Sam Nelson unleashes ‘Pop Songs — Tribute to Rick Nelson’ nine-song EP
Encouraged mightily by fans, Sam Nelson never felt comfortable capitalizing on his legendary father Rick Nelson’s richly varied discography until the unveiling of his solo debut, Pop Songs: Tribute to Rick Nelson, a painstakingly crafted nine-song EP released on the 30th anniversary of the elder Nelson’s death, a notable milestone that undeservedly received scant media coverage.
Consisting of Sam’s favorite Rick Nelson songs — e.g. deep cuts from the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Famer’s artistically rewarding years as a songwriter fronting the Stone Canyon Band in the early ’70s, two hit ballads from his classic ’50s prime, and the newly penned original “It Rolls Away” — the intimate, stripped down collection was produced by Sam and Enoch Jensen, who previously worked together on H is Orange’s third album, Thrill of Escape . Incidentally, H is Orange is Sam’s Los Angeles-based alternative hard rock band. In the aughts the group dropped three studio albums and one EP.
Besides drums, pedal steel guitar, and flute, Pop Songs is entirely performed by the multi-instrumentalist who bears an uncanny resemblance — both physically and vocally — to the “Garden Party” troubadour that his kids affectionately called “Pop.”
The digital booklet includes a reproduction of Rick’s handwriting found by Sam’s big sister Tracy on a piece of paper taped to The Wackiest Ship in the Army star’s bedroom wall in the aftermath of the World War II-era DC-3 plane crash that also claimed the lives of fiancé Helen Blair and five band members.
The note genuinely helped the then-11-year-old preteen deal with his unmitigated grief and reads, “The creative soul — may it ever fly free.” The cover of Pop Songs is adorned with a precious photo depicting 18-month-old Sam resting his head against his father’s, taken in the backyard of their sprawling Studio City, California home — nicknamed “The Farm.”
“It’s funny, at the same time I archived the Ozzie and Harriet stuff, I started doing my renditions of my dad’s material,” recalls the manager of his grandparents’ estate regarding the EP’s origins.
“My brothers Gunnar and Matthew had already done it. However, I wasn’t ready to release anything at that time. In December 2011 I drove across the country, catching up with the old musicians, singers, and producers who were involved with my dad’s recordings and doing video interviews with them. That went really well.
“While I was in Nashville I interviewed first tenor Gordon Stoker [now deceased] and bass extraordinaire Ray Walker of the Jordanaires, who backed my dad on many of his greatest songs. They actually performed some classic back-up vocals for me [i.e. ‘Sweeter Than You’ and ‘Lonesome Town’]. What an amazing experience. I recorded several other Rick Nelson songs as well — mostly all of the hits — that the Jordanaires also sang on, but I’m not sure yet how I plan to release them, or if I will at all.
“All nine cuts eventually selected for the final running order stood out as having been important while growing up. In a way they helped me learn who Pop was — as if he was speaking directly to me.”
Preferring to maintain a shroud of secrecy, Sam did not officially announce Pop Songs until just 10 days prior to unveiling. The singer-songwriter surmised on Facebook why the time was right to finally present Pop Songs after being in various stages of recording for over five years.
“2015 was an extremely important — if not somber — anniversary year for my father,” said the burgeoning web designer. “Not only did it mark the 75th anniversary of his birth, but also the 30-year anniversary of his passing. I can’t believe how fast all the years have flown by, and aside from the spectacular Ronnie Mack and his outstanding birthday tribute to Rick Nelson on May 2 at Burbank’s Pickwick Gardens, it probably would have all come and gone without a whisper. It’s a travesty how little was done to celebrate it.”
The acoustic project, definitely long enough to be classified as a bona fide album, is available on Sam’s own One Iron Records label and can be obtained in digital format only from SamsSong.com. Echoing his dad’s propensity for always treating fans with dignity, Sam added, “Thank you to everyone who has supported this little EP. Your response has been tremendous and humbling, and I so very much appreciate it.”
Can fans expect a full-length solo album by the reticent artist? The prognosis looks promising. According to Sam, “‘It Rolls Away’ will most likely also be on an upcoming solo album I’m working on — definitely in the area of the early to mid-’70s Stone Canyon Band.”
Pop Songs: Tribute to Rick Nelson Track Listing
- “Easy to Be Free” [No. 48 POP February 1970, written by Rick Nelson; a live version appears on Rick Nelson in Concert — The Troubadour, 1969]
- “The Last Time Around” [written by Rick Nelson; Rudy the Fifth, October 4, 1971]
- “Lonesome Town” [No. 7 POP August 1958, written by Baker Knight, Ricky Sings Again]
- “Are You Really Real?” [written by Rick Nelson, Garden Party, November 27, 1972]
- “Try (Try to Fall in Love)” [A-side only March 1975; written by Norman C. Des Rosiers]
- “Sweeter Than You” [No. 9 POP June 1959, written by Baker Knight, Songs by Ricky]
- “How Long?” [A-side written by Rick Nelson, Rick Sings Nelson, September 3, 1970]
- “It Rolls Away” [original song written by Sam Nelson]
- “Garden Party” [No. 6 POP July 1972, written by Rick Nelson, Garden Party]
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