Why ‘Rick Nelson, In Concert: The Troubadour, 1969’ Is The Greatest Live Album You’ve Never Heard
Backed by the incredible talents of his Stone Canyon Band, Nelson proves he’s more than Ozzie and Harriet’s heartthrob son.
An Absolutely Amazing CD… and Me
About three summers ago, I received this gem in the mail. I ordered it after watching a Rick Nelson documentary during a late-night Google Eagles binge-search (I fell in love with the music of the Eagles fairly recently, in 2015, and Rick Nelson ties into their history. But more on that later.).
Since then, this double album has been one of my all-time favorite music compilations.
A double CD!
42 songs! 12 from the original 1970 live LP, and 30 previously unissued newly mixed alternate 1969 Troubadour performances!
I seldom purchased CDs then (or now), preferring instead to get the bulk of my music online (legally, o’course). Yet, the first time I popped in this CD and listened to the first few songs, I was instantly glad to have bought it. Whoever remastered these 42 songs from the original, now-50-year-old 8-track tapes back in 2011…
…did their job like a boss.
The sound quality of these 5-decade old performances is amazing. Especially considering both their age and original source material. Each time I listen, I am reminded that perhaps buying CDs isn’t as laughably old-school as I previously thought.
The first time I opened the CD case, I discovered a booklet, authored by Rick Nelson biographer Iain Young. Said booklet contained an avalanche of facts about the band, shows, songs, and this album. Completely immersed almost instantly, I read the whole thing in under one hour.
The Billboard Lukewarm 100
When Rick Nelson, In Concert: The Troubadour, 1969, the original 12-track LP, was first released in January of 1970, it did not set the Billboard Hot 100 chart ablaze. In fact, the record only peaked at a disappointing #54!
A crying shame, for such an absolutely brilliant record. Even just comprised of the first 12 songs it deserved to peak a heck of a lot higher than #54! The three released singles didn’t do all that great either, ranging from OK (“She Belongs to Me” #33) to meh (“Easy to Be Free” #48) to just plain terrible (“I Shall Be Released” #102).
This album is SO much better than its chart history would have you believe.
Great Album, Tepid Reception: My Theory
By 1969, Rick Nelson was already very famous. In the 1950s and early 1960s, “Rick” was known as “Ricky” to his future Troubadour audience, legions of TV-obsessed Baby Boomer children. “Ricky” was charming. Cute. Safe. The perfect son on his parents’ wholesome TV show, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, since just about his conception. Thus, “Rick” Nelson wasn’t exactly the picture of rock and roll counterculture to his target audience at the time of this album’s recording.
Though adult “Rick” tried his damnedest to shed his old teen idol image, sadly, it never happened for him. No matter what he did, even at almost 30 years of age at the time of this album, he was likely still, to most fans, forever “Ricky.” And in 1969, having that kind of reputation made Rick Nelson as cool to the Beatnik Boomers of the late 60s as Corey Feldman is to Gen Xers today.
Unlike Feldman, however, the years were pretty good to call-me-Rick-not-mother-effing-Ricky Nelson’s appearance. As evidenced in the pic above, Rick “bye bye letter y” Nelson was quite a handsome man-beast back in the day, amirite?
The Stone Canyon Band: A Legendary Lineup
Former teen idol status aside, Rick Nelson was a damn talented musician and singer-songwriter. In 1969, he waged a comeback attempt, marketing himself as a more “adult,” country-rock act. To help up his rock cred, Nelson put together a phenomenal band of hip, gifted, youthful musicians to back him up.
Tom Brumley: Pedal Steel Guitar
At 34 years old in 1969, Tom Brumley was a veteran musician, as well as the oldest member of the Stone Canyon Band. He had previously played in Buck Owen’s Grammy-winning Buckaroo band throughout the 1960s and was already widely well-respected as a pedal steel player.
Prior to the performances recorded for this album, the first pedal steel guitarist Nelson hired never even showed up for rehearsal. Thus, in a pinch, Brumley was asked to step in for the four Troubadour shows. At first, he agreed, only to the four-show commitment, but apparently had quite a change of heart. Of the four Stone Canyon Band members who perform on this album, Brumley stayed with Nelson the longest, performing with him for the next decade. This means that Brumley also played pedal steel on Nelson’s big breakout hit, 1972’s shade-throwin’ ‘F em all’ anthem of awesomeness, Garden Party.
Randy Meisner: Bass Guitar, High-Harmony Backing Vocals
I am a huuuge unabashed Eagles fan, especially the 1970s-era lineups. Founding Eagle Randy Meisner is actually the reason I became interested in Rick Nelson in the first place. As the original bassist and high-tenor vocalist for the Eagles, Meisner’s input is all over their first, and best, five albums. He departed the Eagles in 1977 after the Hotel California tour and his presence is still missed by many Eagles fans to this day, 42 years later.
I include myself in that sentiment, too, even though I was but an 8-month-old fetus when he left.
