From California comes the sad news that Ken Nelson, the brilliant Capitol Records producer responsible for sounds as diverse as the Louvin Brothers' "When I Stop Dreaming" and Sonny James' "Young Love," has died.
Nelson was originally an A&R man at Capitol, but he moved into music production in the 1940s. He produced most of the Louvin Brothers' Capitol Records songs. Nelson was also an important figure in the creation of the Country Music Association.
However, as a producer, Nelson may best be remembered for his work on the west coast instead of in Nashville. As Capitol's headquarters were in Hollywood, Nelson was headquartered there and found no shortage of classic artists to work with. He produced Hank Thompson, Wynn Stewart, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Rose Maddox, Ferlin Husky, Jean Shepard, and many others who were California-based in the 1950s.
Charlie Louvin also told Louvin Brothers biographer that Nelson contributed to the undoing of the Louvin Brothers. Before the session that produced the song "My Baby's Gone" in 1957, Nelson complained about Ira Louvin's mandolin playing, blaming the sound of the mandolin -- not the advent of rock and roll -- for the declining sales of Louvin Brothers records. Ira took it personally. He confined his mandolin playing to Gospel recordings and live shows after Nelson's remark. Unfortunately, according to Charlie, Ira replaced his mandolin with booze and began drinking much worse after Nelson's comment.
Ken Nelson retired from producing records in the mid-1970s. In 2001, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame (along with the Louvin Brothers and eight other acts).
Ken Nelson was 96.