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

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.

Paul Wadey

Suggested Topics
News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
booksWell it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Magic roundabouts: the gyratory system that has excited enthusiasts in Swindon
motoringJust who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Sport
footballManchester City 1 Roma 1: Result leaves Premier League champions in danger of not progressing
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
Travel
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
News
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Litigation NQ+

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE NQ to MID LEVEL - An e...

MANCHESTER - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION -

Highly Attractive Pakage: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - A highly attractive oppor...

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

Day In a Page

Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?