Ken Nelson, a longtime talent scout at Capitol Records who produced dozens of No. 1 country music hits and helped push Buck Owens and Merle Haggard to country stardom in the 1960s, died Sunday of natural causes in Somis, Calif. He was 96.
A co-founder of the Nashville-based Country Music Association who spent more than two decades in charge of Capitol’s country music division, Nelson produced upward of 100 No. 1 country hits, including Hank Thompson’s landmark 1952 hit “The Wild Side of Life,” which spent 15 weeks at the top of the charts and sent Thompson’s popularity skyrocketing.
The song inspired Kitty Wells’ classic, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.”
Nelson is credited with helping to define the country genre’s twangy “Bakersfield sound,” after he showcased the country singers working in and around Bakersfield in the 1950s.
He recorded early hits for Thompson, Ferlin Husky, Jean Shepard, Tommy Collins, Wynn Stewart and others.
Nelson was praised for letting artists use their own bands in recording sessions instead of using studio musicians, something that led to a diversity of sounds.