The Jazz Record Label, The Jazz Guitarist and The Teen Idol
It was on March 27, 1957 that guitarist Barney Kessel took a teenager into the studio to cut three songs for Verve Records. Verve was a jazz record label stepped in the music of Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, but this was no jazz session, although Kessel himself was one of the greatest jazz guitarists of the post war era.
Two months later “I’m Walkin’” coupled with “A Teenager’s Romance” came out and both sides were massive hits on the Billboard chart, with the latter song making No. 2, and the former No. 4. By the end of August, the follow up “You’re My One And Only Love” with a Barney Kesssel instrumental on the B-side made the Top 20. The teenager’s name was Ricky Nelson and the situation turned out to be one of great good fortune for Verve Records that ultimately turned sour according to Mo Ostin, the company’s chief financial man.
‘Barney had asked Norman Granz if he could make a pop recording, and Norman said “Sure.” Back then, for jazz singles, if we sold 50,000 singles we were doing very well. 20,000 albums and we were making a profit. When we released Ricky’s single we sold a million copies. Ricky’s parents Ozzie and Harriet had their own TV show and Ricky sang his songs on the show and the record exploded. Ozzie Nelson came to Norman to ask him to increase Ricky’s royalties. Norman said, “l have no problem increasing the royalty but let’s make an album so we can make a proper evaluation.” Ozzie was adamant, “Either you increase the royalties or we’re leaving the label.” Norman was equally adamant, “We have a contract.” What Norman didn’t realize was that Ricky was a minor and in order for the contract to be confirmed it should have been affirmed by a court. It allowed Ricky to walk from the label. Norman was incensed and asked me to find a new lawyer and the man I found was Mickey Rudin, Frank Sinatra’s long-term lawyer.’
[Editor’s note: Ricky’s sons Gunnar and Matthew will be appearing at the Soiled Dove Underground on Tuesday, Nov. 18th. They do a tribute to their dad and his songs, their grandparents Ozzie & Harriet, and then play their own #1 songs. They have a song that is a tear-jerking honorarium to their father. If you haven’t seen the boys’ act, go see it. Very, very good!]