A Tribute to Sandy Nelson

Sandy Nelson Obit 2022 Boulder City, Nevada

UPDATE: Sander Lloyd Nelson passed away last night, February 14th at 9:50pm resting peacefully with his daughter by his side.  A Celebration of Life will be planned by the family and friends in the near future. As we learn more we will keep you posted on that event.

(Originally published January 27th at 12:15pm.) This is not a normal post for us, but one of our beloved local treasures, Sandy Nelson, may soon play his final set, and the family has asked us to share the following info with you all, as so many of us in Boulder City as well as the music industry at large, know and care about this wacky, fun-loving man.

Recently, Sandy has been admitted to the Infinity Hospice Care Center, located at 6330 S Jones Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89118, phone, 702-880-7002. He is mostly still alert and visitors are very welcome. They may be moving him sometime soon to one of our local assisted living centers where hospice care will continue, and we will keep you posted on that if/when that occurs. UPDATE: Sandy will be staying put, as his condition has continued to deteriorate.

Sander Lloyd Nelson was born in Santa Monica, CA in 1938 and as most of you know became one of the legendary rock-n-roll drummers of the late 50’s and early 60’s. His #4 Billboard hit ‘Teen Beat’ along with the top ten song ‘Let There Be Drums’ were rare accomplishments as they were both instrumentals (records without vocals) and were top 10 hits in both the US and the UK.

Sandy also played with Phil Spector’s the Teddy Bears, ‘To Know Him is to Love Him’ and several other popular groups of the era. In all, he published over 30 total music albums and while he never repeated his early success on the Billboard charts, he continued to be a highly respected and sought-after session drummer for decades.

In 1963 he was in a motorcycle accident that caused the amputation of his right foot and part of his leg, but this never slowed him down. Lucky us, back in 1988 Sandy decided to make Boulder City his home, and he’s been a fixture of local life here ever since. Moving daily through his routine, which begins at The Coffee Cup, then on to the Boulder Dam Credit Union, he’d sometimes play the piano at the Boulder Dam Hotel, and then cruise by Bee’s Business Service, The Dillinger, Milo’s, Jacks Place, and then of course take in an AA meeting, (45 years sober), as being at all those drinking establishments were what he called ‘slippery places’.

His home on Avenue D became something of a spectacle, as he dug a 26′ deep cave in the backyard where for a while, he operated a bootleg radio station called KPOOP 1590. Which…with apparently little else to do the FCC felt the need to shut down, lawyers in suits showing up at his doorstep one day.

What we’ve loved the most, is not only his utterly ridiculous story-telling on the craziest of events, were the moments you could get him to talk about music. I’ll always remember one time at the home of friend and fellow musician KR Ferrell, a group of musicians were sitting around yakking as usual, full of bravado and telling stories. Sandy started talking about rhythm and drumming, using only the side of a picnic table and his fingers. Silence – no one spoke except Nelson, and everyone present knew that class was now in session. The respect they had for him was obvious, even 50 years after his last hit record.

We’ve tried to quickly reach out to as many people as we could to share their thoughts, and here are a few we’ve rounded up, but are just a sampling of so many comments we’ve already read and seen:

Mark D.
“When I was 10 years old in 62′ I first heard “Let There Be Drums”. I was like a moth to the flame. I was hooked. 6 months later, my mother bought me a pair of sticks and a pad. The rest as they say…is history. Sandy Nelson inspired me as much as the legend, Buddy Rich. I bought as many of his albums as I could find. I tried so hard to copy his solos and grooves. Everytime I hear his tunes, I’m right back in 1962′. So Sandy, just let me say this. Thank you for the years of inspiration, motivation, and just bad ass drumming. I’m a better musician for having you as an early mentor.”

James Adams and Tsvetelina Stefanova
“Whether it’s listening to his music, or having a conversation with him, there is nothing on this world quite like a Sandy Nelson experience. He is as funny as he is sincere, and just like his music, he never misses a beat when telling a story.”