Most Eagles fans have a favorite, and I am staunchly Team Meisner. Besides being a kickass, highly underrated bass player, Meisner possessed an angelic voice with an incredible vocal range in his youth. A natural high tenor, Meisner was able to hit extremely high notes without resorting to falsetto, and with style, as well as ease. Even Don Henley, The Eagles’ resident curmudgeon extraordinaire, has admitted in interviews that Meisner could sing higher than he could. As evidence, here is Randy Meisner, in 1977, as an Eagle, singing Take It To The Limit with the Hotel California-era lineup.
My man just crushes it. Wait for the ending, I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Also, I won’t lie, Randy Meisner was smokin’ hot back in the day. I absolutely have a grown-ass woman crush on his mighty fine young 1960s-70s-era rock-God self. And even though he is older than my father is today, I’d still get weak-kneed if ever privileged enough to meet him. Randy Meisner, even as a septuagenarian, will always be a hunk of legendary manliness proportions to me.
Allen Kemp: Guitar, Backing Vocals and Pat Shanahan: Drums
Rounding out the 1969 lineup of Rick Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band was guitarist and backing vocalist Allen Kemp and drummer Pat Shanahan. Both were bandmates of Meisner in an obscure-yet-excellent, mid-60s psychedelic-rock band that called themselves, literally, ‘The Poor.’
Nelson recruited Meisner after watching him perform with Poco, Meisner’s previous band, at the LA Troubadour, in late 1968–early 1969. After Randy quit Poco following an argument with King Poco Bossypants Ritchie Furay, Rick snatched him right up to join his group. To sweeten the deal for all parties involved, Randy convinced Nelson to hire his old buddies Kemp and Shanahan, too.
With Brumley, the veteran, Meisner, the prodigy, and the talents of Kemp and Shanahan, arguably the greatest lineup of Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band, in 1969, was born.
The Album’s Performances: What, When, and Where
In 1969, Doug Weston’s Troubadour was, like THE place for all things California country-rock. So it makes sense that Rick-I’m-no-longer-a-teen-idol-don’t-call-me-Ricky-goddamn-it-Nelson, along with his new bandmates, were to perform four nights of shows at the ‘Troub’ while simultaneously recording a live album. All four shows took place between October 30-November 2, 1969, and all performances were recorded.
After the shows, Nelson chose his 12 favorite tracks from the resulting audio to assemble on a soon-to-be-released live album. My personal verdict regarding Nelson’s choices? After listening to all 42 tracks offered up on the double-disc reissue, I feel Rick chose the 12 original album cuts very wisely.
Out of the 42 tracks on the 2011 double album, four of my top five favorite performances were within the original 12 songs he chose.
Well done, Mr. Nelson!
Although the “previously unissued newly mixed alternate 1969 Troubadour performances” aren’t quite as well-performed as the original 12, they still are an enjoyable listen. Also, on disc 2, the engineers left most of the band’s in-between song commentaries on the CD, a feature I especially enjoyed.
The Album’s Performances: Who, How, and Why
Through bantering with bandmates and commentary toward the audience, Rick Nelson comes across as a really sweet guy. I’d describe him as soft-spoken, charming, humble, and even borderline awkward on this CD! All are definitely character traits I wouldn’t think to associate with the 1950s and early 60s-era Justin Bieber, either.
And #realtalk: Many teen idols of today could likely learn a thing or two about keeping their egos in check from Mr. Nelson.
Throughout this album, I could tell the Troubadour crowd was enjoying the show. Unfortunately, also obvious was the audience’s preference for Nelson’s Ozzie and Harriet-era hits to the newer, more modern songs he played.
Personally, I didn’t get why.
To my ears, Nelson’s late 1960s-early 1970s songs are profoundly superior to his 1950s-early 1960s teen idol bubblegum fare! Perhaps the Troubadour faithful was suffering from a pretty tough case of feeling the nostalgia feels?
Though I must give credit where it is due, and say that Nelson and his band did an excellent job in “modernizing” his older hits for the late sixties. Nelson’s prehistoric-sounding oldies sound almost new again on this album. Which also means, at least to my non-Baby Boomer eardrums, that they sound immensely better than the ancient versions Nelson crooned on 1950s and early 1960s black-and-white TV.
My Top Five Favorite Album Tracks
#5: “Tonight, I’ll Be Staying Here With You”: Disc 1, Track #15
This song appears twice on the album; the second version is on disc 2, track #10, but I prefer the disc 1 version. Written by Bob Dylan, this song is vastly different than any of Nelson’s previous teenybopper hits. I’m not sure why this performance didn’t make the original 12-track LP, because it should have.
Lovely three-part harmonies consisting of Meisner (high tenor) Kemp (tenor) and Nelson (baritone). Kemp’s lead guitar chops. The lyrics are subtly romantic. This song would never be composed nowadays, as too much thinking is required for the listener.
#4: “Easy to Be Free”: Disc 1, Track #11
Yet another song appearing twice on the album-version 2 can be found on the second disc (track #8). Though once again, the disc 1 version reigns supreme. On both versions, Rick introduces the track as a “song that [he] wrote about 2 weeks ago.” Even in such a short period of time, however, the band performs the tune almost flawlessly. And though the song is quite lovely, I have to admit that a few lyrics sound dated and borderline hokey today (do you ever want to fly…..over rainbow skies so high? Yikes.). Still, ’tis a great ballad, nonetheless.
