Born Lloyd Sander Nelson, 1 December 1938, Santa Monica, California

Drummer. My impression is that the status of Sandy Nelson among rock 'n' roll fans is not very high. Monotonous and unimaginative are just two of the qualifications that I have heard with respect to Nelson's drumming. In general, these judgments come from people who are only familiar with his two big hits and have not heard his albums. I'll admit that there are better rock 'n' roll drummers (Earl Palmer, Jimmy Van Eaton) and that I usually skip Nelson's long drum solos (Day Drumming, The Birth of the Beat) when I play his CD's. But there is a lot more to Sandy Nelson's music than just drum solos. What makes his records great for me is the presence of some of the finest West Coast session men : Plas Johnson, Jackie Kelso and Steve Douglas have all played saxophone with Nelson, Rene Hall and Glen Campbell were often the guitar players, while Ernie Freeman (who also arranged most of the Imperial sessions until 1963) played piano.

He began his career as a member of Kip Tyler and the Flips, who made recordings for Ebb and Challenge. Appearances in live rock 'n' roll shows led to his becoming an in-demand session musician. Nelson played on "To Know Him Is To Love Him" by the Teddy Bears and on Gene Vincent's "Crazy Times" LP (1959). In that year Nelson decided to finance a demo of his own drum instrumental "Teen Beat" (which cost him $ 19 to record). After being turned down by several local labels, the drummer found a taker in Art Laboe, who had just had a hit with "Bongo Rock" by Preston Epps on his Original Sound label. Laboe improved the demo with overdubs and the result was a # 4 hit in the US and a # 9 chart placing in the UK. The deal with Original Sound was a one-off and before the end of 1959, Sandy signed with Imperial, who released his first LP in January 1960. His first five singles for Imperial were comparative flops and the label was about to drop him, when his friend Richie Podolor (who had also played on the Teen Beat single) helped him write "Let There Be Drums". The drum sound was much slicker and more polished than on "Teen Beat" and the record became his second million seller, reaching # 7. It did even better in the UK, where it peaked at # 3 in early 1962. Nelson had no less than six album releases in 1962, all of them of consistently good quality. Five of these charted, with the LP "Let There Be Drums" remaining in the charts for 48 weeks, reaching # 6. His chart success slowed down in 1963, but not his recording activity, until Sandy suffered a tragic loss towards the end of the year. Following a motor- cycle accident, he had his right foot and part of his leg amputated. Despite his injuries, he returned to drumming and made a chart comeback in late 1964 with "Teen Beat '65" (his final chart entry). He modernized his sound and continued to record dance-inspired albums for Imperial (until 1970) and then, more sporadically, for United Artists. For several years he played with a small jazz combo in and around Los Angeles. Nelson has remained largely inactive in professional music since 1978 and recorded only very occasionally. He doesn't do oldies shows, his leg can be very painful. But in 2002, he did accept an invitation to play behind Glen Glenn at the annual Viva Las Vegas rockabilly festival.

Nowadays Nelson lives in Boulder City, Nevada. In 2009 he put out a new CD with original compositions ("Nelsonized" by Sandy Nelson and the Sin City Termites), with a few friends, including Eddie Angel on guitar.

The best compilation of his work is probably "Rock 'n' Roll Drumbeat" on Ace 586, released in 1995 (30 tracks), with "The Very Best Of Sandy Nelson" (EMI Gold, 2003, 24 tracks) as a possible alternative.
See For Miles have reissued all his early LP's in a "2 albums on one CD" series. The first five of these, covering the years 1960-63, can all be recommended, especially "Let There Be Drums/Drums Are My Beat" (C5HCD640) and "Country Style/Teenage House Party" (C5HCD 649). Unfortunately, most of the See For Miles CD's are out of print.

There are plenty of YouTube videos by Sandy. Take your pick.
More info : (with discography). Acknowledgements : Dave Burke and Clive Poole.


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