Sandy Nelson, drummer who turned his beats into hits, dies at 83
Sandy Nelson, one of the few musicians in pop history to score Top 10 hits as a featured drummer, which he did early in a career that included more than 30 albums, is died February 14 in a hospice in Las Vegas. He was 83 years old.
His son, Joshua Nelson Straume, said the cause was complications from a stroke which Mr Nelson suffered in 2017.
Mr. Nelson was a session drummer in Los Angeles when, in 1959, he recorded “Teenbeat”, a propelling instrument whose dominant drum part was inspired by something he had heard at a strip club he visited with other musicians.
“While they were watching these pretty girls in thongs, guess what I was doing?” he told the Las Vegas Weekly in 2015. “I was watching the drummer in the orchestra pit.”
“He was doing a kind of ‘Caravan’ rhythm,” he added, referring to a jazz standard. “‘Bum ta da da dum’ – little toms, big toms. That’s what gave me the idea for ‘Teen Beat’.
Mr. Nelson had played in the backing band of Art Laboe, a popular Los Angeles disc jockey who also owned a small record company, Original Records, and Mr. Nelson had brought the song to him hoping that he would hurry her. Instead, Mr. Laboe tested it on his radio show.
“The little rascal, he played acetate on the lathe,” Mr. Nelson recalled, “and he wasn’t going to press it unless he got a few calls.”
Mr. Laboe, he said, received three calls from impressed listeners, and that was enough: Mr. Laboe pressed the record. By October 1959, it had reached No. 4 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, a rare achievement for a drum-centric instrument.
Mr. Nelson scored again in 1961 with “Let there be drums”, which reached No. 7.
Two years later, he was riding his motorcycle on Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles when he collided with a school bus and was seriously injured. Part of his right leg was amputated. But he returned to the drums, learning to play bass with his left leg.
“In the long run,” he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 2017, “I developed a little bit better technique.”
He recorded a series of instrumental albums with session players in the 1960s and 1970s with titles like “Boss Beat” (1965) and “Boogaloo Beat” (1968), many of them filled with hit covers. of the day that showcased his drumming. . He was not proud of much of this work.
“I think the worst version of ‘Satisfaction’ by the Rolling Stones was done by me,” Mr. Nelson told LA Weekly in 1985, “and, oddly enough, it was a big seller in the Philippines. they like creaking saxophones or something.
But among these covers were glimpses of his interest in explorations that foreshadowed electronic ambient music. “Boss Beat”, for example, in addition to taking “Louie, Louie” and other hits, included “Drums in a Sea Cave”, in which Mr. Nelson performed to the sound of ocean waves.
He was still experimenting late in life. His friend and fellow musician Jack Evan Johnson said Mr Nelson was particularly proud of “The Veebles”, a whimsical five-track concept album released on cassette in 2016 that had an alien sound and theme.
“This is a race of people from another planet,” he said. told the Las Vegas Sun in 1996, when the long-gestating project was just beginning to take shape. “They’re going to take over the Earth and make us do nothing but dance and sing and tell stupid jokes.”
Sander Lloyd Nelson was born on December 1, 1938 in Santa Monica, California to Lloyd and Lydia Nelson. Her father was a projectionist at Universal Studios.
“My parents threw these roaring parties with Glenn Miller records,” he told LA Weekly, “and the sound of those must be like drugs to me — I had to listen to these discs.
The drums particularly interested him, and in high school he began to play.
“I thought the piano was too complicated and I had to take lessons and learn to read music,” he said. “With the drums, I could play instantly.”
He said he once played in a band with a teenage guitarist named Phil Spector, who was later a famous and then infamous producer; Mr. Spector brought in Mr. Nelson to play drums on “To Know Him Is to Love Him,” a 1958 hit for Mr. Spector’s band the Teddy Bears.
He also performed on “Alley Oops,” a 1960 novelty for the Hollywood Argyles on a comic book caveman, but not on drums. As Gary S. Paxton, who recorded the song with a group of session musicians, told the story to the Chicago Sun-Times in 1997, Mr. Nelson was a late addition.
“We already had a drummer,” Mr. Paxton said, “so Nelson played trash and did some background shouting.”
Over the years, other musicians have cited Mr. Nelson’s early records as an important influence; one was Steven Tyler, who started out as a drummer before becoming Aerosmith’s vocalist. In a 1997 interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune, Mr. Tyler recalled trying to imitate one of Mr. Nelson’s riffs as a child.
“I played that until I ran out of my little rubber drum pad,” he said. “I’ve exhausted Sandy Nelson’s first two albums.”
Mr Nelson admitted that he did not handle his first success well.
“I spent most of the money on women and whiskey, and the rest I just wasted,” he told The Review-Journal.
Besides his son, he is survived by a daughter, Lisa Nelson.
Mr. Nelson moved to Boulder City, Nevada, around 1987 and became a local fixture, running a pirate radio station out of his home for about seven years before the FCC shut it down, Mr. Johnson. And then there was the cave.
Mr. Nelson has always had a fondness for underground spaces, and in Boulder City he set about digging his own cave in his backyard with a coffee can and a pickaxe. The project took him 12 years.
“I had a ‘cave tour’ once,” Mr Johnson said by email, “and it was something, albeit precarious – dug at a very steep angle into the hard desert floor, without any sort of support structure and just enough room to slide into it until the room opens up at the bottom.
“He had an electric keyboard there,” he added.
Mr Nelson told the Las Vegas Sun he likes to relax in his backyard grotto.
“It’s a place to cool off,” he says.
“I go in without my leg,” he added. “There’s more room.”