Dr. J's Blog

Rock and Roll History, News & Views

Rick Nelson Pt. 3: "Stone Canyon Days"

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.

Read more: Rick Nelson Pt. 3: "Stone Canyon Days"

Rick Nelson Pt. 2: "The Pop Years"

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

Read more: Rick Nelson Pt. 2: "The Pop Years"

Rick Nelson Pt. 1: "Rockabilly Ricky"

When rock and roll critics and historians first began looking back at the history of the genre in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, Rick Nelson’s talents as a rock and roller were greatly undervalued. Influential Village Voice critic Robert Christgau called him “An inspired fake” and the first edition of the Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll relegated him to the Teen Idols chapter instead of the Rockabilly chapter where he rightly belonged.

 

Today, the early teen idol era is often thought of as consisting of shallow, deriviative songs with little or no lasting value. Nelson was stung by being lumped into that category more than all of the negative reviews he ever received put together. He was distressed when he saw his photo surrounded by singers who were recorded more because of their looks and hairstyles rather than talent. In a 1972 interview with the New York Times, Rick had this to say: "A lot of people try to equate me with guys like Frankie Avalon and Fabian, but in the old days I sold a lot of records over a period of time, and you can't sustain that by being just another pretty face."

Read more: Rick Nelson Pt. 1: "Rockabilly Ricky"