I once had an aged relative named Jack who was never happier than when seated in an armchair listening to his small collection of operatic gramophone records. Every so often, though, he would place an incongruous looking London-American 45 onto the turntable of his cavernous mahogany radiogram and spend the next two minutes-and-seventeen seconds shuffling around the room performing an octogenarian workout to Sandy Nelson’s Let There Be Drums. I cannot claim to have had any influence on this unlikely musical alliance, despite having been a staunch fan of the Santa Monica drummer boy ever since Top Rank’s Teen Beat hit the UK airwaves in 1959.
For the next three years or so, Sandy Nelson’s records went from shopping list to record player until the releases suddenly seemed to dry up. Little did I know that my hero was fighting for his life in an L.A. hospital in 1963 after a serious road accident which eventually led to the amputation of his lower right leg. Happily, Sandy recovered, overcame and reappeared. By this time the popular music scene was changing dramatically and drastically; even the once ever-reliable rock’n’roll instrumentals had become victims of ‘progress’. Duane Eddy had ditched his Rebels in favour of silky strings, and the Ventures had embarked upon a journey into space that I had no wish to join. Through the tiny headphones of a record shop listening booth, even Sandy Nelson seemed to be going astray. The rockin’, riffing saxes and twangy guitars were now replaced by blaring trumpets, Hammond organs and jangly 12-string guitars. I stuck to the past Top Rank and London-American glories.
Listening here to the tracks that have been cherry picked from Sandy’s dance-orientated albums from 1965 to 1969, I think now that I might have been a little hasty! Okay, the trumpets, Hammonds and so on are still there but behind it all, driving it along, are those same thunderous Sandy Nelson drums. And there are still links to those past glory days through the contributions of such rock‘n’roll session heavyweights as Plas Johnson, Jackie Kelso, Jim Horn, Rene Hall, Al Casey and even drummer Earl Palmer.
The CD also provides a welcome opportunity to enjoy some of those songs from the 1960s that rock‘n’rollers weren’t really supposed to like. Jump up and down to Wooly Bully, groove to Treat Her Right, and enjoy again having Mendocino and Down In The Boondocks swirling around inside your head. You can even sing along to Come On Let’s Go and squawk yourself silly to Slow Down. It’s a real teen beat party!
The booklet, gorgeously illustrated with Sandy’s Imperial LPs, comes with the full background story by Dave Burke and Clive Poole of Pipeline magazine; and a session file from Russ Wapensky.
If you are familiar with these 1960s Sandy Nelson recordings from the first time around, you won’t have heard them sounding as good as this. If, like me, you passed up on them, be prepared to have your eyes and ears opened. I reckon old Uncle Jack would have liked this too.
By Eric Dunsdon (Now Dig This magazine)