Supermarket serendipity with Rick Nelson

Irresistible man about town Rick Nelson in Los Angeles circa 1983. Image Credit: The Estate of Rick Nelson

Rick Nelson was at loose ends in 1983. A one-off album for Capitol two years earlier, Playing to Win, became the future Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alum’s final LP of original material issued during his lifetime. Three singles for the major label were further commercial disappointments, including the last — a November 1982 pairing of the non-LP “Give ’Em My Number” b/w “No Fair Falling in Love.” Since his costly, drawn out divorce from actress-painter Kris Harmon, Nelson was forced to hit the road for a dizzying array of one-nighters that emphasized his legendary 1957–1963 rockabilly and ballad material in lieu of his later trend-setting country rock catalog with the Stone Canyon Band, aside from the autobiographical “Garden Party.” As 1985 wrapped up Nelson was on the cusp of a comeback with a Curb Records contact that just needed his final signature and also intended to reduce his tour dates by committing to another television series. But flight tragedy struck 150 miles shy of an inconsequential New Year’s Eve booking at a Dallas hotel.

As a 14-year-old teenager, Bruce Joyner survived a near-fatal car collision and was partially paralyzed. In spite of his adversities, the indie singer-songwriter packed his belongings and sought shelter in Los Angeles. An outsider in his native Valdosta, Georgia, Joyner’s new turf fit him to a tee. Going on to front the Unknowns and the Plantations, Joyner’s idiosyncratic voice earned him a cult following abroad and a kinship with classically trained Doors organist Ray Manzarek. In the early ’80s the City of Angels was a hotbed for punk rock, New Wave, and rockabilly-merging bands. Not quite middle-aged, Nelson was considered an elder statesman, openly acknowledged by the Stray Cats and the Blasters. Joyner was a fan, too.

“I met Rick only once,” elucidates Joyner in a brief exclusive. “He was buying groceries in a small store in Beverly Glen at a strip mall in 1983. I was walking with a cane then and performing shows in L.A. with my band the Plantations. I walked up to Rick and told him I enjoyed his music. He smiled and said, ‘Thank you.’ I invited him to one of my shows and he told me, ‘I don’t get out much but thanks for the invite’ [the reclusive night owl, occasionally brought out of his shell by steady girlfriend Helen Blair, lived frugally at 3100 Torreyson Place, nicknamed Mulholland Farm by its previous owner — Tinseltown swashbuckler Errol Flynn]. I walked away giving him his privacy. Rick was kind to me when he didn’t have to be. I’ll always remember that day.”

© Jeremy Roberts, 2020. All rights reserved. To touch base, email jeremylr@windstream.net and mention which story led you my way. I appreciate it sincerely.

Retro pop culture interviews & lovin’ someone fierce sustain this University of Georgia Master of Agricultural Leadership alum. Email: jeremylr@windstream.net

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