Rick Nelson’s Death and Life

On December 31, 1985, singer-songwriter Rick Nelson was flying to  new Year’s Eve appearance in Dallas when the DC-3 crashed.  The crash killed Nelson and all seven passengers.  The two pilots of the plane — which had taken off from Guntersville, Alabama — survived the attempted emergency landing with serious injuries.

The cause of the crash is still a mystery.  The plane had started filling with smoke from an unknown origin before the pilots had to attempt to land the plane.

Ozzie And Harriet

What was not a mystery was that Rick Nelson was a great talent, often underrated.  He had rose to fame as “Ricky Nelson” in the 1950s with his parents on the television show, The Adventures of Ozzie And Harriet.  

But it was his performance of a song on the show in 1957 that really began his career as a musician.  In an April 10, 1957 episode, he sang the Fats Domino song “I’m Walkin’.”

Following his first release of “I’m Walkin” and “A Teenager’s Romance” in 1957, Nelson hit the top 40 charts around thirty times in the next five years. Below he performs his classic version of “Lonesome Town,” which was written by Baker Knight, on The Adventures of Ozzie And Harriet.  

Later Music Career

After his early string of hits, his career had various ups and downs.  The arrival of the Beatles made rockabilly music out of fashion for a time.  But Nelson’s work influenced others.  His influence can be heard in what came to be known as “the California sound.”

In the early 1970s, Nelson’s popularity returned for a period. He had a top 40 song with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me.” Nelson performs the song with his band, The Stone Canyon Band, on The Mike Douglas Show in 1969 below.

Nelson’s final major hit was his 1972 song, “Garden Party.” Nelson wrote the autobiographical song after he had been booed for performing a current song, “Country Tonk” (a version of The Rolling Stones’s “Honky-Tonk Woman”) at a performance.  The incident during Richard Nader’s Rock ‘n Roll Revival concert, which took place on October 15, 1971, inspired Nelson to pen “Garden Party.”

An interesting piece of trivia is that the “Mr. Hughes” mentioned in “Garden Party” refers to The Beatles’ George Harrison.  Harrison was a neighbor and friend of Nelson’s who was in the audience at the show. Harrison used the alias “Hughes” when traveling, and he was likely in disguise so people would not recognize him.

“Garden Party” was Nelson’s last success on the charts. But he continued touring up until his death.  The last song he performed the night before his death was Buddy Holly’s “Rave On.”

Below Nelson performs “Travelin’ Man” in 1985, not long before the plane crash that took his life.

After Nelson’s death in 1985, his work continued to earn more respect among critics.  In 1987, he was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

What is your favorite Rick Nelson song?  Leave your two cents in the comments.

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