart and was certified as a gold single. (Coincidentally, “Garden Party” was a hit at the same time Elvis Presley was having his last Top-10 single, “Burning Love”, as was Chuck Berry with “My Ding-a-Ling”. Both are among the musicians alluded to in the lyrics of “Garden Party”.)
Below is one of the few actual “live” performances available.  I believe it is with the Stone Canyon Band, not sure…

Marriage, family, and troubles

Nelson married Kristin Harmon in April 1963, in what Life Magazine referred to as “The Wedding of the Year”. Harmon is the daughter of Football All-American University of Michigan football legend and Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon and actress Elyse Knox, and is the older sister of movie and television star Mark Harmon, perhaps known best for the hit series NCIS.
The couple had one daughter, Tracy (born October 25, 1963), twin sons Gunnar and Matthew (born September 20, 1967), and a third son, Sam Nelson (born August 29, 1974).
After “Garden Party”, Ricky Nelson never regained his career’s momentum. By the late 1970s, his life was in shambles and he was heavily in debt. After a highly tumultuous marriage (the antithesis of what the public had seen on Ozzie and Harriet and in Love and Kisses), Kristin filed for divorce and took their four children. He wasn’t making records and when he played live at all, it was in very small insignificant venues. Nelson began using drugs, especially marijuana and eventually cocaine.


In 1985, Nelson joined a nostalgia rock tour of England. It was a major success, and it revived some interest in his work. He tried to duplicate that effect in the United States, and he began a tour of the South. While on that tour, on his way to a New Year’s Eve concert in Dallas, Texas, he died in a plane crash in De Kalb, Texas.

Nelson was buried in the Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles, California. The last song he sang on stage before his death was Buddy Holly’s “Rave On”. Holly had also perished in a plane crash.


Rumors that drug use among the passengers caused the crash frequently resurface, but the original NTSB investigation long ago stated that the crash was probably due to mechanical problems. The pilots attempted to land in a field after smoke filled the cabin. An examination indicated that a fire originated in the right hand side of the aft cabin area at or near the floor line. The passengers were killed when the aircraft struck obstacles during the forced landing; the pilots were able to escape through the cockpit windows and survived.
The ignition and fuel sources of the fire could not be determined, although many believe that the most likely cause was a defective cabin heater. The pilot indicated that the crew tried to turn on the cabin heater repeatedly shortly before the fire occurred, but that it failed to respond. After the fire, the access panel to the heater compartment was found unlatched. The theory is supported by records that showed that DC-3s in general, and this aircraft in particular, had a previous history of problems with the cabin heaters.(lastfm)

More Videos:

Never Be Anyone Else But You Live 1985

Stood Up – Waitin in School Live 1980s

Milk Cow Blues Live 1985



17 responses to “Rick Nelson!

  1. Gary, as you know, Rick Nelson is my all time favorite rock and roll singer and musician. Today is October 28 and this is supposedly the date that, in 1957, a very young Rick met Elvis for the first time when he came backstage after one of Rick’s performances.
    Imagine all that charisma and talent together in one room. Wouldn’t it have been fun witness that meeting?
    They went on to become friends and in the early 60’s formed rival touch football teams to play against each another. Elvis’s team consisted mainly of muscular body guards who actually wore numbered uniforms while Rick’s team was college and professional football players who played in tee shirts and jeans. Reportedly, Rick’s team often won the victory.
    What a great time those two must have had and what a great time it would have been to witness those games.

  2. Rick Nelson and his band & lead guitarist (1960’s songs) had an everlasting effect on the way I played guitar in the early 60’s. Like you, my favourite song (first one I heard) was “Poor Little Fool” Also “It’s Late” and “I Believe” Great stuff! I still play these song today and I’m now 70….
    Long Live Rick Nelson and Band’s Music…. Errol. QLD Australia.

  3. I have read a book about Rick.
    His wife was having birthday party’s for the children when he was touring.
    The amount she was spending was much more than he was making in his later years.He had to play fairs and small venues.
    It also said Mark Harmon tried to take her children from her after he died.Some kind of a law suit he never successful in getting them.

    I met him in a club on the East Side of Seattle,Washington.
    I got to talk to him.I was surprised how tall,thin and handsome he looked.
    He had a very shy personality.

    • You were surprised at how tall, thin and handsome Rick looked… I think television makes people look a little wider than they are.- something about the aspect ratio. I have had the same surprise, meeting a real person in the flesh – something about the live experience that cannot be captured in audio or video.

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  6. William b.Grice

    Years ago I went to see Rick Nelson at a Hotel on air port road,Great Show a year or so later he died in the plane crash.

    Two years ago went to Falls View Casino and saw His sons Gunner and Mathew, with a tribute show, brought back me,memories

  7. Denny MacDougall

    Thank you for your post of one of my all time favs. I especially enjoyed the video of his sons in the recording studio with the legendary James Burton. Gotta love the Tele.


