Friday, August 08, 2008

'It's Late': Remembering Rick Nelson

I think I was born 30 years too late.

My friend Kathy sent me some groovin' stuff by the late, great Eric "Ricky" Nelson. What I wouldn't give to be sitting in a malt shop somewhere, coiffed in a crew cut, downing a Cherry Coke and flirtin' with long-haired girls in poodle skirts.

My dad introduced me to Rick's music years ago. (For some reason, I seem to have adopted a lot of my parents' music. I don't know what exactly that says about me, other than it's a fact.) What an underrated talent that guy was.

He was such a hoot as a little guy on his parents' popular "Ozzie and Harriet" TV show. Rick was the spunky brother, the one who didn't take no for an answer, the kid who would climb up on the roof to get in the house when Ozzie locked the family outside, the terror who would interrupt his brother's dates -- and steal the show in the process.

And he was a top-rate musician. Sure, some of his songs were corny, but could he ever rock his ass off. The song that got him into so much trouble at the infamous Madison Square Garden concert (which led to his writing the all-time classic "Garden Party"), a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Women," is mighty fine indeed.

The Nelsons are quite a talented clan. You know about Ozzie, Harriet, David and Rick. What you may or may not know is that Rick's kids are all successful, too. Matthew, Gunnar and Sam are fine singers in their own right; Sam is also a music industry executive; daughter Tracy simply shined as the crime-solving nun on "Father Dowling Mysteries" a few years ago.

Rick died tragically, as so many singers seem to do, in a 1985 plane crash. For whatever reason, I don't think he's ever received the credit he deserves as a major player from the golden era of American rock-and-roll music. I dare say that his "Garden Party" is one of the best songs to emerge during the last half of the 20th century.

So here I am, adrift in the '50s again, a bit amused at how I got here. Forgive me if I pat my foot and sing along awhile.

It's late, gotta get on home, it's late, been gone too long...

You da man, Rick!

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