Ricky Nelson – Travelin’ Man

Ricky Nelson was a two-way star in the 50s. He gets overlooked at times compared to his peers.

This song was written by Jerry Fuller, a singer who had minor hits in 1959 with “Betty My Angel” and a cover of “Tennessee Waltz.” Fuller wrote “Travelin’ Man” one day at De Longpre Park in Hollywood while he was waiting to pick up his wife. He didn’t play an instrument, so he beat out the melody on his car’s dashboard.

Fuller recorded a demo of this song with Glen Campbell on guitar. He was hoping Sam Cooke would record it, so he brought it to Cooke’s manager, J.W. Alexander. Joe Osborn, who was Ricky’s bass player, heard it through the wall, He said, ‘J.W., do you have that ‘Travelin” song you just played?’ He said, ‘Yeah, you can have it,’ and he reached in the trash and he pulled out the demo.”

Osborn brought the song to Nelson, who loved it and recorded it. The song became his second (and last) #1 hit, and gave him a huge career boost.

Travelin’ Man peaked at #1 in 1961.

From Songfacts

For the lyrics, Fuller came up with a “girl in every port” idea – a guy who travels all over the world and finds a different girl waiting for him wherever he goes. He used an atlas to get ideas for places and looked up what the word for “girl” was in those places, so in German it’s “Fraulien,” in Mexico it’s “Senorita,” and in Alaska it’s a “cute little Eskimo.” He couldn’t figure out what the term was in Hawaii, so he went with “pretty Polynesian baby.”

Nelson used Elvis Presley’s backing singers The Jordanaires on this song, as he did on most of his recordings. He loved the background vocals on the demo though, which were done by Fuller, Glen Campbell and Dave Burgess. Nelson brought them in to record on subsequent records.

Depending on the criteria, “Travelin’ Man” could be the song with the very first music video. Ozzie Nelson realized that whenever he had Ricky sing on their show The Adventures Of Ozzie And Harriet, Ricky’s record sales shot up the next day, so Ozzie tried to work it into the plot whenever Ricky had a new record out. As Ricky became popular and the demand for his songs was overwhelming, Ozzie realized that working his singing into the plot was going to be impossible, so Ozzie filmed Ricky singing “Travelin’ Man,” superimposed some travelogue scenes over the film and tacked it onto a show episode at the end. Viola! The music video was born.

That is, if you don’t count performance videos and extracted movie scenes like “Jailhouse Rock.” And if you’re OK with it being black and white.

The episode, “A Question of Suits and Ties,” aired on April 5, 1961 (the song hit #1 on May 29). The clip is far from groundbreaking, but it was footage synched to a performance. Around this time, standalone concept videos were starting to show up for use throughout Europe in Scopitone video jukeboxes, which were typically placed in bars. A few American artists made videos for these machines in the mid’-60s when they started to appear Stateside. Neil Sedaka made one for “Calendar Girl” and Nancy Sinatra did one (for a company called Color-Sonics) for “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.” 

Rick Nelson was born Eric Hilliard Nelson in 1940. He died in a small plane crash in Texas in 1985 while flying to a New Year’s Eve concert. Mechanical problems and a cabin fire were suspected as the cause of the crash. Speculation that the fire was caused by someone on board freebasing cocaine was never proven, though aerosol cans were found at the crash site. The Nelson family said that the cans were part of the makeup box and that no drugs were involved. The matter was never completely resolved. 

This is a crowd favorite on the “Ricky Nelson Remembered” show, staged by his twin sons Matthew and Gunnar. In our interview with Matthew Nelson, he said, “When I’m singing ‘Travelin’ Man,’ it’s 1977 at the Sahara in Las Vegas, when I hung out for a week while Pop did a residency there. And I think about the guys who were in the band.”

Travelin’ Man

I’m a travelin’ man and I’ve made a lot of stops
All over the world
And in every part I own the heart
Of at least one lovely girl

I’ve a pretty Señorita waiting for me
Down in old Mexico
If you’re ever in Alaska stop and see
My cute little Eskimo

Oh, my sweet Fraulein down in Berlin town
Makes my heart start to yearn
And my China doll down in old Hong Kong
Waits for my return

Pretty Polynesian baby over the sea
I remember the night
When we walked in the sands of the Waikiki
And I held you, oh so tight

Oh, my sweet Fraulien down in Berlin town
Makes my heart start to yearn
And my China doll down in old Hong Kong
Waits for my return

Pretty Polynesian baby over the sea
I remember the night
When we walked in the sands of the Waikiki
And I held you, oh so tight

Oh, I’m a travelin’ man
Yes, I’m a travelin’ man
Yes, I’m a travelin’ man
Whoa, I’m a travelin’ man

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

19 thoughts on “Ricky Nelson – Travelin’ Man”

    1. I really started to get into him and bought a few records and I wanted to see him live…then it happened soon after I discovered him…he passed in that plane crash. That was so sad.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I was always on the outside looking in then a switch went on and i gave RN some time. A lot had to do with James Burton being in his band and a few endorsements from people I liked. I ate a lot of his stuff up after that. He just wasnt a pretty face.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think the acting career coupled with his looks didn’t help him but yea James Burton…I first heard him with Garden Party and then went back and found all of this stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

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