Ken Nelson: Shaper of post-war country music
Kenneth Nelson, talent scout and record producer: born Caledonia, Minnesota 19 January 1911; married (one daughter); died Somis, California 6 January 2008
Thursday 10 January 2008
For much of his life, Ken Nelson dreamed of emulating his heroes, George Gershwin and Jerome Kern, and becoming a songwriter. In his autobiography, My First 90 Years Plus 3, published last year, he even went as far as to write: "I never felt successful, because to me a successful person is one who has achieved the goal of his heart's desire." And yet, by any objective standard, his career in the music business had been a singularly successful one.
His work as head of country A&R at Capitol Records played a crucial role in shaping the post-war country music scene and saw him involved in the development of both the "Nashville Sound", the smooth, country-pop hybrid that in the 1950s enabled the genre to weather the rock'*'roll storm, and, somewhat paradoxically, its antithesis: the lean, California-based honky-tonk style that came to be labelled the "Bakersfield Sound".
He nurtured the careers of a number of country stars, including Hank Thompson, the Louvin Brothers, Jean Shepard, Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, and as a producer gave his acts the unusual freedom to forge their own musical identity whilst in the studio. Away from the country field, it was Nelson who, in 1957, signed the volatile rocker Gene Vincent to Capitol and who, through his relationship with Brian Wilson's songwriter-father Murry, ensured that in 1962 the Beach Boys, too, found their way onto the label.
As a youngster Nelson had played banjo with a trio named the Campus Kids, before becoming a presenter of the Symphonic Hour on the radio station WAAF in Chicago. A move to the city's WJJD, where he became musical director, led to his involvement with the station's nightly country show, Suppertime Frolic, which featured an up-and-coming young guitarist called Les Paul. Following Second World War service he was invited to join Capitol Records.
By 1948 he had relocated to Hollywood and within a few years had assumed responsibility for the label's country division. Its roster would include a clutch of influential performers, including Faron Young, Tommy Collins, Wynn Stewart, Rose Maddox and, eventually, Glen Campbell.
In 1951 Nelson produced Hank Thompson's "Wild Side of Life"; the first of a series of landmark recordings that would redefine country music and that would also include Sonny James' "Young Love" and Ferlin Husky's "Gone" (both 1956). The last of these, with its innovative use of echo and its vocal contributions from both the Jordanaires and the soprano Millie Kirkham, proved a chart smash and is regularly cited as the prototypical "Nashville Sound" hit.
Having produced literally thousands of records, Ken Nelson retired from Capitol in 1976 and was belatedly inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.
- 1 Reyhaneh Jabbari: Iran due to execute woman for murder of her alleged attempted rapist
- 2 Sainsbury's '50p challenge' poster telling staff to encourage customers to spend more placed in shop window instead of staff room
- 3 Expert urges cat lovers to own just one animal each
- 4 Car tax disc changes: Two days to go - and they affect you much more than just not displaying a piece of paper
- 5 The Simpsons death: Creator Al Jean would 'kill himself' before character like Homer or Lisa
Expert urges cat lovers to own just one animal each
Five-year-old Iris Grace is raising awareness of autism through her extraordinary paintings
Car tax disc changes: Two days to go - and they affect you much more than just not displaying a piece of paper
Isis an hour away from Baghdad - with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
British man raped while urinating in bushes at Oktoberfest beer festival in Germany
Isis, we are told, is a 'clear and dangerous threat to our way of life'. I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it
Exclusive: 'Putin's Russia has been my biggest regret,' says Nato's outgoing Secretary General
The Osborne Ultimatum: Chancellor’s benefits freeze bombshell will affect ten million households
'Women, walk wherever you want' posters taken down in Stamford Hill following 'unacceptable' signs separating men and women
There’s no excuse for Dave Lee Travis’s behaviour, but we need to keep a sense of proportion
Mark Reckless becomes second Tory MP to defect to Ukip in a month
- < Previous
- Next >
Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE NQ to MID LEVEL - An e...
Highly Attractive Pakage: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - A highly attractive oppor...
£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...
£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...