Ken Nelson finally enters the Hall – December 2001
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Ken Nelson finally enters the Hall  Print

By Joel Bernstein, December 2001

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Campbell did a stint with The Beach Boys in the mid-'60's, which reminds Nelson of another story. "One day, a guy named Murry called me. He said, 'You did a favor for me, cutting one of my songs, so I'm going to do one for you. My sons have a rock 'n' roll group that's good.' I said, 'That's not my area, but I'll have the man call you.' I went to Nick Venet and asked him to call. Two weeks later, Murry calls me and said he hadn't heard from anyone yet. I went back to Nick and reminded him to call Murry. Two weeks later, Murry calls me again. I went to Nick, and I said 'Goddammit, call this man right now!' When he got the tapes, they couldn't sign the kids fast enough. At the next meeting, the label head told everyone 'When you get a tip like this, act on it.' We almost lost the Beach Boys."

Roy Clark came to Capitol via another of the label's artists. "I went to see Wanda Jackson, and she had hired him as her front man and opening act. I was taken aback by his playing, so I signed him as an instrumentalist. We put out some records, but he wanted to sing. Joe Allison came to me and said 'I've got a great song Roy can do.'"

It was "Tips Of My Fingers," which had been a hit for Bill Anderson a few years earlier. "Joe asked if he could pick the orchestra, and when I got to the session, there were 35 musicians there. I thought 'Oh no, what have I done?' but it was too late to send them home. We had to pay them anyhow. The record was a smash, and I let Joe produce him after that. They kept recording songs that had already been hits for other people. I should have stepped in. His management asked for a release, and I let him go. I should have kept him and recorded him myself. That was another mistake of mine."

Wynn Stewart was an underachiever, a great singer with an apparent fear of success. "He used to drive me crazy. He aggravated me because I couldn't get him on the phone. I'd leave him messages, but he rarely called back. One day, we had a session booked in Nashville. I had to be in New York the next day. Wynn didn't show up. I told (assistant) Marvin Hughes to do the session himself if Wynn showed up. He did, and it produced 'It's Such A Pretty World Today.'" That song that Stewart brought in became his biggest hit.

Ferlin Husky had been recording under the name Terry Preston, ironically because he thought his real name sounded made-up. "I told him 'That's a sissified name. Use your own name. It's got a good masculine sound.' He didn't want to. One day, I was in a car with him and his father, and I told his father about it. He turned to Ferlin and said, 'You're never going to amount to anything until you use your own name.' So, he did after that."

Jean Shepard was Capitol's top female country vocalist in the '50's. "She was recommended to me by Hank Thompson (after she had opened a show for him). She'd had an all-girl orchestra called 'The Melody Ranch Girls.' The others had left to get married, so she had assembled male players. She was playing in an American Legion hall. As I walking up the stairs, I liked her voice. Then, I saw this little girl playing a big bass. I signed her up."

Nelson doesn't follow today's country music world, but he is philosophical about it. "Everything changes. Even girls names change. You don't hear 'Irene' or 'Dorothy' anymore. We did four songs in three hours, everything live. Now a lot of artists sing over musical tracks that are already cut. They don't have the feel they would get with a live orchestra. I've proven that with a couple of artists myself. Each musician has earphones and is just listening to himself. It's not a uniform, emotional thing anymore. There's a lot of lights and noise. I've listened to a couple of country programs, and all I hear is the drums. Maybe it's just my hearing, or maybe not."

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