    Gary and Russ you amaze me with the information and videos of the Worlds Greatest Singers. The night Ricky Nelson plane crashed I was on my way to play Records at a Fire Department Annual New Year’s Eve party which I have done yearly since 1961. I had to play POOR LITTLE FOOL for the first song of the tragic celebration. What a talent we lost in 1985 and he will never be duplicated again in our lifetime.


    Hugh “BABE” O’Donnell



  9. C’mon folks; you are letting nostalgia cloud your thinking. The beauty of hindsight is that it enables one to make a reasoned judgement based on facts and not sentiments. The truth is that Ricky Nelson was a pretty boy with a modest amount talent. The facts speak for themselves, the other white male stars of the period such as Elvis, Buddy Holly, the Everlys and Roy Orbison had huge careers. JLL was a different type of white rock ‘n’ roller but he also had a decades long career. The black heroes such as Little Richard, Fats Domino, Ray Charkes and Chuck Berry did the same. So where does Ricky Nelson stand in that company? Answer; nowhere. Not even in the same part of the solar system. So; sorry guys; I accept that you may have liked him, even like Gary, worshiped him; but to claim that he was the greatest ever is, with great respect, nonsense.
    This bucket of cold water comes from Tony, Cambridge UK xx

    • Tony: You of course are welcome to your opinion. I enjoyed his music, far from worshiping him. The Burnett brothers wrote the music, James Burton was lead guitarist, so he was far from a hack. You cannot see past your R&B people, but that’s fine, he was huge in North America, a great entertainer, who was taken far to early. Nobody said he was the Greatest ever!! Your information regarding me is not even close to accurate.

    • Denny MacDougall

      Tony, your comment was more than a little over the top. Having a bad day were you?

      • Tony Bowman

        Hi Gary

        Lighten up buddy, it was supposed to be light-hearted and OTT. But nevertheless true!

        The guys I was citing as the best were rock ‘n’ rollers except maybe Ray Charles and a lesser extent Fats Domino.

        So even if we just stick to Elvis, Big O and the Everly’s you surely can’t support an argument that Rick Nelson was in the same league.


        Ps I guess that I could have really wound you up if I had stated that he was on a par with Pat Boone but that is factually correct!!

        Tony Bowman


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      • Hi Gary
        Lighten up buddy, it was supposed to be light-hearted and OTT. But nevertheless true!
        The guys I was citing as the best were rock ‘n’ rollers except maybe Ray Charles and a lesser extent Fats Domino.
        So even if we just stick to Elvis, Big O and the Everly’s you surely can’t support an argument that Rick Nelson was in the same league.
        Ps I guess that I could have really wound you up if I had suggested that he was on a par with Pat Boone but that is factually correct!!

      • Tony: Needless to say I do not share your views. The difference, well in 1956 I was AT the Fats Domino Concert in Toronto and I saw Little Richard and the Upsetters at the Auditorium in Buffalo, yes and Chuck Berry in 57 and Elvis in 58. In 1955 we had George Lorenz (The Hound) http://www.hounddoglorenz.com/bio/ from WKBW in Buffalo he filled our airwaves with Rock and Roll and R&B. Your knowledge came later I was there at the start. In 1953 I first listened to and saw the Crows singing Gee. Yes, and again saw Hank Ballard when his music was banded. Again, the Bluenote in Toronto had the Primes and Primettes, later re-named The Temptations and Supremes with a young blind singer called Steveland Morris or Stevie Wonder. So don’t tell me about the origins of Rhythm and Blues I was there and to this day it is still my favourite. Yes and Pat Boone, not my favourite, but he opened the market to Little Richard and Fats Domino’s Music, so do not downplay his contribution. You are welcome to your opinion, but you have a very narrow view of what actually happened. We did not have the same “Race” problem in Canada and cover records flooded the market in early 55. I loved everything about the era and the start of what was called Rock and Roll and I miss it. Oh yes and we danced, man did we dance and in 57 we had American Bandstand. It’s nice to be an idealist later in life, but in 55 it was DANGEROUS MUSIC, but we loved it, Pat Boone included. You do not like Rick Nelson, that’s fine, but you would be a minority. You did not have Ozzie and Harriet, we did and loved it.

      • Hi Gary
        You do have a few years on my 73 but I was blown away by exactly the same musicians at exactly the same time. I was buying Fats Domino and JLL 78s when I was 12 (which I still have). So my knowledge comes from exactly the same time as yours.
        The point I was making is that although I was also a big fan of Ricky Nelson at that time now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can now see that he wasn’t actually in the same league as the others that I mentioned.
        I was just teasing when I said that you loved him. It was just a bit of fun, even if my observation on RN’s contribution was correct.
        Anyway we appear to be in agreement about Pat Boone!
        And, yes, I have made mistakes myself. It took a week’s pay from my paper round to buy “Love letters in the sand” WHAT WAS I THINKING ABOUT
        Keep rockin buddy

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