Ricky Nelson

  • Rock & Roll singer and songwriter born Eric Nelson in 1940 from Teaneck New Jersey. Died in 1985 from a plane crash, as he was traveling from Alabama to Texas for a concert.
  • Ricky gained initial fame as the real life son of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, and at 8 years old, he portrayed himself on the radio program The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. The show moved to television and became one of the longest running sitcoms in television history, running for 14 years, with Ricky performing in 433 episodes. By 16 years old, he had a personal fortune of $500,000.
  • In his early teens, he learned to play the drums, guitar and clarinet, and he copied his favorite rockabilly singers of the time, especially Carl Perkins. At 16 years old, his father helped him secure a recording contract for 1 album. In late March 1957, he recorded three songs – A Teenager’s Romance, You’re My One and Only Love, and a cover of Fats Domino’s I’m Walkin’. Before they were released as singles, an episode of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet aired that featured Ricky playing the drums and singing I’m Walkin’. The television exposure had a huge impact, and the 3 singles peaked at #2, #14 and #4 respectively on the Billboard Hot 100.
  • During the summer of 1957, Ozzie Nelson pulled his son away from his record label due to a dispute over royalties, and Ricky was signed to another label that had much more favorable business and creative terms. His first album, titled Ricky, was released in the fall of 1957. It topped the album charts, and the song Be-Bop Baby reached #3 on the Hot 100 chart.
  • Over the next 5 years, 10 more albums were released, and 14 singles reached the top 10 of the Hot 100, with Poor Little Fool and Travelin’ Man topping the chart, and Young World and Teen Age Idol peaking at #5. During this time, Nelson’s popularity on The Adventure of Ozzie and Harriet helped rock and roll music become accepted into the mainstream public.
  • On his 21st birthday, he changed his recording name from Ricky to Rick, though his old name continued to be used by his fans. His albums from 1961 to 1974 all refer to him as Rick Nelson.
  • By the mid-60s, Nelson’s music career hit the skids as the British Invasion took over popular music. He began to record music that was more country-rock, but most of his songs did not chart.
  • In 1972, Nelson released an album titled Garden Party, and he released a single by the same name. The album is credited to Rick Nelson and the Stone Canyon Band and it had a country rock style to it. The single was one of the few written by Nelson, and it was inspired by a Rock & Roll Revival concert at Madison Square Garden in 1971 where he was a performer. When he sang his newer songs, he was booed, which compelled him to walk offstage. The lyrics of the song contain many references to the concert, including his moral to the story – “But it’s all right now, I’ve learned my lesson well. You see, you can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself.” The song reached #6 on the Hot 100 and #1 on the Easy Listening Chart.
  • Subsequent releases were not successful, and after 1974’s Windfall album, Nelson was dropped by his record label.
  • In 1985, as he started a comeback tour, he added the “y” back to his name. He released a greatest hits album – Ricky Nelson: All My Best – but the comeback was cut short by the plane accident on the last day of 1985.
  • Nelson was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. When Rolling Stone published their list of the Greatest Artists of All Time in 2005, Nelson was #91 on that list (though he was not included on the updated list in 2011). I wasn’t much of a teen idol person (except of course, I love Elvis) – but his late career Garden Party is easily my favorite. Here’s the country-rock classic hit.

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