Sandy Nelson

Born: December 1, 1938, in Santa Monica, California

Sandy Nelson is a one-of-a-kind star. Among rock’s first generation of teen idols, he is the only one who became famous by making instrumental records that featured the drums.

Nelson had the good fortune to come of age in Southern California in the late 1950s. Rock was in its infancy, and L.A. was a wide-open town. This meant that an aspiring young drummer could hobnob with the likes of Jan and Dean, hang out at sessions with rock pioneers like Earl Palmer, and blaze his own musical trail in an industry that was clamoring for young stars.

Sandy’s drumming style, powered by thunderous toms and a pounding backbeat, was right in line with the times. Starting in 1959, he released a slew of thrilling instrumentals including “Teen Beat” and “Let There Be Drums.” These records sold in the millions, and established Nelson as the Gene Krupa for a new generation. Sandy also showed a real flair for production, often writing his own songs and recording them himself.

Like many rock stars, Sandy Nelson’s career has not been without turmoil. He lost the lower part of his right leg in a 1963 motorcycle accident, and spent more than a decade battling alcoholism. But he never stopped playing or creating music; after the accident, he relearned to play by crossing his left foot over to play the bass drum. And in the decades since his heyday, he has found success placing his original recordings in film and television. While his accomplishments may have been overshadowed in the post-Ringo era, Sandy Nelson’s influence on an entire generation of budding young rock drummers is indisputable.

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