AT THE END OF THE 1950’s, RICKY NELSON WAS ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR TEEN IDOLS IN THE WORLD
by Neal Skok~
Born in 1940, Nelson debuted at age eight on the family radio sitcom The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. By 1952, the show was on television and Nelson was becoming well known. Nelson cut “I’m Walkin’,” featured it on the television show, and scored a Top Five smash — and his musical career took off like a rocket.
Sheree Homer has written a balanced, analytical biography of Nelson and she leaves few stones unturned. She makes no apology for being a Nelson fan, yet she is objective and accurate.
Nelson’s father, Ozzie, led his own orchestra — starting in 1930 — and was quite successful. He had a number one record and was also popular in films, television and radio. He was also intelligent and strategic in the entertainment industry — the perfect person to guide his son’s career.
Rick Nelson, Rock ‘N’ Roll Pioneer skillfully negotiates Nel-son’s initial popularity and follows his career’s twists and turns. As an adolescent, he was a music fan. Playing drums, cla-rinet and guitar. His musical influences were Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles and Elvis Presley. He often stated that he was attempting to replicate Perkins with his own music.
As we’ve seen throughout rock ‘n’ roll’s history, television is the best way to promote. With the ongoing television show, Nelson had the perfect advertising medium. He also had quite an ear for music. He hired guitarist James Burton in 1957 and other top-flight players like Glen Campbell and Leon Russell. Nelson got so popular, that each TV episode featured him and his band doing a few songs. The formula worked well from 1957 thru 1961. Nelson had 14 Top Ten Billboard songs.
There have been other books about Rick Nelson, (who dropped the “y” at 21) but Homer’s is in a class by itself. She interviewed major players in his life who speak openly and candidly. Over 40 people are quoted and music industry luminaries such as Sonny Curtis, Jimmie Haskell, Jerry Fuller and John Boylan have fascinating insights and memories. Nelson’s wife, Kristin, was also involved and the book includes photos from her personal collection.
Homer makes a convincing argument that Nelson’s music is the beginning of the country rock genre and certainly acts like Poco, The Eagles, John Fogerty and the Beatles have mentioned his influence. Nelson was very prolific in the recording studio — up until his untimely death in 1985 — and he left lots of quality music behind.
Homer is passionate about Rick Nelson and knowledgeable about early rock ‘n’ roll. These qualities come through in her biography. Even Rick Nelson scholars will find plenty in her book. Let’s hope Homer has more projects in the pipeline.
Rick Nelson, Rock ‘n’ Roll Pioneer
By Sheree Homer
McFarland & Company Publishers