Saluting the artistic integrity of Rick Nelson decades after his shocking death

Jeremy Roberts
45 min readDec 1, 2016
Philip Bashe, author of “Teenage Idol, Travelin’ Man: The Complete Biography of Rick Nelson,” waxes nostalgic in his most comprehensive interview to date recalling the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s incendiary, albeit tragically cut much too short life and career. Seen here is a smoldering Rick Nelson leaning against a piano during a brief New York City sojourn circa February 23, 1981. The country rock purveyor can be heard tickling the ivories on “The Reason Why,” “Thank You Lord” and his rockin’ cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women.” Photography by Lynn Goldsmith

Rick Nelson lost his life in a serene cow pasture some two and a half hours northeast of Dallas, Texas, en route to a New Year’s Eve sock hop sponsored by KLUV-FM at the Park Suite Hotel.

Among the sophomore class posthumously inducted by John Fogerty into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Nelson, unassuming fiancé Helen Blair, four band members, and a soundman were passengers in a World War II-era, white with black-and-gold trim DC-3 that caught fire when a gasoline-fed cabin heater failed to light properly.

Both pilots, though severely burned, survived the emergency landing. Formerly owned by Jerry Lee Lewis, the malfunction-plagued aircraft prevented Nelson from participating in the inaugural Farm Aid benefit all-star concert held three months prior.

Greatly admiring Nelson’s artistic integrity — the seeds were sown after hearing the moral victory embodied in the singer-songwriter’s “Garden Party” anthem as an enterprising 18-year-old freshman-music magazine editor at Buffalo State College in upstate New York — veteran journalist Philip Bashe unleashed the long out of print Teenage Idol, Travelin’ Man: The Complete Biography of Rick Nelson in 1992. The authoritative biography places the reader in the Rio Bravo star’s shoes and in his head — you realize why he did the things that he did.

Currently indulging his passion as a full-time editor — mostly for Simon & Schuster and Random House — Bashe occasionally toys with completing a book on parenting a child with autism. In the meantime he graciously agreed to take readers on a comprehensive journey examining his fascination for a genuinely talented heartthrob singer who stayed true to his music at a substantial personal cost.

The Complete Philip Bashe / Rick Nelson Interview

What was your background in rock writing, and how did it lead to Rick Nelson?

I’ve always been a writer. While I was in college in Buffalo, New York, I had started my own music magazine called Foxtrot, sort of an ersatz Rolling Stone. When it came time to graduate, it was pretty popular, so I figured, ‘Why be an employee when you can be an employer?’

Jeremy Roberts

Retro pop culture interviews & lovin’ something fierce sustain this University of Georgia Master of Agricultural Leadership alum. Email: