- David Sanjek
(b Caledonia, MN, Jan 19, 1911; d Somis, CA, Jan 6, 2008). American country music record producer. One of the most prolific, influential, and successful record producers in the country arena, Ken Nelson was raised in a Chicago orphanage and struck out on his own at the age of 14. He had a brief performing career as a member of the Campus Kids but soon thereafter achieved more success on Chicago radio. His promotion of country music received the attention of Los Angeles-based Capitol Records, which hired him as producer in 1947. Nelson was appointed head of the country division in 1951 and remained in the post until 1971. Over that period he produced thousands of sessions and achieved more than 100 number-one hits. The roster of artists with whom he was associated is astounding: Ferlin Husky, Red Simpson, Faron Young, Jean Shepard, Tommy Collins, Merle Travis, Wynn Stewart, Rose Maddox, the Farmer Boys, Hank Thompson, and Sonny James. Nelson also helped establish the commercial and aesthetic preeminence of the Bakersfield Sound by producing the career-establishing recordings of Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. He made his mark in other genres as well by signing humorist Stan Freberg to the label, recording rock and roll pioneers Wanda Jackson and Gene Vincent, promoting session musician Glen Campbell into a pop star, and bringing the Beach Boys to the attention of the company. Nelson retired from Capitol in ...