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Feb. 5: Country music had a good friend in Eric Hilliard Nelson, one of the greatest artists of the rock ‘n’ roll era. His first two albums from the late ’50s well document his love of Sun Records and its stable of rockabillies, but his interest in Southern music didn’t stop in Memphis. I’ve read that he would go out on dates and unwaveringly tune the car radio to an L.A. country & western station. And just about all of his LPs had at least one country cover, with two in the mid-’60s devoted entirely to the sounds of Nashville and Bakersfield. So perhaps it’s no surprise that this, the first song Ricky Nelson ever wrote, was considerably country.

“Don’t Leave Me This Way” was on Nelson’s second album, as well as the B-side of the smash “Poor Little Fool.” (That single topped the Billboard pop chart and went No. 3 country.) It was recorded in April 1958 in Hollywood, with the backing of his great, great studio band that included James Burton on guitar and James Kirkland on bass. The Jordainaires, featured prominently on most Nelson records, were, as always, overdubbed later. (The frugal Ozzie Nelson, who was overseeing his younger son’s career, would schedule the overdub sessions on dates that the Jordanaires were in Hollywood to record with Elvis, thus avoiding the cost of flying them in from Nashville.)

I’ve always assumed that Burton, a master of the Telecaster, played the aggressive acoustic guitar part on this record. But in my research for this posting, I see that Neal Matthews, second tenor and arranger in the Jordanaires, is listed on a later session as providing guitar for “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” Which makes me wonder if Burton or Nelson laid down basic rhythm on the original track, and Matthews added the primary guitar work during the vocal overdub session. If anyone out there has insight on this matter, please share!

I dedicate this to my father, Harry Paulk, who today turns 73 years young and back in the day was a big Ricky Nelson fan. I remember him singing and playing this on his guitar when I was a kid, a decade and more after the song’s release. That tells me it made a big impression, and his appreciation led me to become a fan of the great Ricky Nelson.  For that, Daddy, I thank you.

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