Rick Nelson

(1940 – 1985)

Ricky Nelson was born into show business — his parents were chart-topping Big Band performers who transitioned into radio and television personalities during the 1940s. As a teen during the 1950s, Ricky starred as himself, alongside his parents and brother, in the television hit The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. For years, each episode would conclude with a musical performance by Ricky Nelson and his band, in the style of his rockabilly idols Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash.

Nelson's performances on the show, along with his boy-next-door good looks, attracted a massive teenage audience and landed him a record deal at 16. (It was an achievement that marked Nelson as a pioneer in using television to promote a recording career.) Released in 1957, his first single was a dual hit, with both sides — "A Teenager's Romance" and a cover of Fats Domino's "I'm Walkin'" — landing in the Top Five. In the six years that followed, Nelson was a hit machine to rival Elvis, placing 30 songs in the Top 40.

Nelson's popularity waned as he matured into adulthood and the British Invasion hit, but his sound evolved, putting him back on the charts with "Bright Lights and Country Music" in 1966. The period between the mid-60s and early 1970s was creatively fruitful for Nelson, and his "California Country" sound was a predecessor to laid-back, roots-inflected rockers like the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt. Still, Nelson — who changed his name from Ricky to Rick in 1961 — struggled to find an audience that would accept his new material. He put voice to his frustration in the 1972 song "Garden Party," about being booed at New York's Madison Square Garden.by an audience who expected to hear his old hits — ironically, it was his last gold single.

Personal troubles and financial issues, including low record sales, compelled Nelson to tour constantly through the following years. In 1985, his tour plane caught fire and crashed in Texas, killing him and six others. Five years later his twin sons Gunnar and Matthew would become stars under the name Nelson, releasing the triple-platinum record After the Rain.