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March 1999 Article

Exclusively Found in the Insider Viewpoint of Las Vegas
"The Jordanaires & Ricky Nelson"
by: Sharon Haynes

Sharon Haynes

The Jordanaires & Ricky Nelson"

Insider Viewpoint – 1957-85

The way it really happened…

The Jordanaires have worked with 2500+ artists throughout their fifty-year history, being best known for the fifteen years with Elvis Presley. The Jordanaires are happy to share this month’s "inside story" about their history with Ricky Nelson, from their first meeting to the tragic plane crash which took Ricky and his band’s lives December 1985.

It was 1957 and The Jordanaires had been working with Elvis for a couple of years and were with him in Hollywood for many soundtrack sessions and/or appearances in several of Elvis’ movies. They were provided some beautiful suites at the Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood during these filming/recording sessions.

One day the doorbell rang and Gordon Stoker, tenor singer of the Jordanaires, said he opened the door to see a "kid" standing at the door. Surprised, Gordon realized it was the Television star of the currently airing "Ozzie and Harriet Show" — Ricky Nelson. Gordon said, "Why Yes, I recognize who you are, nice to se you!" Shocked, Ricky said, "you know who I am?" Gordon replied, "Why of course, I have seen your TV Show often and enjoy it a lot." Ricky said with humbleness, "Well, my family and I took a trip back East a few weeks ago and a lot of people said they’d seen us on TV." Ricky had never taken on the "Star" status or attitudes that many without the strong family value and support of the Nelson’s family had installed in their family. Regardless of the stardom and success of the show that Ozzie (Ricky’s Dad) totally wrote, produced, and acted in himself. The show closely resembled the deep family values and roots of the Nelson’s family in real life. The TV show centered around Ozzie and Harriet, Ricky’s Mom and Dad and Ricky’s bother, David. Ricky also had a younger brother, Sam, and sister, Tracy. Ozzie knew the importance of self-values, family strength, and hard work and was determined to keep that in place in their children’s lives. Later when the Jordanaires met the whole family, Ozzie had commented that he could "work a twenty-hour day and get by with four hours sleep. That was sufficient rest for him’" The Jordanaires greatly admired the whole Nelsons’ family and come to love and appreciate all of them, especially the kind, unassuming and unpretentious Ricky.

That particular day, young Ricky was there to let the Jordanaires know he was interested in doing some recordings and would like their help and was in admiration of who they were in the music industry and their unique, warm and wonderful southern-gospel blend harmony on background vocals for Elvis and various other stars. He Wanted to get to know and work with the Jordanaires. They opened their door and hearts to the young Ricky and took him under their wing. Ricky would come over to the suite at the Knickerbocker and spend time just hanging out, learning to play guitar (Neal Matthews, Second Tenor of the Jordanaires taught Ricky a lot of chords on the guitar). Neal also writes and arranges the background vocal parts which the Jordanaires sing on the recording s of various artists songs. Throughout the next few years, Neal Matthews would end up writing and arranging the vocal backgrounds. The Jordanaires recorded with Ricky Nelson on all of his hit records, except "Garden Party."

They started recording sessions with Ricky Nelson in 1958 after he was signed to "Imperial Records."

This was still during their already hectic schedules of the Elvis movies and session work, but they found time for Ricky even late at night and on sometimes many "sides" per week.

Sometimes as many as twelve to fifteen. This was an era even before "tape" when the sessions were on "record master" — the Jordanaires would listen to Ricky’s vocals and the bands recordings on a record player in the Knickerbocker suite, then Neal would write and arranged the famous Jordanaires vocal parts that would become a trademark on Ricky Nelson’s sound just as they did with Elvis.

Including Ricky’s first and best-known hit recordings such as "Travelin’ Man’. Lonesome Town", Poor Little Fool" and "it’s Too Late." They came to love Ricky as a friend apart form the mutual professional admiration. Gordon Stoker shared how Ricky loved riding his big "Harley" motorcycle. He encouraged Gordon to ride on the back with him one day. Ricky took Gordon down famous Hollywood & Vine. Not fond of motorcycles, Gordon loved Ricky and wouldn’t tell him ‘no’ and hurt his feelings for the world. Gordon said, "the faster Ricky went - the tighter I hung on - But I never said a word, other than to tell him I liked his bike!"

The Jordanaires continued to record and perform with Ricky throughout the next twenty seven years. They even performed with Ricky just three months before his death at Sands Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. They had flown here to perform the Sands’ shows with Ricky following his daughter, Tracy, and three sons - two twin sons, Gunner and Matthew. Gunner and Matthew had a rock and roll group along with two of the Lennon sister’s sons.

Ricky had never heard his boys perform. He was afraid it would make them nervous if he were in the audience. So, the Jordanaires told Ricky they were going and wanted him to come also because they felt the boys really wanted him to be there. He agreed to go. He was so proud of the boys and thought they did a great job! This ended up being the one and only performance that Ricky got to attend of his sons, thanks to The Jordanaires.

Gunner and Matthew now live in Nashville — they are known as "The Nelsons." The Jordanaires say they are "great kids!" The final show Ricky Nelson performed was in Gasden, Alabama for a pre-new year eve show. Ricky’s manager had called the Jordanaires and told them if he could work out the budget he wanted them to perform the New Year Eve show in Dallas, with Ricky. If all worked out, Ricky and his band would fly through Nashville and pick up the Jordanaires.

Ricky’s plane had some problems with a heater and they had installed a new heater. The budget did not work out for the Jordanaires to perform the New Year Eve Show, December 31, 1985. Ricky’s plane did not detour to Nashville nor did it make its destination of Dallas. Ricky Nelson and his band perished on a fatal crash, attributed to a faulty heater causing a fire. The Jordanaires are thankful they were not on the fatal flight; however, they have wondered if the plane detoured to Nashville to pick them up would Ricky Nelson and his band be alive today?

Nevertheless, it was not to be. The world lost a phenomenal talent that day, and the Jordanaires lost a colleague and a friend.

The Jordanaires perform the same vocal background with Sharon Haynes in the "Patsy Cline Tribute Show" as they performed with "Patsy" on her original hit records. The show appears nightly at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Monday at the Gold Coast Casino in Las Vegas and will be presenting the show throughout 1999 in the Showroom. The Show has earned the reputation of being one of the best shows in Las Vegas and they awarded Sharon Haynes "New Performer of the Year" in a Best of the Best of Las Vegas Showrooms for 1998. The best description for this show would definitely be that it is an "emotional, musical experience!" 


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