“If James Dean sang, he would sound just like Rick Nelson” – Elvis Presley
With parents Ozzie Nelson and Harriet Hilliard, Rick Nelson (or Ricky as he was originally known) was always going to grow up with the public looking on. First on the radio and then on television he was the young, cocky boy with his own catchphrase ("I don't mess around, boy") decades before Bart Simpson was born.
Rick was always interested in music and when Elvis arrived on the scene he drew large audiences when he dressed as Elvis for a Halloween edition of the show. Away from the show Rick was relatively insecure and when his date laughed at him for suggesting he was going to cut a record like Elvis he decided he had to make it happen. So at the age of 16 he entered the recording studio and cut his version of “I’m Walking”, originally by Fats Domino. With his good looks, powerful voice and ready made television audience the song sold one million copies in a week and hit number 2 on the charts.
In full view of the country Rick’s musical career took over, performing a song on every show it wasn’t long before he became the first ever “teenage idol”. Surrounding himself with first class musicians in his band, Rick’s releases often had a split personality with a respectable softer song supported on the flip side by rockier music. When he was 21 (by which time he had already amassed a number of gold records) Rick recorded and released “Hello, Mary Lou”, the song hit number one around the world and sold over seven million copies.
Rick wasn’t just a studio creation however and scenes at his live appearances reflected his stature in the charts. Rick also broke into movies, not the usual teen fodder of pop idols, but classic films such as “Rio Bravo” in 1959.
By the early 60’s however the record buyer public had moved their attention away from the US and towards what was to become the “British Invasion”. While this gave Rick a chance to relax away from the continual headlines that had followed him it also threatened his musical career. In fact Rick used this pause as an opportunity to reassess his music and the result was a successful move into country music developing his own country rock style. Despite hitting the top again in 1972 with the million selling “Garden Party” (based on his controversial appearance at 1971’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival Show at Madison Square Garden), Rick’s commercial success never truly took off again while he kept doing what he loved the most – touring and singing.