Artist Spotlight:: Rick Nelson And The Stone Canyon Band – Chapter 2

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. Here is the long awaited second part.

Chapter Two
Rick Nelson And The Stone Canyon Band

November 19, 1968, Producer John Boylan took Rick to the opening night and rehearsal for Poco (at that time called Pogo after the cartoon strip) at the Troubador. Randy Meisner remembers, “Opening night, who should come to see us rehearse at the Troubador but Rick Nelson. Man, I was so excited to meet him! He was kind of legendary around the club, as much for the TV show, I think, as for his great hit tunes.” The excitement of Pogo’s performance and the idea that Rick claimed to have already from watching Buck Owens and The Buckeroos with steel guitarist Tom Brumley on Jackie Gleason, set the wheels in motion for Rick’s return to the contempory music world.

Now Rick had the motivation and commitment to return to making music with his own band but with who and what kind of music? During this time Rick spent a lot of time playing Bob Dylan’s “Blonde On Blonde” album and listening to Fred Neil and Harry Nillson’s music. Then Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline” was released which actualized the vision that Rick was trying to put together.

March of 1969, Randy Meisner had finished playing his bass parts and vocals for the newly named Poco’s first album “Pickin’ Up The Pieces.” Meisner had joined the band believing he was going to be involved in the production end, while Richie Furay and Jim Messina considered him nothing more than a hired hand. Accordingly, when Meisner called to find out when he should join them in the studio for the final mix, they told him “we never allow anybody in when we’re mixing.” Meisner then said “Well, if that’s the way it is, then I don’t feel like being part of the band.” So if you have the album and you see the dog on the left side of the front cover…that’s the replacement photo for Meisner. Also, his lead vocals were replaced but they left his bass playing in. Meisner would be replaced by Timothy Schmit, not the last time Schmit would replace Meisner in a band.

With Rick searching for musicians to help with his new musical vision and hearing that Randy Meisner was out of Poco, John Boylan and Nelson quickly contacted Meisner about being part of what would eventually become the Stone Canyon Band . Meisner quickly agreed and suggested two of ex-band members from the group the “Poor”, guitarist Allen Kemp and drummer Patrick Shanahan. Kemp remembers “Randy and my vocals fit with Ricks so well, we had great three-part harmony.” This would become the trademark of the Stone Canyon Band, great vocal harmony with tight group instrumentation.

With Rick Nelson being a lost voice from the past and without a camp following, Nelson was really starting from the very bottom. Boylan contacted Doug Weston owner of LA’s hip music nightspot the Troubador and said “I want you to put Rick Nelson in the Troubador. Weston responded with “Well, it’s chancy, but I’ll do it.” April 1, 1969 ( wonder if many thought it was an April Fools joke?) A block long line waited to enter and see the new Rick Nelson. The curious, even skeptical crowd came away convinced even though opening night did not go too smoothly. Steel guitarist Sneaky Pete Kleinow of the Flying Burrito Brothers, scheduled to play steel with the band called from Las Vegas to say he was fogged in. Allen Kemp had to make a quick adjustment and play lead for the first night, without any rehearsals.

Mixing songs from his past hits, with Dylan songs, a little Tim Hardin and a few Nelson originals, the glistening three-part harmony, the raw drive of the band and the revitalized Rick himself held the crowds enthralled throughout the full weeks sold out engagement. “Everyone was hypnotized” said Kemp. “They couldn’t believe Rick Nelson was playing right there.” However there was just one small problem. No one from Rick’s record company Decca was there. This lack of record company support would continue to be an ongoing problem for Rick throughout his time with the label.

Rick Nelson was now the talk of Hollywood. He was a bona fide rock & roll survivor, on his way to becoming the latest thing. Rolling Stone magazine even did a two page article on the new and reinvented Rick Nelson. With all this good will and publicity, Rick wanted to get into the recording studio and produce some new music. Decca insisted Rick use its studio, and Rick hated the antiquated, confining setup. Calling the studio to inquire about available dates he found a period book solid by easy-listening maestro Bert Kaempfert. Rick called back Decca and told the label the only time he could get all his musicians together was the date of the scheduled Kaempfert session.

In May, Boylan took Rick and the band into United Studios augmented by country steel guitar great Buddy Emmons, and in two hours completed a supple version of Dylan’s “She Belongs To Me.” The flip side “Promises (available on Rick’s Rarities from ACE) was an Nelson original. A strong moderate tempo rocker, with innovative steel guitar from ex Buck Owen And The Buckeroos, Tom Brumley. Brumley remembers meeting James Burton in 1961-62 and telling him “that Rick needs a steel guitar as he has a strong country feel in his music.”

Los Angeles radio jumped all over the single going all the way into LA’s Top 5, and Rick’s career was springing back to life before his eyes.

Stay tuned for Chapter Three…Did you miss Chapter One?
Check out Rick Nelson’s pre Stone Canyon Band country sound:
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