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The Jazz Record Label, The Jazz Guitarist and The Teen Idol

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Ricky Nelson

It was on March 27, 1957 that guitarist Barney Kessel took a teenager into the studio to cut three songs for Verve Records. Verve was a jazz record label stepped in the music of Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, but this was no jazz session, although Kessel himself was one of the greatest jazz guitarists of the post war era.

Two months later “I’m Walkin’” coupled with “A Teenager’s Romance” came out and both sides were massive hits on the Billboard chart, with the latter song making No. 2, and the former No. 4. By the end of August, the follow up “You’re My One And Only Love” with a Barney Kesssel instrumental on the B-side made the Top 20. The teenager’s name was Ricky Nelson and the situation turned out to be one of great good fortune for Verve Records that ultimately turned sour according to Mo Ostin the company’s chief financial man.

‘Barney had asked Norman Granz if he could make a pop recording, and Norman said “Sure.” Back then, for jazz singles, if we sold 50,000 singles we were doing very well. 20,000 albums and we were making a profit. When we released Ricky’s single we sold a million copies. Ricky’s parents Ozzie and Harriet had their own TV show and Ricky sang his songs on the show and the record exploded. Ozzie Nelson came to Norman to ask him to increase Ricky’s royalties. Norman said, “l have no problem increasing the royalty but lets make an album so we can make a proper evaluation.” Ozzie was adamant, “Either you increase the royalties or we’re leaving the label.” Norman was equally adamant, “We have a contract.” What Norman didn’t realize was that Ricky was a minor and in order for the contract to be confirmed it should have been affirmed by a court. It allowed Ricky to walk from the label. Norman was incensed and asked me to find a new lawyer and the man I found was Mickey Rudin, Frank Sinatra’s long-term lawyer.’

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Marge

    July 21, 2014 at 9:19 pm

    Every girl that i ever knew or met was crazy about Rick Nelson, the photo thats with this story was in photoplay mag. was on a wall in every teen age girls room I still have the photo in and old trunk in my basement of my home.Sadly we lost this great talent much too early . it broke the hearts of many young women. Rest in Peace Rick we loved you

  2. Basil Mitchell

    July 21, 2014 at 10:50 pm

    The 50’S and 60’S Were certainly the greatest years for great music and dancing. Those were My Teenage Days and and also as performer in Jamaica. The Rock ‘N Roll dance and music were everywhere. Great stars like Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Ricky Nelson, Elvis Presley Jerry Lee Lewis and a host of great Rock ‘N Roll recording artist came along back then. They can never be replaced.
    In my heart I don’t think anything like that period of time will ever grace this earth again. But as the world turns so does our lives. It was a great experence for me and I am greatful I was a part of it..

    • Barbara Sellers

      November 3, 2014 at 12:24 am

      Great comment. I could not have said it better myself!

    • Lee Waldon

      July 20, 2016 at 2:50 pm

      Ricky Nelson was an all time favorite of mine as were his parents and brother. I had the opportunity to see Rick twice in person-Thumpers in Anoka Minnesota and Orchestra Hall also in Minneapolis. Great times!

    • Jackie Ainslie

      July 21, 2016 at 12:16 am

      The 50’s… absolutely the very best years to be a teenager! So thankful I was one of them!

  3. vic

    November 2, 2014 at 9:27 pm

    I’ve been a fan since my teenage years, living in Malta, when in 1958 I listened to “Poor Little Fool” on our local radio, from then on I was hooked and when ever I’ve got a chance to sing karaoke that song is first on my list, Still in shock from when I found out that Rick has Passed away..R.I.P Rick..

    • elmer harris

      November 3, 2014 at 6:22 am

      Hey Vic, Where do you sing karaoke? When I do here in the Columbia Gorge area – I usually do “Poor Little Fool”, too! Also a lot of Elvis, and :Take Good Care of My Baby”, Bobby Vee’s great hit!

