Lonesome Town, Ricky Nelson

This week in 1959, The Vancouver Sun columnist Mamie Moloney drew attention to what she called “a welcome new trend”: more slower songs were being played on CKWX! Here’s one of my favorites from that week, Ricky Nelson‘s haunting ballad “Lonesome Town”.

Ricky became a singing sensation by closing his parents’ TV show “Ozzie And Harriet” with a song at the end of each episode. Ricky Nelson was the first teenage idol, and there is no doubt about that, but in those early days in the 50’s he had no stage presence. Ricky came to Vancouver in the autumn of 1957 and played the Forum at Exhibition Park.

Having seen the dynamic Elvis on stage at Empire Stadium, the audience booed him. He didn’t deserve to be booed. He was a great guy and one of the early rockers. His music was some of the finest white rock’n’roll of its time, especially the guitar work of lead guitarist James Burton. He was a very quiet man. Many people said if James Dean could sing, he would have sounded like Ricky Nelson.

Radio loved Ricky and he recorded 20 Top 10 hits between 1957 and 1962. Among the most memorable: “Lonesome Town”, “Poor Little Fool”, “It’s Late”, “Never Be Anyone Else But You”, “Travelin’ Man”, “Hello Mary Lou”, “Teen Age Idol” and “It’s Up to You”. Ricky returned to the charts a decade later with 1972’s “Garden Party”, a song about being booed at a Madison Square Garden concert.

I had booked Ricky for the Legends Of Rock’n’Roll show at Vancouver’s EXPO 86, but he was killed in a tragic plane crash near Dallas on December 31, 1985. Ricky Nelson was only 45. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 35 years ago next week, on January 21, 1987.

Here’s a great 1958 quote from Ricky: “Anyone who knocks rock’n’roll either doesn’t understand it, or is prejudiced against it, or is just plain square.”