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Hall of famer Ken Nelson dies, signed Haggard, Owens

Tuesday, January 8, 2008 – Country Music Hall of Fame member Ken Nelson, who helped develop the West Coast and Bakersfield Sound by producing Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, died Sunday at his home in Somis, Cal. at 96. Nelson was a key figure at Capitol Records, particularly in the 1950's and 1960's and also signed Hank Thompson and Wanda Jackson.

Nelson was born in Caledonia, Minn. Jan. 19, 1911. His family moved to Chicago when he was a young boy. At 12, he became a stockboy at the Melrose Music Co. in Chicago for five years and was an announcer at several Chicago radio stations. Nelson worked at WJJD as music director and was chief announcer of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He also was put in charge of his radio stations's "Suppertime Frolic" show, a competitor to the National Barn Dance show. The job involved finding and booking acts to play at the station, leading Nelson to become aware of the best country acts.

Nelson moved to Hollywood to work for Capitol in 1946. In December 1951, he produced Thompson's huge hit "The Wild Side of Life." He signed many acts including Ferlin Husky, Tommy Collins, Wynn Stewart, Jean Shepard, Jerry Reed and Jackson.

In 1957, Nelson worked in rock, signing Gene Vincent to Capitol, although he continued working in country. He produced the Louvin Brothers's "Satan Is Real" disc.

He also signed his one-time session guitarist Buck Owens and later Haggard in 1962. Nelson produced Haggard for many years, even after he left as head of country production for Nashville. He retired in 1976.

Nelson was a founding member of the Country Music Association, serving two terms as president. At the age of 90, Nelson was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.

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