We’ve been celebrating Ricky Nelson on what would have been his 82nd birthday Sunday. Here’s the icing on Rick’s cake: a rare photo from his 1958 PNE Forum appearance. That’s me interviewing Rick for my CKWX show. The tape was blank, but this recently restored image is a great reminder of his visit.
Rick became a singing sensation by closing his parents’ TV show Ozzie And Harriet with a song at the end of each episode. On April 8, 1957, Rick performed his first big hit: a cover of Fats Domino‘s “I’m Walkin’”. The song sold a million copies in one week and Rick signed a five-year contract with Imperial Records. His first seven records sold a million copies each, and one — “Hello, Mary Lou” backed by “Travelin’ Man” — sold six million. Rick Nelson sold 60 million records, including 24 gold records, and he ranks fourth on the list of best-selling single artists.
In 1963, Rick signed a 20-year recording contract with Decca Records, but the hits stopped coming when the British Invasion hit. In the late Sixties he formed the country-rock Stone Canyon Band, touring with Kenny Rogers and Glen Campbell. Fan reaction to Rick’s appearance at a Madison Square Garden rock ‘n’ roll revival concert in 1971 reminded me of his 1958 Vancouver show: they wanted to hear “the hits” and not Rick’s new material. That’s why Rick wrote what was to become his biggest hit, 1972’s “Garden Party”. The most memorable line in the song: “You can’t please everyone… so you’ve got to please yourself.”
Rick Nelson‘s career was cut short in a tragic plane crash in Texas on New Year’s Eve, 1985. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame just over a year later by John Fogerty, who said “We watched the kid next door grow up and become a superstar in rock and roll.” You can credit Rick Nelson for introducing rock to millions through the medium of TV.
I love this 1958 quote from Rick: “Anyone who knocks rock’n’roll either doesn’t understand it, or is prejudiced against it, or is just plain square.”