Randy, Allen, and Rick’s 3-part choral harmony. Rick’s smooth, glassy lead vocal. Meisner’s sliding bass runs at 1:40. The dynamics-oh, the dynamics.
Check it out:
#3: “Come On In”: Disc 1, Track #1
Again, this Nelson-penned track is featured twice on the album, as the first song on both discs. On a non-musical note, something I enjoy about the disc 1 version is how the Troubadour announcer introduces Nelson. He says, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Troubadour is proud to present, Mr. Rick Nelson.”
That intro made me laugh. “Mr.” to announce a rock band? That’s something you don’t hear nowadays. Indeed, times have changed.
Randy Meisner’s bass is on point throughout the whole song, as are his and Allen Kemp’s backing vocals. This was an excellent choice for a show opener, kicking off each performance with a rousing, energetic, melodic, punchy tune. Kemp and Nelson do some pretty decent guitar work here as well.
#2: “Red Balloon”: Disc 1, Track #8
I heart this song so much. Another double feature on the album, in the battle between disc 1, track #8 and disc 2, track #6, disc one wins out once again. For some odd reason, on the disc two performance, Nelson sings the first verse twice, almost like he forgot that he had already sung it once. Did he? Was Rick starting to get tired? Possibly, since according to the CD booklet the disc two version of the song was performed on the third straight day of multiple shows.
Written by a songwriter named Tim Hardin, a YouTube clip of a live version of the song perfectly describes the song as a “haunting” track. Admittedly, the tune does sound slightly dated, as it has a flavor about it that I strongly associate with the late 1960s. But since I love the music of that period, that’s probably also the reason why I love this song.
Meisner and Kemp’s stacked choral harmonies. Rick’s vocals starting at around the 2:45 mark, where he gets kind of yelly and growly (in a good way). Actually, the whole song is just good. Really good.
#1: “Who Cares About Tomorrow/Promises”: Disc 1, Track #4
Once more, a track with dual album appearances, the second version residing on disc 2, track #16. And again, the original album cut just edges out the unissued alternate performance in quality. Also, I was shocked at Iain Young’s less-than-glowing review of this incredible song in the CD booklet. Young first describes this song as “a bit heavy.” He then claims he doesn’t understand “why [Nelson] tagged “Promises” on the end” (because it works, Iain, because it works). Finally, Mr. Young sums up his critique by declaring the tune “of its day and… [that it] really hasn’t stood the test of time” (Young, Liner Notes, 15–16).
Sorry Iain, but #Fail.
This is The. Best. Song. On. The. Album.
Nelson admits in the CD commentary that “Who Cares” was only written about a week before that night. Yet on both CD song versions, he and the Stone Canyon Band just nail it. The fact that Rick Nelson penned two different, complex melodies, then thought to pair them together….wow. This Rick Nelson guy was an absolute country-rock maestro! It’s a crying shame that so many couldn’t look past his old image and see that.
The whole damn 5 minutes 55 seconds.
During the segway to “Promises,” i.e. the best part of the song(s),
Rick gets all growly and yelly once again, asking us “who cares about tomorrow?” multiple times. Concurrently, Randy Meisner holds a gorgeous vibrato note in the background for 9 entire goddamn seconds (I counted).
While continuing to chop at his bass like a boss.
“Promises” is full of 3-part harmonies and instrumental jams, and concludes with the following FOURTH verse:
Would you ask me what to do
My advice to you today
Is to tell her how you really feel
Or you’ll have some dues to pay
She made promises to you
Promises of good things to come
But they never do
The song(s) end(s) with the entire band jamming out until the very last line of the fourth verse. At that point, the melody suddenly contracts, and a satisfying diminuendo concludes the tune at the final, satisfying “do.”
If I still smoked, I’d need a cigarette at this point.
“Who Cares About Tomorrow/Promises” is 5 minutes 55 seconds of straight up musical foreplay. For real.
Listen, and behold:
A Conclusion, In Three Points
#1: Every song on this album is either good, great, or outstanding.
#2: The sound quality remastering is on point. This album sounds like it could have been recorded last week, rather than almost 50 years ago. It must have taken some complex engineering to make 5-decade-old 8-track tapes sound this great.
#3: Featured on this disc are some of the most talented musicians of the 1960s-1970s country-rock scene. Heck, I’d even say of the general rock scene as a whole, period! In fact, both Randy Meisner and Rick Nelson would easily top an all-time list of the most underrated classic rock musicians.
Rick Nelson, In Concert: The Troubadour, 1969 is a total 5-star album, no question. Truly, I cannot recommend it more highly than I do as it is an absolutely outstanding compilation. Check it out sometime!
Jill Valentino is a wife, mom of two, elementary educator, and lifelong resident of NY’s Hudson Valley. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Medium @doublesmom77.