    • ALAN

      October 8, 2015 at 7:13 pm

      Hi Vic,well i retired to Malta 8yrs ago and like you my first Ricky 45 was Poor little fool which i sing also at Karaoke along with =Its up tp you and Mary lou.Ricky with James Burton best rocking sound ever.Nice to know Ricky”s songs still get sung.

  4. Dennis Tabella

    November 3, 2014 at 12:27 am

    Rick Nelson’s death was a terrible loss to the music world.

  5. shirleybrooks

    November 3, 2014 at 1:50 am

    Rricky nelson is one of my all time favorite singers

  6. Gregory James Bent

    November 3, 2014 at 5:13 am

    As A Young Man Growing Up And Loving Music—-Rick Nelson Happened To Be One Of My First Connections To A Star—-With A Sound And A Great Voice. This Happened Because Of The Show—And—I Was A Fan Of Ozzie And Harriet And Their Music. Rick’s Recording Was Released And It Never Stopped. The Voice—The Looks—The Sound—The Band–The Back-up Singers—-I Was Hooked Right From I’M WALKING—-He Was Gone Too Soon—Missed—

  7. Basil Mitchell

    November 3, 2014 at 7:43 am

    I think I have mention this before but I’ll do it again. Back in the 1950’s and 60’s I had proformed all over Jamaica doing most of Elvis songs. Infact I was branded Jamaica Elvis Presley although I looked nothing like him I could do his moves on stage and that would bring the house down. I also did quite alot of Ricky Nelson’s music. I was doing a show in CountryClub Hills Illinois at a Club called “Lady C” when someone came up to the stage and gave me the news of Rick Nelson’s passing in a plane accident. I announced it and did one of his song “There will never anyone else but you for me” It was really a sad occasion for all who loved Rick Nelson and his music.

  8. Francine Chavanne Bloch

    December 31, 2014 at 6:11 am

    I grew up watching Ozzieand Harriet. I fell in love with Ricky the wize cracking little boy long before I heard him sing a note. But the first time he closed the show with a song he became my idol. My bedroom was covered with pictures of him and I went to bed each night dreaming of marrying him. In that I know I was not unique. I saw him perform in Rhode Island just a few months before that horrible news that he had died in a plane crash. It was a girlhood dream come true to breathe the same air as he did. Even though I was by then middle aged he still made me quiver. I took his death as hard as I would a member of my family.

  9. Dorothy OBriem

    October 8, 2015 at 8:56 pm

    Im now 68 years old have loved Ricky Nelson as long as I’ve loved Elvis We will never see the like of them again They were truly Legends during and after their lifetimes

  10. Mike Dugovich

    October 9, 2015 at 9:29 am

    I saw Rick perform at the fair in Fresno, Ca.
    I think this was 1979………………He was great.!
    The band, as I recall, was the Mountain Men.
    Wake me if I’m wrong!

  11. Marilou Peters

    October 30, 2015 at 6:48 pm

    My name is Marilou! My Step-Mom, Dorothy had Ricky Nelson’s records on “IMPERIAL”‘s label.. On our black-and-white TV, I watched EVERY EPISODE of “the Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet”!!! I “fell in love” with Ricky! I sang his songs; I dreamed about him! I was only 5 YEARS OLD!!!

  12. barry roach

    October 31, 2015 at 1:38 am

    I like everone else watched the nelsons on tv except I’m an ozzie I saw rick when he performed at twin towns at tweed heads in nsw unfortunately he was killed not long after my favourite will always be buddy holly the best of them all well that’s my opinion any way there were a lot of great singers then .

  13. Carol

    April 25, 2016 at 11:16 pm

    He never got the credit that was due him. At that time there were only 2 true idols, Elvis and Ricky Nelson. So glad I was born in that era. Those were the good old days when things were safe and good. As for Rick, look at those eyes. He was the most handsome man I had ever seen in my life. Gone too soon.

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