BOOK REVIEW:: The latest detailed look at Rock 'n' Roll & Country Rock Pioneer legend Rick Nelson...from his early teen idol/Imperial/Decca years to his country rock period and his return to rockabilly in the 80’s.
“Rick Nelson, Rock ‘N’ Roll Pioneer”
By Sheree Homer
It’s hard to imagine a musical artist who has influenced many and has charted a slew of Top 40 records/sold millions of albums worldwide – would still be continuously overlooked in the landscape of Rock n’ Roll history. New Jersey born musician/actor Rick Nelson recorded an amazing body of work (spanning four decades), until his tragic death in a plane accident on New Year’s Eve 1986. In that period, Nelson recorded some of the most exciting rockabilly records of the era - even bringing Rock ‘N’ Roll into the households of 1950’s America via his family’s “The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet” show. He would later spearhead the late 60’s/70’s country rock movement through his groundbreaking Stone Canyon Band.
In the last 25 years there have been strides to help introduce Rick Nelson to a new generation. Capitol Records released “Legacy” – a career 4 CD box set, followed by the reissue (on two-fer CDs) of his Imperial catalog (which sadly are again out of print). German based label, Bear Family Records released an impressive trio of box sets, which includes almost all of Nelson’s studio recorded output. Other notable compilations/greatest hits packages have been released via Ace Records (UK) and Real Gone Music (US) among others. What’s been missing has been a career defining biography spotlighting the true essence of Rick Nelson’s musical journey. The last published high profile books were released in the 1990’s.
Author, Sheree Homer (see also 2009’s Catch That Rockabilly Fever: Stories of Life on the Road and in the Studio) takes a detailed look at Rick Nelson’s music career from his early teen idol/Imperial/Decca years to his country rock period and his return to rockabilly in the 80’s. “Rick Nelson: Rock ‘N’ Roll Pioneer”– contains firsthand accounts from those who knew him the best – his family, friends, band mates and peers. Nelson’s aunt – Connie Harper Nelson is featured prominently throughout the book, providing many memories. In one instance, Harper Nelson describes the scope of just how popular Rick Nelson was in the early days of Rock – confirming Rick would receive tens of thousands of fan mail weekly – surpassing even Elvis Presley. Rick’s bassist James Kirkland and arranger Jimmy Haskell provide insight into the musical side of things with recollections of a typical recording session for Nelson’s early hit records. Many of the familiar/classic Rick Nelson tales are included – from the first live shows, “Garden Party”, and his last performance in Guntersville, AL. Towards the close of the book, co-pilot Ken Ferguson recounts the tragic plane accident which ultimately killed Nelson, his band, and fiancé. Homer also spotlights Rick’s albums/singles in chronological order with a brief discussion of each release.
Packed within its 200 plus pages of interviews and previously unknown tidbits – “Rock ‘N’ Roll Pioneer” also features many never before seen photographs, which alone are worth the price of admission. Rick’s former wife Kristin Nelson contributes many from her personal archives - including photos from Nelson’s 1966 Far East Tour with James Burton, Glen Campbell and others. Sheree Homer has put together a fine book that Rick Nelson fans will surely enjoy, especially with the added bonus of an impressive in-depth discography, select filmography, list of prolific songwriters, and TV guest appearances/broadcast listing. Homer along with help from Andrew Wilkinson compile an extensive “The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet” radio/television episode guide.
“Rick Nelson: Rock ‘N’ Roll Pioneer” is an essential source for Nelson’s musical history and a welcome addition to Rick Nelson/music fan's collections. It’s the perfect book to rediscover the magic of Nelson’s musical legacy and a nice introduction for those not familiar with his music outside the hit singles. Perhaps the not so distant future holds more opportunities to spotlight the legend of Rick Nelson - through high quality album reissues, video releases, tribute albums, and more top-notch books.
"Lonesome Town" (from The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, 1958)
"My One Desire" (from The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, 1961)
"Walkin' Down The Line" (Bob Dylan cover) + "Time After Time" (with Mike Douglas)
The Mike Douglas Show, 1966
RICK NELSON & THE STONE CANYON BAND
"Easy To Be Free" + "Lousianna Man" (with Johnny Cash & Doug Kershaw)
The Johnny Cash Show, 1970
RICK NELSON & THE STONE CANYON BAND
"One Night Stand" (live, Tonight Show, 1974)