How Ricky Nelson’s jacket ended up in window of Downriver burger joint

Wyandotte’s main drag has a little bit of everything.

That includes the popular hamburger joint Joe’s Hamburgers. The décor inside is eclectic, to say the least. A look around will reveal movie posters, some art work and a few pictures of Joe, and it’s accompanied by the sound of sizzling burgers and onions on the grill.

But it’s owner Jeremy Slavodnik’s newest addition that’s been turning heads.

“People come up to the window all the time,” he says. “We’re constantly wiping the windows down because there’s nose prints and fingerprints.”

Slavodnik is talking about the display case on the outside of the building that holds a jacket worn by the late singer Ricky Nelson.

“I’m guessing that’s how it was back in the day,” he says. “People just talk about the memories and all the inspirations that was Ricky’s music.”

What the people behind the nose prints may not know, is that jacket is one that went missing from one of Nelson’s last shows.

“I want to say it was 1985… we were at the Cimarron Lounge.”

It was December 17, to be exact. Then 26-year-old Nina Solis and a few friends crowded into the club in Brownstown to see one of her all-time favorites-- former child star of “Ozzie and Harriet,” and the original ‘teen idol’ turned singer-- Rick Nelson.

“He did probably four or five numbers,” Solis remembers. “I can see him breaking out in a sweat and he took a minute and went offstage, walked right by me, opened this door, threw his coat in there and he came back out and started performing again.”

Egged on by her friends, and maybe a little alcohol, Nina saw her chance at some rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia.

“It was a spur-of-the-moment decision. I can’t really blame it on the alcohol or my friends. I mean, I did do it.”

Nina remembers opening the door, snatching the jacket, and putting it in her car, before returning and enjoying the rest of the show.

But what began as a dare, got a little more real as the show ended.

“Ricky Nelson’s security was eyeballing everybody as you they were walking out the door,” Nina says. “And my first thought is, ‘Oh, my gosh, there’s thousands of dollars in the jacket and I’m going to jail.”

Nina didn’t go to jail and there wasn’t any money in the jacket, but there was one interesting item that she wouldn’t find until awhile later—a single guitar pick.

But the thrill of it all ended abruptly 14 days later, on New Year’s Eve.

Nelson’s private DC 3 plane caught fire and crashed while trying to make an emergency landing in Texas. The 45-year-old Nelson along with 7 others, including members of his band and his fiancée, died in the crash. In the days following, Detroit media reports noted what had happened at his show in Brownstown.

“At the time, we subscribed to the Detroit Free Press and there was an article one or two days after he passed away,” says Nina. “They actually had (something) about an overzealous fan that has a valuable souvenir from one of his last shows. They were talking about the jacket. They were talking about me.”

From then on, Nina decided it best not to make a spectacle of the jacket. Her husband... not so much.

“My husband over the next 20 years had so much fun with that jacket. He wore it to every special function-- every wedding... anything. And everybody would always come up to him (and ask), ‘Is that the Ricky Nelson jacket?’”

After her husband passed, the jacket eventually found its way into a box in the back of the closet and fell into disrepair.

But then, years later, Nina ran into her nephew, Frank.

“I did like Ricky Nelson—”Ozzie and Harriet,” “Garden Party”-- I was always a fan of his,” says Frank Solis, who was always entranced by the story of the jacket.

“(The jacket) has been on a journey. This jacket could have been on that flight.”

Frank authenticated the jacket by contacting the designer who actually made it special for Nelson, and had it fully restored by Alexander’s Dry Cleaners in Allen Park. His mission is to get it into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland four decades after it disappeared.

“It’s like the mystery has been solved after 37 years,” says Frank. “It’d be nice to have it in (the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame) because it is a piece of rock history. And it’s on display here in the Downriver because this is where the story originated.”

“I love it,” says Nina. “And I think my husband is up there just having a blast watching all this and just laughing his butt off.”

The jacket is no longer on display at Joe’s Hamburgers. Its next stop is the Elvis Presley Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, if Frank gets his wish. One more tour stop on the road to Cleveland.

About the Author:

Jason is Local 4’s utility infielder. In addition to anchoring the morning newscast, he often reports on a variety of stories from the tragic, like the shootings at Michigan State, to the off-beat, like great gas station food.