Artist Spotlight:: Rick Nelson And The Stone Canyon Band

Ian Cooke, Co-Music Supervisor of “Easy To Be Free: The Songs Of Rick Nelson” (Planting Seeds, 2006) takes a multi-chapter look at one of Rock & Rolls most underrated legends, examining Nelson’s country rock period. Could Rick Nelson be perhaps the father of California Country Rock? We like to think so…

Chapter One
Rick Nelson And The Stone Canyon Band
What to do with your artistic talents when the rush of success has left you behind, is an issue that has affected many of our favorite artists. Case in point Rick Nelson, who from early 1957-mid 1964 was second only to Elvis Presley during the “Golden Age Of Rock & Roll.” Fashioning 40 Top Ten Worldwide hits during this time, Superstardom was gone… almost in a flash with the “British Invasion” of 1964.
Nelson had been a star since debuting with his older brother David on his family’s hit radio series “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” in early 1949. Successfully transferring the show into the new medium Television in October 1952. Then on April 10, 1957 debuting his recording of Fats Domino’s “I’m Walkin” and mass hysteria and teen success followed. Nelson took big strides quickly, going from being a raw beginner into a terrific musician. Rick played, guitar, clarinet, piano and drums. Go back and listen to “Someday” (which went Top 10 in England) from his second album and its Rick playing the drums with his father, Ozzie on piano.
With his stardom and recording success all but gone Nelson persevered over the next five difficult years. In 1966 releasing “Bright Lights & Country Music” and the companion piece “Country Fever” in 1967. The autobiographical “You Just Can’t Quit” made Number 1 on the LA, Nashville and New York Country Charts and Number 76 in Cashbox. Musicians on these albums include James Burton, Glen D. Hardin, Joe Osborn, Richie Frost, Glen Campbell, Jerry McGee and Clarence White. While recording “Country Fever”, White and Nelson were talking in the studio and Rick was deciding to do a Cajun song. The next day White brought his friend Gib Guilbeau song “Take A City Bride” to Rick, who recorded it, going to Number 58 on the Country Charts. These two albums are worthy additions to anyone’s music collection and two years ahead of the Byrd’s “Sweetheart Of The Rodeo” album and a year before Gram Parson’s “International Submarine Band.” June 10, 1966 Nelson appeared on a country-music bill at the Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium with musicians including Burton, Hardin and White. This performance was well received and garnered critical raves.
Sandwiched between the two country albums Rick would travel to New York City to begin work on his strangest project, ABC Stage 67’s “On The Flip Side.” The show was based upon songs written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. This show has been considered the first rock opera. In the mid-sixties no writing team was hotter than Bacharach/David. The show was almost autobiographical in depicting the story of a down on his luck former teen idol. Rick’s record company (Decca) promoted heavily this appearance which produced terrible ratings and worse record sales. The song “Take A Broken Heart” a mellow waltz-is a gem. Rick sadly sings(and whistles!) a song of defeat to his girl; the catch in his voice, along with the heartbreaking turn in the melody, makes the song a genuine undiscovered Bacharach & David classic.
In late 1967 Nelson began working with record producer John Boylan on his next two albums, “Another Side Of Rick” and “Perspective.” Though in hindsight the albums were overproduced and with songs not well suited for Nelson’s vocal range. A few exceptions do stick out on “Another Side Of Rick.” The Tim Hardin songs “Reason To Believe” and “Don’t Make Promises” are quite good. Also, Nelson’s self-composed “Promenade In Green” shows Hardin’s influence on Nelson’s writing. “Perspective” clearly show’s Rick Nelson had lost his with two decent songs, Harry Nillson’s “Without Her” and Nelson’s own “Hello To The Wind”. Rick’s wife Kris provides a breathy French recitation on the latter. A completely different song for Rick.
During this time Nelson did an East Coast concert tour playing current and old songs to mixed results. Rick Nelson performing “La Bamba?” While playing an all male hardware convention at the Latin Quarter, Nelson decided he would rather be doing anything else than what he was doing at that moment. Dejected, upon returning home, Boylan took Rick to see the debut of Poco at LA’s Troubadour club. Poco’s performance was highly anticipated with former Buffalo Springfield members Richie Furay and Jim Messina, including bassist Randy Meisner and Rusty Young on steel guitar. This show would provide Nelson with a spark, an idea of how to present his music.
Please do check back for Chapter Two shortly, for further information on Rick Nelson visit:
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