One of my old girlfriends used to give me the evil eye every time I picked up an album I already had because there was a track on it that was not included on the one I already had, or when I bought a single for the non-LP B-side. I tried to explain to her once why I did it but it was wasted breath. She had no idea what non-LP tracks mean to people like myself—tracks like Rick Nelson's Try (Try To Fall In Love), which I treasured. She was too busy wrapping herself up in Joni Mitchell and Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor and The Eagles to understand the real intricacies of music outside the mainstream. I loved her, but her unwillingness to accept my love for the music and the adventure of music was a deal breaker and we went our separate ways. My friends patted me on the back and said, shit, man, that's a bummer but I told them it was what had to be. I mean, my music never let me down. If you think that's harsh, you don't understand. I gave her everything she wanted but drew the line at my music. Like I said, music has never let me down.
Rick Nelson didn't, either. Besides all of the albums and 45s I collected over the years, I saw him twice. The first time was with The Stone Canyon Band at The Palomino Club in North Hollywood. It was fascinating to me because while the drunken sots yelled and screamed for It's Late and Hello Mary Lou and Poor Little Fool, Rick wrapped them all into a medley, prefacing it with a statement that this was all they were going to hear of the old stuff, that he had a lot of new music he wanted to play for them, and they accepted that. To be fair, he did throw in an extra long version of Garden Party and explained why he wrote it and what it was really about and that seemed to quell the thirst for "Ricky" and allowed "Rick" room for the Stone Canyon stuff. It was a hell of a night, broken only by a short break while an independent TV station broke in to do a live spot on the late news.
I saw him quite a few years later in Monroe, Washington at the Evergreen State Fair, not long after he had released Playing To Win on Capitol, an album which fell upon deaf ears but which turned out a band to be reckoned with. He ran through his hits quickly but dwelled on songs from Playing To Win. The band was young and energetic and looked to be ready to run, but Nelson held them back until it was time and then the fun began. They rocked! It was rock and roll fever and Rick looked to be enjoying the hell out of it, moving around stage, turning up his acoustic guitar so it could be heard in the mélange, and the crowd ate it up. The last song of the set was one of those rockers and they stretched it out, Rick singing a couple of verses, setting his guitar aside and going to the front of the stage to sign autographs while the band cranked on. After ten or fifteen minutes (the band was having a blast), Rick picked up his guitar and sang another verse and then disappeared backstage. The crowd cheered and cheered and cheered and the band kept going and after maybe five to ten minutes, he came back out, picked up his guitar, sang another couple of verses and then headed to the front of the stage to sign more autographs. He stayed until the crowd dwindled, until there were no more autograph seekers and well-wishers, then wiped his face and neck with his towel, threw it out into the audience and waved adios. About five minutes later, the band ended the song and the concert was over. You don't know how much fun that was to see. I never get enough of seeing artists paying respect to their fans. Without them, an artist's career would be over. Nelson kept his going for years and he knew the fans' importance. He was a pro.
I liked Ricky, but I loved Rick. When he put together The Stone Canyon Band, I was thrilled. I was feeding on any country rock I could get my hands on and Nelson's was as good as most. Even his old rockers fit into the country rock mold—Hello Mary Lou and the like being a perfect fit for that shuffling country rhythm thing which fell just short of rock 'n' roll. It is something Nelson excelled at, something that fit his style. He never stopped playing it, and not because it was a meal ticket but because he really loved that music.
He was riding that fence between the old and the new when his life tragically ended. His Capitol album was a bit more rock, but not that much. I think the band made it more rock than what his audience was used to. The Epic records period kind of fell in that same time period but leaned less toward the hard side and more toward the smooth.