Roger Gros
“He was respected by musicians around the world. Just last week the great Elvis Costello did a guest DJ program at a small record store in Liverpool. One of the first records he played was one of Sandy’s hits from the ‘50s. He influenced generations of musicians.”

Tracy S.
“I feel honored for the times I got to play with him when he sat in with Full Throttle Jack’s Place!!! Thank you, Sandy, for your influence in music!!! Let there ALWAYS be drums!!!”

Averyanna T.
“I loved every time he came to Jack’s and played. And of course serving him for many years! I just served him at the Pub not too long ago, and he was all smiles.”

Alvin B.
“He was a blast to play with, and he got one of my old RCA ribbon microphones he was using for his bootleg radio station. So glad I had a chance to know him back when I lived up there.”

Devin S.
“It’s been an honor, a privilege, and a singularly unique pleasure to encounter Sandy throughout these past years here in Boulder City. He’s always been gracious in sharing his expertise and experiences. From the first time I sat down with him at his keyboard outside Milo’s through our last visit in Albertsons a couple of weeks ago, I’ve treasured every encounter! Thanks and love to you Sandy, Devin (your piano player).”

Dyanah Musgrave
As a kid in Ohio,  I competed in baton twirling (1970-1976) to his music. ” Let there be drums”. When I moved here in 2004 and heard he lived her, I was so excited to meet him. I loved seeing him around town and was so honored to know him.

Jim L.
“He used to stop by Sam Ash & get behind a kit. Great Hollywood stories. I remember he was the 1st one Chris Slade wanted to meet when he was here. I’m sure you remember I sent them out to BC one Tuesday when u guys were playing. He influenced people from around the globe. God bless Sandy.”

KR Ferrell
“I met Sandy about 35 years ago at MO Mahoney’s professional  music center and drum shoppe. The store was a famous place for running into legendary  musicians and I had the ultimate honor of working there. Many great musicians would come in and just hang around  telling stories and networking for gigs, and to a 16 year old young drummer it was heaven on earth. One day this crazy guy comes in and starts following me around tapping on every surface in the store and telling old music jokes. I don’t  know this cat, and  I’m beginning to get a bit tired of him. The owner MO comes in and I tell him this crazy guy is driving me nuts, I don’t know how to get rid of him. MO proceeds to tell me who he is and take me into his office and shows me records, books and write ups on Sandy Nelson. I had no idea as he was a bit before my time. MO then gave me some advice that I have followed ever since. He said, ‘hang out and listen to that guy and you might learn how to play drums.’ I’ve been Sandy’s friend ever since that day. He has filled my heart mind and soul with wisdom, humor, and of course music. He is brilliantly crazy!!! And somewhere between his repetitive rants I’ve learned how to play and received huge life lessons. If any of you are blessed enough to know someone like Mr. Nelson consider your relationship with that person to be irreplaceable and worth all the $$$ in the world. Sandy I love you my friend and thank you for making life worth living.”

Enough talk, let’s just share a few memories with you now.

Great footage both old and new:

Drumming and smart-ass fun Part 1, Forge Social House, August 2016, along with Kent ‘KR’ Ferrell:

Part 2, Forge Social House, August 2016, along with Kent ‘KR’ Ferrell and James Howard Adams:

Too funny not to share – life with Sandy in Boulder City, from 2015:
Sandy Nelson and Casper the Bird, Boulder City, NV

In recent years, times have been tough. Now 83 years of age, he has suffered a series of strokes, and in 2017 lost his home to an electrical fire. Rolling around town in his wheelchair he could still be found mostly out and about rather than at home, always in need of company, a meal, or a spot for a quick nap.

Give a shout out to Sandy on our social media pages and in person if you know him, and be sure to spread the word to those who do know him to let him know you care. No doubt many will, as his reach goes well beyond the sound of his drums and as you’ve seen, will echo long after he is gone. May there indeed – always be drums!

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