Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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NELSON, Rick

(b Eric Hilliard Nelson, 8 May '40, Teaneck NJ; d 31 Dec. '85, De Kalb TX) Pop singer who switched to country rock. Began on parents' radio sitcom, a long-running success perpetrated by his father, Swing Era bandleader Ozzie Nelson (1906--75), appeared in film Here Come The Nelsons '51, to TV with the show '52; appeared in film Story Of Three Loves '53. In '56 a girlfriend told him she was in love with Elvis Presley, so he became a recording star: performed an awful version of Fats Domino's 'I'm Walkin'' on the show; released on Verve it was a top 20 hit, outsold by 'A Teenager's Romance' on the other side. He went to Imperial, ironically Domino's label; had a total of 53 Hot 100 hits '57--73; 18 singles were two- sided hits, with 17 titles in top 10 '57--62. He improved as a singer; many of the rockabilly-flavoured songs were written by Dorsey and/or Johnny Burnette and his backing band incl. guitarist James Burton, later with Presley. 'Poor Little Fool' '58 and 'Travelin' Man' '61 were no. 1 (latter with no. 9 'Hello Mary Lou' on the other side); other top fives were 'Be- Bop Baby' and 'Stood Up' '57, 'Believe What You Say' '58, 'Never Be Anyone Else But You' '59, 'Young World' and 'Teen Age Idol' '62. He dropped the 'y' from Ricky and became Rick '60, signed a 20-year contract with Decca '63 (now MCA) but like many others was swamped by the British Invasion '64: he changed his style to country rock. Country Fever '67 was a representative album; cover of Bob Dylan's 'She Belongs To Me' was top 40 '69. Eleven LPs charted '57--64, but no more until he formed Stone Canyon Band '69, which at various times incl. members of Poco, Eagles, Little Feat; Rick Nelson In Concert '70 (live at the Troubador in LA) was no. 54 LP; Rick Sings Nelson made top 200 albums same year; in '71 old fans booed his new image at Madison Square Garden rock'n'roll revival show and he wrote 'Garden Party' about how you can't please others unless you're pleased with yourself first: it was his first top ten hit for almost ten years; album Garden Party '72 was no. 32; Windfall '74 made top 200. The 20-year contract must have been rationalized; Intakes '77 was on CBS/Epic; Playing To Win '81 on Capitol made no. 153 with songs by Graham Parker, John Fogerty, John Hiatt. Compilations on MCA, EMI. He also appeared in films Rio Bravo '58 with John Wayne and Dean Martin; The Wackiest Ship In The Navy '60, Love And Kisses '65; his daughter Tracy became an actress (no relation to Tracy Nelson, below). He and six others incl. his fianc‚e were killed in the crash of a private DC-3 en route to a gig in Dallas, said to have been caused by a drug-related fire on board; two survived.