Drumming to a different beat

Some thirty-odd years ago I went to a party at a friend’s house. As Robert answered the door there was someone a few feet behind him. Knowing that outside of himself I would be the only person at the party who would recognize the name, Robert whispered to me “That’s Sandy Nelson.”

While his heyday was a bit early for me, I certainly knew who Sandy Nelson was. He had a number of hits in the late 1950’s to early 1960’s, starting with Teen Beat in 1959.

I am not much of a social butterfly at parties. I am the kind of person who will find a like-minded individual and spend my time talking to him. Sandy Nelson was the same kind of person. We made some small talk and went into the kitchen and sat down.

Nelson asked me if I played any musical instruments. I told him that I made noise on the guitar. He had lost part of a leg in a motorcycle accident so he could not really drum anymore. He still wanted to make music so he was teaching himself the piano. One thing that confused him, though, was why the layout of the bass clef and the treble clef were different. I explained to him that they were originally laid out as one giant score with an added line in between for Middle C (which I since found out may not be exactly true). I pointed out that the top line of the bass clef was an A note. Above that was a space for a B note, then a ledger line for Middle C, a space for a D note, and the bottom line of the treble clef was an E note. One almost picked up where the other left off.

“A Guitarist who can read music. I’m impressed.”

“I’m not very good at either.”

“That’s OK. That’s still very good.”

We talked for a quite a while. He talked about the music industry in the late ’50’s. “If you had a kit (a drum set) and a car, you were a session musician.”

After we went out into the living room, Robert brought out a stack of Sandy’s albums. The liner notes on one of them said how he “drummed to his own beat.”

“That means I couldn’t drum my way out of a paper bag.”

I had a very enjoyable evening. Sandy was a nice guy. He did not talk down to me at all, nor did I act like a star-struck fan. We were just two people at a party with similar interests. I never talked to him again.

I just found out that Sandy Nelson passed away last Valentine’s Day. Rest in peace, Mr. Teen Beat.