Boomers Liked Teen-Idol Ricky Nelson

After a casual dinner at the Mister Boomer homestead, Mister B settled in for a couple of hours of mindless television. Suddenly, there on his screen, appeared a commercial for Campbell’s Soup. From the initial frame the soundtrack was immediately identifiable. Mister B inched forward on the sofa and proclaimed, “That’s Ricky Nelson! Campbell’s Soup is using a Ricky Nelson song to sell chicken noodle soup!” The song was, of course, Never Be Anyone Else (1959).

We don’t hear much about Ricky Nelson these days. Yet, though he died in a plane crash on December 31, 1985, no matter what part of the boomer years you were born in, you are aware of Ricky and his music. Ricky was a big deal. Whether through radio-listening osmosis or retro sources, Mister B feels the vast majority of boomers know his music once they hear a reminder.

Ricky was born into a showbiz family. His father, Ozzie Nelson, was a bandleader who turned his family life into a make-believe radio show in 1944, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet — a forerunner of today’s reality TV. The parts of Ricky and his older brother, David, were played by actors until David was 12 and Ricky, eight. The year was 1948, and the show was so popular that Ozzie thought it would transfer to television, but could not find a backer. Instead, the family made, Here Come the Nelsons, a full-length motion picture that was released in theaters in 1952. The success of the film convinced TV producers of the viability of the program, and the first TV episode of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet aired on October 3, 1952. The show ran through 1966.

Ricky sang covers of popular songs on several episodes and in TV guest spots, including I’m Walkin’ by Fats Domino. His ability and profile (and a savvy manager-father) got him guest star spots on several TV variety shows, becoming among the first teen idols to use TV as a way to promote a musical career. Consequently, his first single, Be-Bop Baby (1957), sold over a million copies and hit number one on the charts. One year later, Poor Little Fool, debuted at number one in the newly minted Billboard Top 100.

Between 1958 and 1959, Ricky had 12 hit songs on the charts; by contrast, in the same time frame, Elvis had 11. This time overlapped Ricky’s military service, when he was drafted and served between 1958-1960. Among Ricky’s hits were:

Poor Little Fool (1958) – the first number one hit on Billboard’s Hot 100
Never Been Anyone Else (1959) – number 6
Travelin’ Man (1961) – number 1
Hello Mary Lou (1961) – number 9
Garden Party (1972) – number 6

Many boomers may also have forgotten that Ricky appeared in many high-profile movies, including:

Rio Bravo (1952), with John Wayne and Dean Martin
The Wackiest Ship in the Army (1960), co-starring with Jack Lemmon
Over-the-Hill Gang (1960), with Walter Brennan and Edgar Buchanan

… and appeared in many more movies and guest appearances on TV.

Ricky was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

Mister B does not recall exactly when he first heard a Ricky Nelson song. More than likely it was on his transistor radio in the early 1960s. Neither Mister B or Brother Boomer purchased one of Ricky’s singles or albums, so he is not represented in the Mister Boomer collection. Nonetheless, it is fun to hear his tunes from way back when.

How about you, boomers? How did you come to know Ricky Nelson?

Boomers Knew Jimi

On September 18, 1970, Jimi Hendrix died in London of what was disputed to be an accidental overdose of sleeping pills mixed with amphetamines, alcohol and cannabis. That’s right, boomers, it’s been FIFTY YEARS since Jimi left us.

We all know the basics of Jimi’s meteoric rise to stardom in the rock world. We know the route he took — through London’s music scene — before he gained immense popularity in the U.S. after Paul McCartney recommended Jimi to the Monterey International Pop Festival promoters. We know he pioneered what his official legacy website describes as, “fuzz, feedback and distortion.” We know the guitar was more than a tool to make music, it was an extension of his being.

We also all know how we felt about Jimi and his music. He was hard to dismiss, as a musician and entertainer, and also his persona created through a distinct style he made his own. Every boomer was aware of more than one of the songs Jimi left us, whether it’s his rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock or the recordings of Hey Joe, Foxy Lady, Purple Haze, The Wind Cries Mary, Crosstown Traffic or one Mister B’s favorites, Jimi’s cover of Bob Dylan’s, All Along the Watchtower.

So what else is there to be said about another boomer-era icon who left us far too soon? Boomers lost three within a year, all considered giants in their day and legendary icons since: Janis Joplin a month after Jimi, and Jim Morrison of The Doors followed on July 3, 1971.

Here are a few tidbits you may have already have read about Jimi, but they were new to Mister Boomer. He is relating them here in case you, like he, somehow missed out on this info.

  • A high school dropout, James Marshal Hendrix lived with his father after his parents divorced. He was arrested at age 19 on suspicion of auto theft, and given a choice of jail or the army. Rather than submit to being jailed, Jimi enlisted for a three-year contract. He entered the army on May 31, 1961.
    After basic training, James was assigned to the famed 101st Airborne Division. He did not distinguish himself to his superior officers, performing what they said was the minimum requirements of his duties. It was noted that he was more interested in playing his guitar than being in the army, and had accumulated multiple instances of returning late to the base on weekends. A report was filed that described James as not army material, and recommended that he be discharged. When James injured an ankle in a parachute jump — his twenty-fifth jump — army brass used it as the excuse to discharge him on the grounds of “unsuitability under honorable conditions.” James did not contest the discharge and left the army July 2, 1962.
  • With his army days behind him, he became a session musician under the name, Jimmy James. From 1962 to 1965, he appeared on recordings of Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Ike and Tina Turner and the Isley Brothers.
  • In 1965, he left session work and played smaller venues in New York City with his newly-formed band, Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. It was at one these gigs that Jimmy met Chas Chandler, the bassist for the Animals. Chas was looking to transition to music management, and became Jimmy’s manager.
  • After convincing Jimmy to move to London, Chas further convinced Jimmy James to change his stage name to Jimi Hendrix.
  • It was Paul McCartney who recommended Jimi to Monterey International Pop Festival promoters. Jimi blew the minds of the audience members with his rendition of Wild Thing and became an instant sensation stateside.
  • His fashion sense evolved through the years in similar ways to the Beatles and Rolling Stones. In the early days of the 1960s, he performed in a black suit and tie, like most musicians. Once he was living in London in 1966, friends and fellow musicians razzed him for his mode of dress since he constantly wore his army jacket. It was then he started shopping at vintage clothing shops in London to develop his own style of layering soft fabrics and contrasting textures and prints with vests, fringe and scarves.
  • Jimi and manager Chas bought a New York City night club in 1968 with the hope of adding a small recording studio inside it. Instead, Eddie Kramer, a longtime friend and sound engineer, told Jimi it was a bad idea for a musician in his twenties to own a night club. He suggested Jimi turn it into the best recording studio in the world. Jimi agreed and commissioned Kramer and architect John Storyk to construct the studio. Jimi named it Electric Lady Studios, and it became the first artist-owned recording studio. Its inaugural opening party was August 26, 1970. Three weeks later, Jimi was dead.

Mister B was introduced to Jimi’s sound the way he was to most music of the time; through sharing a bedroom with his brother, who brought records home and dropped them on the spindle of the record player in their room. In this case, it was the Are You Experienced? album. They were both in high school at the time.

How about you, boomers? Did you see Jimi play live? Do you remember the first Jimi recording you heard, either on the radio or played by a friend?