This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
RICKY NELSON had many advantages that most of the other first generation of rock and roll singers (and later ones as well) didn’t have. First off, he was good looking. Okay, quite a few of the others were as well.
He had a father in the business who knew the ropes, so Ricky wasn’t screwed over by record companies and managers as virtually all the others were, so he managed to keep his hard earned money.
He was on television every week so he kept his name and face prominent for many years, and he had the best lead guitarist around at the time – James Burton. He also had considerable singing talent and he wrote quite a few songs, something only a few of the others did.
Ricky was also a favorite of mine, so he’s the featured artist in the column today. It might be a bit boring if you’re not a hard core Ricky fan. Most of the songs are from early in his career.
I’ll kick off with It's Late. This was written by Dorsey Burnette. The song did pretty well for him all over the world. Okay, you can say that about most of the songs I’ve included today.
Keeping the songwriting in the family, the next one, Just a Little Too Much, was written by Johnny Burnette, Dorsey’s brother. They both had decent performing careers of their own, together in the Rock & Roll Trio, and separately under their own names.
Probably the best known of Ricky’s songs is Hello Mary Lou. This was the B-side of a 45 that had Travelin’ Man on the obverse. It was a double sided smash. The record has some particularly fine guitar playing by James Burton.
One of my earliest purchases (or gifts) was the single Never Be Anyone Else But You. It was about the time I left my small country town for the big smoke and I was leaving my girl friend behind. Oh well, we both got over that.
Be-Bop Baby was written by Pearl Lendhurst for Ricky. Ricky’s output to this time was mostly ballads, so he wanted to show that he could rock as well. The guitar player wasn’t James, but Joe Maphis, which was unusual for his records at the time.
Sharon Sheeley wrote the song Poor Little Fool when she was only 15. She managed to get Ricky to listen to it and record the song and it became a number one hit for him.
Sharon went on to have a career in songwriting for such people as Glen Campbell, Brenda Lee and most especially Eddie Cochrane, to whom she was engaged until his death in a car accident.
Although the next song references the film Rio Bravo, it didn’t actually appear in it. Ricky did though, as one of the main characters named Colorado, also mentioned in the song.
He and Dean Martin sang a couple of songs in the film though. The tune I’m talking about is called Restless Kid. It sounds like a Johnny Cash song, and it’ll come as no surprise that he wrote it.
In 1971, Ricky performed at a rock & roll revival concert with Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and others. As he recounts in his song, he sang his hits but also performed new music which upset the audience who didn’t want to see their favorites evolve.
One reference in his song about the concert that evaded me until recently is “Mr Hughes”. He was a neighbor and good friend of Ricky’s: George Harrison. The song is Garden Party.
A single I had as a kid is Ricky’s cover of the Hank Williams song, I Can't Help It (If I'm Still in Love With You). I didn’t buy it for the song, it was the flip side of the one I wanted – I think that was Just a Little Too Much, but I could be wrong.
It was also on the album “Ricky Sings Again”, which I also later had. It’s one of my favorite Hank songs, and I think that Ricky does it really well. He has the Jordanires helping him with the singing.
On a visit to Australia he heard Mike McClellan sing his song, Rock and Roll Lady. Ricky was so impressed that he recorded it as soon as he returned home. Alas, that was shortly before he died so it didn’t get the exposure that it deserved.
Ricky’s version is really good, but Mike really nails it. You should seek it out (that’s easily done; it’s on one of my previous columns).