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Ricky Nelson Biography

Home > Music > N > Nelson, Ricky > Biography

Birth Name: Eric Hilliard Nelson
Birth Place: U.S.
Years Active: 1957 - 1985
Genres: Rockabilly, Rock 'n' Roll, Pop, Folk, Country

Rick Nelson was born on May 8, 1940 in Teaneck, New Jersey and was a singer, song-writer and actor. Nelson amassed 19 Top 10 hit singles throughout his career and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. Nelson was born into a musical family with his father, Ozzie Nelson, being a big band leader, and his mother, Harriet Hilliard Nelson, being a big band vocalist. Nelson's parents sang and toured all over the states with the Nelson Orchestra. As a child, Nelson played the clarinet, by the time he was a teen he was banging away on the drums, and as a young adult he had picked up the guitar. However, for Nelson, his first love was singing itself, often imitating his favorite Sun Records rockabilly artists in the bathroom mirror. Carl Perkins was an idol of Nelson’s, in addition to Elvis Presley.

1957 saw Nelson record “I'm Walkin',” “A Teenager's Romance” and “You're My One and Only Love,” in addition to making his television debut lip-synching “I'm Walkin'" on the “Ozzie and Harriet Show.” As a result of the television appearance, Nelson became a teen-idol and a hit with his female fans. When “I'm Walkin'“ was released it peaked at #4 on Billboard's Best Sellers chart, which Nelson followed up with his #1 album, “Ricky.”

In 1958 Nelson achieved his first #1 single, “Poor Little Fool,” on Billboard's Hot 100 Singles chart, in addition to the formation of his own band, which consisted of guitarist James Burton, who was just 18 at the time, bassist James Kirkland, drummer Richie Frost and pianist Gene Garf. The band's first recording was, “Believe What You Say,” which was a hit. Over the next five years, Nelson achieved 30 Top 40 hits on the Billboard charts.

In addition to his music career, Nelson appeared in a number of movies such as, 1959’s “Rio Bravo” with John Wayne, 1960’s “The Wackiest Ship In the Army” and 1965’s “Love and Kisses.” By the mid-1960s, Nelson's music was moving away from rock and roll and more towards country music, mixing rock and country to help invent a new genre of music. During the 1970s, Nelson scored two Top 40 hits with Bob Dylan's “She Belongs to Me” and “Garden Party,” which peaked at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. Nelson embarked on a tour in support of “Garden Party” with his band, the Stone Canyon Band.

Towards the end of the 1970s, Nelson was no longer scoring big hits and MCA dropped him from his contact as his albums failed to chart. Tragedy struck in 1985 when Nelson died in DeKalb, Texas, in a plane crash.