Who was/is Ken Nelson ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more

Ken Nelson,

Ken Nelson, born in Minnesota in 1915, but brought up in Chicago, played pop in the Thirties with a trio led by Lee Gillette, who later activated Capitol's C&W division. In the early Forties, Nelson became one of Chicago's top classical radio announcers but became enamoured with the C&W music also being broadcast from his station. In 1948, he followed Lee Gillette to Capitol where Gillette gave him a job as a C&W A&R man. In the early Fifties, Nelson found he had to travel all over the country, recording artists in radio stations and local studios, but gradually, as the Nashville scene developed, he began to commute between Hollywood and Nashville. Among his earliest hits were Hank Thompson's 'The Wild Side Of Life' and Jean Shepard's 'Dear John Letter'.

Nelson, it is claimed, was the first A&R man to use drums on a country session — by white gospel singer, Martha Carson, in 1952 — several years before drums were formally ac-cepted by country music. He recorded Ferlin Husky, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Merle Travis in the early Fifties before instigating Capitol's inroads into rock'n'roll in 1956 by signing Gene Vincent, who scored immediately with 'Be-Bop-A-Lula'. However, Capitol's initial lack of success in this field must be attributed to Nelson's lack of sympathy for the idiom and although Vincent, Tommy Sands and Sonny James all achieved million-sellers in the pop market in 1956-7, the uniformly unsuccessful follow-up material Nelson picked for them was merely a Tin Pan Alley cari-cature of true rock'n'roll.

In the Sixties, Nelson built up an impressive roster of country talent for Capitol, including Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and a revitalized Sonny James, three of the era's biggest stars. He retired in 1973.


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