The Complete Epic Recordings? Here's what you get. The Intakes Sessions: This album was actually released by Epic, but with so little promotion they might as well have not. Only the hardest-core Nelson fans knew about it (and don't give me that crap about putting money behind the record, Epic. I was in retail at the time. I know!). Hence, dead on arrival. Sure, there may not have been all that much for radio to key on, radio being what it was in '77 (pretty much pure crap), but it was Rick and it was The Stone Canyon Band (uncredited on the album as such—what was that all about?) and that had to count for something. The album itself pretty much played like a Stone Canyon album—Nelson, Dennis Larden (ex-Every Mother's Son) and Jay DeWitt White each contributing two songs. The others, weak links on the album, were probably picked by producer Keith Olsen who had made a name by producing Buckingham Nicks and Fleetwood Mac. All in all, it is a good album with two great tracks, One X One and Wings, both Larden tunes.
Historically, the Back To Vienna Sessions are interesting due to production failure. For some ungodly reason, someone decided to bring in Al Kooper to handle the sessions and while some things came out interesting, most were dismal failures. James Ritz, who wrote the liner notes for this double-CD release, even labels the results of the sessions the most "Un-Rick" sounding sessions ever. They pretty much kicked The Stone Canyon Band to the curb and filled the session with session men and while it is downright intriguing, it is just not Rick. The most intriguing thing for me is how someone supposedly as savvy as Kooper could fuck things up so much. Not all of the tracks are bad and even when they are, they are fascinatingly so, but you have to wonder about what was going on in Kooper's mind versus what was going on in Nelson's. For that reason alone, the songs from these sessions are a must for Nelson fans. It isn't always the hits which make a musician. Sometimes it's the failures.
The Rockabilly Renaissance sessions resulted in my next-to-last Nelson purchase—the 10" Four You Nu-Disk release. It was released by Epic one month after Capitol released Playing To Win, for some reason. It is a solid four-song EP although Nelson was evidently outraged when Epic allowed fake crowd reaction noises to be used on Rave On, trying to make it sound like it was recorded live. Musically, the song is not a total disaster but paled next to remixed versions of Almost Saturday Night (written by John Fogerty), Lay Back In the Arms of Someone (Mike Chapman/Nicky Chinn) and Arthur Crudup's That's Alright Mama. The rest of those sessions included a laid back version of Bobby Darin's Dream Lover, Tim Krekel's Send Me Somebody To Love and the unmessed-with version of West, Tilghman and Petty's Rave On (Yes, the Buddy Holly track). They give you three different mixes of Lay Back In the Arms of Someone, two Send Me Somebody To Loves and three Rave Ons. Overkill? You have to realize, this IS Rick Nelson here. His fans would want them.
About the label: The two guys who put Real Gone Records together, Gordon Anderson and Gabby Castellana, were the guys behind Collector's Classic and Hep Cat, two of the best of the reissue labels of the past numbers of years. Each was hip-deep in reissue material which they personally wanted to see re-released. I'm not sure what happened with Hep Cat or Collector's Choice and I don't really care, but the fact that they joined forces to continue the trek through the vaults does not make me unhappy. Just look at some of the treasures they have made available: Clover—Clover/Fourty Niner (Double CD)—I had these as originally released. Two fine, fine albums by a Bay Area band which ended up moving to the UK before gaining success. Huey Lewis joined them over there before putting together The News and when Clover returned to the States, two of the members ended up in The Doobie Brothers. Hank Thompson—Few probably remember Hank Thompson today, but at one time he had his own TV show and was slinging hits with both barrels. Real Gone decided to release Songs For Rounders only on vinyl. Pretty cool. Rita Pavone: The International Teenage Sensation—People in the States missed the fact that Pavone was an international star because radio pretty much dropped the ball here. She was HUGE in Europe and, in fact, all over the world. Except the States. Go figure. T.S. Bonniwell: Close. Bonniwell was the guy behind The Music Machine and while this album is not that band, it is still worth hearing. Maybe for collectors only, but collectors who loved Music Machine will surely like this for its historical and musical value.
They also offer albums by The Electric Prunes, The Ad-Libs, The Tubes, The Orlons and many more. You might want to check out their entire catalogue to make sure you are not missing something.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2012, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles