Artist Spotlight:: Rick Nelson And The Stone Canyon Band – Chapter 5

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 fifth installment.
Chapter Five: Rick Nelson And The Stone Canyon Band

Releasing Rick Nelson “In Concert” in January 1970 ( now available at iTunes) was the culmination of what can only be called a remarkable “Comeback.” A long forgotten Rock Star arising like Lazarus from the dead, within a year Nelson had a Top 40 hit with “She Belongs To Me” and had garnered critical respect for “In Concert.” What could he do to continue this momentum?

March 1970, Rick and the Stone Canyon Band began a tour of 20 military bases in England, Germany and Spain. Why his management thought playing military bases was a sound career move is anyone’s guess. All the hard work the last year had accomplished was wasted on the soldiers who yelled at Rick and his long haired musicians “Where are your mini-skirts?” Returning stateside dejected, Randy Meisner quit the band to go home to his wife in Nebraska and work as a parts manger for a friends John Deere dealership. This was a crucial loss to Rick and the other band members.

With the release of “Easy To Be Free” as the next single, Nelson was offered an appearance on the Johnny Cash Show. Rick needed a quality bassist to replace Meisner and turned to Phil Volk, previously the bassist for Paul Revere and the Raiders. Volk with Drake Levin and Mike Smith had left the Raiders (due to a lack of writing participation) and formed “The Brotherhood” managed by Rick’s uncle Don. Though a talented musician, Volk was unable to perform vocally at the high end register that Meisner was unequaled at. This was noticeable with the band performing “Come On In” and “Easy To Be Free,” where the three part harmony was so important in the quality of this excellent song. Johnny Cash was a long time friend of Rick’s from the 1950’s and his intro of “yeah I like that” as the instrumental opening of “Come On In” was heard, provided Rick and the band with credibility to the Nashville audience. After the two songs Nelson and Cash then sang “Louisiana Man” with its author Doug Kershaw, altogether an impressive performance.

The Stone Canyon Band began a series of small club performances to promote the new single and album and also an additional two important tv appearances. Rick appeared on the “Miss U.S.A. Beauty Pageant” again performing “Easy To Be Free,” which rose to Number 48 on the Top 100 chart, Rick’s first self-composed hit record. Shortly thereafter, Rick and the band would appear with two other old friends from the 50’s, The Everly Brothers. Produced by an old friend of Rick’s, Joe Byrne from the “Ozzie and Harriet” days, Rick and the band performed what was to be his next single “I Shall Be Released” ( a great version which at #102 fell just short of the Hot 100) and his friend’s Eric Anderson’s “Violets Of Dawn.” Rick performed a medley of his songs with the Everlys doing other 50’s Rock&Roll songs. This was all in all one of Rick’s finest TV singing appearances and sadly missing today.

Rick turned 30 on May 8, 1970 and appeared at the Troubador Club again for a long term appearance. On his birthday, wife Kris and the rest of the family planned a surprise birthday party for him at the club. The band sang “Happy Birthday” while a cake was brought in, as balloons and streamers fell, Phil Volk (as a Jehovah Witness) did not participate and had never really been part of the group’s overall comradeship. Volk was fired at the end of the Troubador Club run.

To replace Volk, Tom Brumley brought in Tim Cetera (brother of “Chicago’s Pete Cetera, who Brumley was teaching steel guitar) and again another excellent musician but not capable of the high end harmony so crucial to the Stone Canyon Band sound. Rick and the band were going into the studio to record their first full Stone Canyon Band studio effort.

Read the previous Three Chapters:Artist Spotlight: Rick Nelson & The Stone Canyon Band Chapter 1
Artist Spotlight: Rick Nelson & The Stone Canyon Band Chapter 2
Artist Spotlight: Rick Nelson & The Stone Canyon Band Chapter 3
Artist Spotlight: Rick Nelson & The Stone Canyon Band Chapter 4

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