Dr. J's Blog
Rock and Roll History, News & Views
In 1976 Rick’s new manager, Greg McDonald, landed him a new recording contract with Epic Records. He also learned from the Nelson family’s longtime representatives that Rick was in financial trouble. McDonald discovered that Rick’s music career with the Stone Canyon Band had actually lost money over the years and he was nearly broke.
Despite not earning, Rick’s family had an extravagant lifestyle: enjoying expensive vacations, buying sports cars, extensive renovations to homes, and reckless spending by both Rick and Kris. Neither had much financial sense, purchases were always paid for by business managers. Rick didn’t even write a check until he was in his 40’s.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when the genre known as country rock began. During rock and roll’s first decade, recordings by country artists including Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, and Marty Robbins, to name just a few, were regularly found on Billboard’s Hot 100. That seemed to change somewhat after the British Invasion, but the Beatles had recorded a number of country covers including Carl Perkins’ “Honey Don’t” and Buck Owens’ “Act Naturally”, as well as original compositions like “I’ll Cry Instead”, and “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party” as early as 1964. In 1966, the Rolling Stones included their first country song, “High and Dry”, on the Aftermath album. That same year, Bob Dylan recorded almost the entire Blonde on Blonde album in Nashville, using some of country music’s top studio musicians.
Rick Nelson’s two country music albums, Bright Lights and Country Music from 1966 and Country Fever from 1967 would seem to have put him at the cutting edge, but that was not the case. Rick was no longer part of the music mainstream, and neither of the albums charted. His only glimpse of success from his country music experiment was his cover of Doug Kershaw’s “Louisiana Man”. The single reached # 76 on Billboard’s Country Music Chart, but the credit for being one of the originators of country rock would, for the most part, go to others.
In 1960, Rick was signed to co-star in a World War II-era comedy adventure film called The Wackiest Ship in the Army with Jack Lemmon that was filmed in Hawaii. The plot involved Lemmon having to take a dilapidated sailing ship into enemy waters on a secret mission. Because he was already signed to do the film, Rick had to turn down John Wayne’s offer to appear in The Alamo. Rick’s part went to Frankie Avalon.
Rick played Ensign Tommy Hanson, the only member of the motley crew, besides Lemmon, who knows anything about working a ship with sails. Ozzie insisted that the script provide an opportunity for Rick to sing a 1940’s song in a scene at the Officer’s Club in Pearl Harbor. Rick performed “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans”, a song that was first made popular by Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong in 1947. Watch Rick's performance of the song in a clip from the film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZ1GvbjpV-s