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Guide Profile: Ricky Nelson


Ricky Nelson

Ricky Nelson


Eric Hilliard Nelson, May 8, 1940, Teaneck, NJ; died December 31st, 1985 (DeKalb, TX)


Rock and Roll, Rockabilly, Pop, Country-Rock


Vocals, Guitar

Contributions to music:

  • Television's first rock and roll star
  • Helped bring rockabilly to a mass audience
  • A teen idol who had excellent taste in material
  • Gave teen rock fans a wholesome icon to identify with
  • Helped pioneer country-rock in the late Sixties
  • Gave legitimacy to the rock art form at a time when it was desperately needed

Early years:

Ricky (an abbreviation of sorts for Eric) was the first rock star to become famous before he ever started recording -- his father, Ozzie, had enjoyed one of the most successful radio shows in history in The Adventures Of Ozzie and Harriet, a true family comedy which Ricky had starred in since 1949. As the show moved to TV, Ricky's good looks made him an instant teen idol. When rock and roll came onto the national scene, however, the show (like its contemporaries) largely ignored the fad.


That all changed one night in 1956 when Ricky caught his date swooning over Elvis Presley. When the young Nelson lied and told the girl that he, too, was about to cut a record, she laughed at him. So cut one he did -- a cover of Fats Domino's "I'm Walkin'," which, due to exposure on the show, became a smash almost literally overnight. Ricky went on to lodge thirty songs in the Top Forty over the next six years. From 1957-1962, only Elvis Presley could top Ricky Nelson in popularity.

Later years:

At 21, Ricky shortened his professional first name to "Rick" and moved to a more "mature" pop-country style; the hits soon dried up, and Nelson found himself on the "oldies" circuit. He formed the Stone Canyon Band, a pioneering "country-rock" outfit, but when crowds booed his new material at a 1971 revival show, he responded with a bitter self-penned song entitled "Garden Party." Ironically, it became his last big hit. Nelson and his fiancee died in a plane crash on New Year's Eve 1985.

Other Facts:

  • Ricky's early hits were written by some of the best in the business, including Johnny Burnette and Gene Pitney
  • Guitar legend James Burton played on many of Ricky's songs
  • Nelson signed to Fats Domino's label, Imperial
  • Had a short but well-regarded acting career in the early Sixties
  • The "Garden Party" incident took place at Madison Square Garden on October 11, 1971
  • Changed his name back in 1984 after Carl Perkins said, "Well, Ricky, it looks like the two of us are the only real rockabilly cats left."


  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1987)
  • Rockabilly Hall of Fame (1999)
  • Hollywood Walk of Fame (1515 Vine)

Important Songs:

#1 hits:
  • "Poor Little Fool" (1958)
  • "Travelin' Man" (1961)
Top 10 hits:
  • "I'm Walking" (1957)
  • "A Teenager's Romance" (1957)
  • "Be-Bop Baby" (1957)
  • "Believe What You Say" (1958)
  • "I Got A Feeling" (1958)
  • "Lonesome Town" (1958)
  • "Stood Up" (1958)
  • "It's Late" (1959)
  • "Just A Little Too Much" (1959)
  • "Never Be Anyone Else But You" (1959)
  • "Sweeter Than You" (1959)
  • "Hello Mary Lou" (1961)
  • "Young World" (1962)
  • "It's Up To You" (1963)
  • "For You" (1964)
  • "Garden Party" (1972)
  • "I'm Walking" (1957)
  • "Be-Bop Baby" (1957)
  • "Believe What You Say" (1958)
  • "My Bucket's Got A Hole In It" (1958)
  • "Poor Little Fool" (1958)
  • "Stood Up" (1958)

#1 albums:
  • Ricky (1958)
Top 10 albums:
  • Ricky Nelson (1958)
  • Rick Is 21 (1961)
Other important recordings: "Waitin' In School," "You're My One and Only love," "I Want To Be Loved," "Mighty Good," "If You Can't Rock Me," "String Along," "Young Emotions," "Everlovin'," "She Belongs To Me," "Gypsy Pilot," "Palace Guard"
Wrote or co-wrote: "Lifestream," Olivia Newton-John
Covered by: Bow Wow Wow, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Dickey Lee, New Riders of the Purple Sage, The Cramps, Paul McCartney, Richard and Linda Thompson
Appears in the movies: "Here Come The Nelsons" (1952), "The Story Of Three Loves" (1953), "Rio Bravo" (1959), "The Wackiest Ship In The Army" (1960)," "Love and Kisses" (1965), "The Resurrection of Broncho Billy" (1970), "The Shootist" (1976)
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