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Garden Party : A 3-day fete marks Rick Nelson's career, featuring music, memorabilia and a bus tour of his life's landmarks.

April 09, 1993|STEVE APPLEFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Steve Appleford writes regularly about music for The Times.

Singer-actor Rick Nelson must have had a special appreciation for his fans in Great Britain because "Ozzie and Harriet," the hit television sitcom of the 1950s and '60s about his family, never really caught on there. To the British, Nelson was always a rock 'n' roll singer.

He remained an actor in occasional television and film roles over the years, but music was his central focus up until the time of his death in a plane crash, en route to a New Year's Eve performance in 1986. After all, Nelson was the first artist to top Billboard magazine's "Top 100" chart in 1958, with his "Poor Little Fool."

And now the members of the Ricky Nelson International Club of Great Britain are descending upon North Hollywood's Beverly Garland Hotel today for "An International Garden Party," a three-day celebration of Nelson's career, with live music, video, memorabilia and a bus tour of the landmarks of his life.

"He was a real musician and took his music real seriously," said Jim Ritz, a veteran television writer and producer who is coordinating the gathering's entertainment. "When you look at Rick's records, it wasn't just a TV star trying to sing. The man sold a hundred million records. He had 53 records in the Top 100 during his career."

That nearly three-decade musical career led Nelson through a variety of musical changes, though his popularity stalled--along with that of Elvis Presley and other rockers of his era--when the Beatles arrived in the '60s.

"During the time he wasn't selling records, Rick was experimenting," Ritz said. "He did two hard-core country albums when it wasn't really cool to be a country artist. . . . They were well-received in the music industry, but they didn't sell very well, unfortunately, and now they're collector's items."

Nelson was also an early experimenter in mixing rock with country styles through his Stone Canyon Band, which included Randy Meisner, who would later perform a similar mix with the Eagles. "Garden Party," a song defending his moves away from his teen-age hits, reached the Billboard Top 10 in the early '70s.

At the time of his death, Ritz added, Nelson was working on an album of roots rockabilly music, which might have returned him to the charts in that time of rockabilly revivalism led by the chart-topping Stray Cats.

At the "International Garden Party," a Saturday night banquet will feature a trip through that musical history as played by a tribute band headed by singer-guitarist Ronnie Mack.

Also in the band will be guitarist James Intveld, whose brother, Rick Intveld, died in the 1986 crash; drummer Steve Duncan, who was a member of Nelson's Stone Canyon Band and a founding member of the Desert Rose Band; keyboardist Dave Morgan and bassist John Davis, who both toured with Nelson in the late '70s. Jerry Fuller, who wrote Nelson's 1961 hit "Travelin' Man," will also sing.

Members of Nelson's family, including brother David Nelson, daughter Tracy Nelson, and sons Gunnar and Matthew Nelson of the pop-rock duo Nelson, have been invited to the Saturday event, Ritz said.

Meanwhile, fans are arriving from England, Wales, Australia, Germany, Norway and all over the United States, said Peggy Ann O'Neal, the club's U. S. vice president. This onetime pilgrimage to Nelson's hometown marks the British club's 21st anniversary.

The weekend begins at 1 p.m. today with a free reception, where trading and selling of memorabilia will take place. A video presentation of Nelson's appearances on "Ozzie and Harriet" and elsewhere follows at 8 tonight. Saturday, the bus tour stops first to see Nelson's gold records and guitar on display at the Hard Rock Cafe in Los Angeles. Other stops will include Nelson's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; Hollywood Center Studios, where "Ozzie and Harriet" was filmed; the Nelsons' old home just outside Beverly Hills, and Hollywood High, Nelson's alma mater.

The 56 seats on the tour bus are already sold out, but, O'Neal said, she expects some of the overflow to follow by car. "I think they're going to be happily overwhelmed," she said.

Where and When What: "International Garden Party," a tribute to Rick Nelson; including live music, video presentations, memorabilia and a bus tour. Where: Beverly Garland Hotel, 4222 Vineland Ave., North Hollywood. Hours & Price: Reception 1 to 5 p.m. today, free; video night 8 tonight, $10; bus tour 10 a.m. Saturday, $12, sold out; musical tribute 6:30 p.m. Saturday, $37 with dinner; "Ozzie and Harriet" film and video, noon Sunday, $5. Call: (213) 930-0418.

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