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RICK NELSON: MORE THAN A TEEN IDOL by Alan L.

Chrisman
Rick Nelson was more than a Teen Idol. But he started out as Ricky Nelson, part
of the very popular all-American Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson family TV
show in the 50 and 60s, where he would end the show singing his latest hit, with
his eyes closed, as the girls swooned. And only Elvis and Pat Boone were to have
more hits from 1957-62. He spent most the rest of his career though trying to get
past that public image and be taken seriously as a musician.
But like Elvis, he also had the ability to pick the best songwriters and musicians to
record. He was influenced by Carl Perkins and rockabilly. His first big hit, Poor
Little Fool, in 1958 was written by Eddie Cochrans 17 year-old girlfriend. In fact,
he gave the first big breaks to many composers when he had big hits with their
songs: Lonesome Town and Never Be Anyone But You (Baker Knight);
Traveling Man and 23 other songs for Nelson (Jerry Fuller); Its Late (
rockabilly duo, Dorsey and Johnny Burnette, who before had had a hit with
Sweet Sixteen, but camped out at his doorstep until he recorded their songs)
and Gene Pitneys Hello Mary-Lou. Jerry Fuller is especially interesting because
he would go on to write many hits and even produce several other groups. He had
originally been part of The Champs (Tequila), when their members included
Glen Campbell, and Jimmy Seals and Dash Crofts (later Seals and Crofts with the
Diamond Girl and Summer Breeze hits in the 70s). Fuller produced The
Knickerbockers and their hit Lies. He also discovered Gary Puckett and The
Union Gap and wrote and produced their big hits Young Girl, Lady Willpower
and Over You and Little Green Apples for O.C. Smith.
And Rick Nelson always had the best musicians in his bands, such as guitarist,
James Burton, who was 18 when Nelson met him and lived with the Nelsons for
two years. Of course, Burton would go on to become a legendary guitarist and
play Elvis Vegas years and with every big name from Emmylou Harris to Elvis
Costello. Burton played on Buffalo Springfields 2
nd
album and became part of
Emmylou Harris Hot Band with Rodney Crowell after Gram Parsons died. He then
toured with John Denver and played with Elvis Costello from the King of America
album on. And was in Roy Orbison and Friends: Black and White Night TV special
in 88. Basically James Burton played with anybody who was anybody and is
considered one of the best guitarists. Nelson also used Presleys vocal group, The
Jordanaires on his recordings (but Presley didnt want anybody to know).
For It was Rick Nelson who first recognized the above talents and gave them their
first chances, which led to them all having many more song writing hits and
involvement with several well-known musicians.
Also Nelson was one of the first California musicians to move toward country-rock
before Linda Ronstadt and The Eagles, some of whose later members were in his
Stone Canyon Band. He had a later hit with a re-make of Dylans She Belongs to
Me in 1970.
But Nelson was still trying to get past his old Ricky Nelson pop image when,
ironically, he had one of his biggest hits, Garden Party. He was performing at an
oldies Madison Square Garden show when fans booed him off the stage for trying
to play some more contemporary songs. In disgust, (but with a sense of humour)
he wrote down these frustrated lyrics. They sum everything hed been through:

GARDEN PARTY
I went to a garden party to reminisce with my old friends
A chance to share old memories and play our songs again
When I got to the garden party, they all knew my name
No one recognized me, I didn't look the same
But it's all right now, I learned my lesson well
You see, ya can't please everyone, so ya got to please yourself
And people came from miles around, everyone was there
Yoko brought her walrus, there was magic in the air
An' over in the corner, much to my surprise
Mr. Hughes hid in Dylan's shoes wearing his disguise
But it's all right now, I learned my lesson well
You see, ya can't please everyone, so ya got to please yourself
Played them all the old songs, thought that's why they came
No one heard the music, we didn't look the same
I said, hello to "Mary Lou", she belongs to me
When I sang a song about a honky-tonk, it was time to leave
But it's all right now, I learned my lesson well
You see, ya can't please everyone, so ya got to please yourself
Someone opened up a closet door and out stepped Johnny B. Goode
Playing guitar like a-ringin' a bell and lookin' like he should
If you gotta play at garden parties, I wish you a lotta luck
But if memories were all I sang, I rather drive a truck
But it's all right now, I learned my lesson well
You see, ya can't please everyone, so ya got to please yourself
An' it's all right now, yeah, learned my lesson well
You see, ya can't please everyone, so you got to please yourself
Songwriters
NELSON, RICKY
Published by
Lyrics Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Some lines are especially interesting:
Yoko brought her Walrus (John Lennon and Yoko Ono were there)
Mr.Hughes hid in Dylans shoes wearing his disguise ( George Harrison was originally
going to record a Dylan cover album and Harrison was Nelsons next door neighbor in
California and friend, and was also supposedly there incognito.)
And of course:
If you gotta play at garden parties, I wish you a lotta luck
But if memories were all I sang, I rather drive a truck
But it's all right now, I learned my lesson well
You see, ya can't please everyone, so ya got to please yourself
Ironically, it became a big hit in 1972, reaching #6 on the Billboard charts.
Rick Nelson and his band came to Ottawa in the early 80s playing a little out of
the way bar, and I didnt make it, something for which Ive kicked myself ever
since.
The Travelin Man, was still on the road in 1985, when his plane crashed in
Texas, killing him and his fianc. Some at the time said it might have been a fire
caused by free basing cocaine, but the plane had a history of mechanical
problems and it was later ruled because of a faulty heater. But Rick Nelson had
some great songs and helped some great songwriters and musicians get exposure
and he was more than a pop idol.
See Ricky Nelson doing Hello Mary Lou, 1961
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0janfcZ8LUw


See Rick Nelson doing Garden Party, 1985:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxdiraVxwkI