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For over 100 years, the Nelson family has connected with audiences of all-ages. The Nelsons – America’s First Family of Entertainment – have brought such joy and laughter through television and music. Now, teaming up with Easter Seals of Southern California, multi-platinum recording artists Matthew and Gunnar return home to help those most in need in RICKY NELSON REMEMBERED.
Featuring hit songs like “Hello Mary Lou,” “Poor Little Fool,” “Travelin’ Man,” “I’m Walkin’,” “I Gotta Feeling,” “Teenage Idol,” “Garden Party” and many more, RNR showcases his life with never-before-seen interviews from artists he influenced, including Paul McCartney and Chris Isaak. Matthew and Gunnar’s musical event is heartfelt and full of laughter.
I spoke with Ricky’s son, Matthew on the show, his music and of course, his father.
The show is not a tribute as Matthew points out, but a celebration. “Our dad was our best friend and we lost him when we were 18” Matthew said. Matthew and his twin brother Gunnar grew up in a home filled with their fathers music. Matthew said, “We really got to know his music, and this really started from that perspective.” Matthew and Gunnar Nelson made their own mark on the music industry with their band, “Nelson” and had a number 1 hit in 1990 with “(Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection” off of their multi platinum selling album, “After The Rain.” The brothers would always have requests from fans to play some of their dad’s songs. Matthew said, “We would play a song or two, but it really made more sense to put something comprehensive like this together. Not only tip the hat and celebrate his musical life, but also tip the hat to the fact that he really was the most televised rock star in history.”
In the early 50s Ricky Nelson stared in “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (1952-1966)” with his parents and older brother David. In 1957, he recorded the Fats Domino standard “I’m Walkin'” for his first album, “Ricky.” That album hit number 1 before the end of that year. And the single, “Be-Bop Baby,” generated 750,000 advance orders. In 1958 Nelson recorded, “Poor Little Fool” for his second album titled, “Ricky Nelson.” The single went to number 1 on the Billboard Charts. During 1958 and 1959, Nelson placed twelve hits on the charts, which was one more then the King, Elvis Presley. Because of the success of his musical career, Nelson was given a more prominent role on the Ozzie and Harriet show and ended every two or three episodes with a musical number. Nelson was the first teen idol to utilize television to promote hit records. Matthew said, “He was the rock and roll sleeper cell. He smuggled real rock and roll onto American television sets at a time when they couldn’t call it rock and roll.”
The Nelson family is the only family in history to have 3 generations of No. 1 hits. Ozzie Nelson in 1935 with, “And Then Some”, Ricky Nelson in 1958 with, “Poor Little Fool” and Matthew and Gunnar hit No. 1 in 1990 with “Love & Affection.” Ozzie Nelson is credited with the first conceptual music video for ‘Travelin’ Man’ and is believed to have ushered in the way for a show like American Bandstand. Ozzie Nelson had the idea to edit footage together to create a music video. This creative editing can be seen in the videos Ozzie produced for “Travelin’ Man.” Many hits were to follow for Nelson. Hello Mary Lou, Garden Party, Lonesome Town and If You Can’t Rock Me, just to name a few.
Ricky Nelson died in a plane crash on his way to perform a New Year’s Eve concert in 1986. His legacy includes 53 hit singles on the Billboard Hot 100 and nineteen other top-ten hits. He is one of the biggest-selling artists of all time, and a Golden Globe winner for his performance alongside John Wayne in Rio Bravo and he is in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
The Ricky Nelson Remembered show, showcases his life with never-before-seen interviews from artists he influenced, including Paul McCartney and Chris Isaak. Matthew and Gunnar’s musical event is heartfelt and full of laughter. The Nelson brothers grew up in So. California. Matthew said, I think that is what is really nice about playing in Downey, Gunnar and I grew up In So. Cal and my dad lived most of his life here.” Matthew has fond memories of seeing his dad perform at Knott’s Berry Farm when he was a kid.
My interview with Matthew Nelson,
Downey Beat: So this really is a multi generational show?
Matthew Nelson: I remember growing up and watching my dad’s concerts. He had the widest age demographic there, it was amazing. There were little kids up to seniors. We are finding the same thing with us. When we started the show, it was primarily people over the age of 55, but word has gotten out and a lot of fans are bringing their kids which looks awfully familiar to me. It looks a lot like my dad’s concerts. Gunnar and I always joke that we are a combination of the Everly Brothers and the Smothers Brothers. We have a good time and the music makes you happy. There are some pretty funny stories that we get to tell. There are also times when we get very real and very serious. Like any good performer, we really want to make you feel.”
DB: So there is an emotional element to the show?
MN: If we do our job right and it looks like it is working out the way we intended, you get both extremes of the spectrum. You laugh, you cry and you feel very connected with our dad.
DB: As kids, did you see many of your dad’s shows?
MN: Gunnar and I never missed our dad’s shows when he was around, and if there was an amusement park involved, we were there! (laughs). There were shows at Knott’s Berry Farm and Magic Mountain. The Universal Amphitheater was the last place we ever saw him perform. My brother and I performed there with our band six years after he passed, and I really felt something special that night. I still get chills when I think about it. We have a clip in the show of us at two years old jumping around in diapers and plastic guitars while my dad was playing.
DB: When did you realize that your dad was famous?
MN: The first time I realized he was famous, I was probably four and we went to Hawaii, he was playing at a hotel out there, it was a massive hall, probably 3000 people there. I remember putting it together, that guy up there looks like Papa. He was happy and the people were happy and it really impressed upon me, he was one of the hardest working guys/musicians ever!
DB: The night of the plane crash, he was traveling to a show?
MN: Yes. Gunnar and I were suppose to be with him on that plane, and at the last minute he said, no guys, I’ll meet you back home and we will celebrate New Years when I see you. I really think he had a vision or something.
DB: The house must have been constantly filled with music, especially with people like Bob Dylan and George Harrison coming by. When did you seriously take up the guitar and bass?
MN: I was 6 years old. I started with a bass and my brother played drums. We were a rhythm section. The way I look at it is, it’s very similar to growing up in an athletics family and your dad was the quarterback. You start out with Pop Warner football and never quit. Its a matter of preparing for the shot that you intend to have because you are going to make it happen. For every time that someone thought we were ‘silver spoon’ kids, and didn’t give us that shot, that just made us work harder. We were playing Madam Wong’s (an 80s LA club) at 12 years old. We played every club in town. My brother and I laugh and say the Nelson’s are the world’s longest over night success. My brother and I realized then that you either had great songs, or you didn’t. We started as writers. The only advice that our dad ever gave us and I think what he learned in the 60s and 70s when he started to write himself, is you put yourself into your own songs. Gunnar and I are always about that, no matter what we do. And in this show, there are so many amazing songs for us to do, to pair it down to a two hour show is difficult. People still say, ‘why didn’t you play this or that”‘ and its like, we really could be here forever, just so many great songs.
DB: What can people expect to see in this show?
MN: Well, 90% of the people who come, come out of curiosity and a desire to experience something that they are familiar with. I can honestly say that people get far more then they expect, we play every one of these shows like its our first and last. We are representing not only ourselves but our whole family on stage. I call it a family reunion. They are going to laugh, they are probably tear up a little bit, but they will feel by the end of the show that they are not only connected with us, but our dad and our family.
After telling Matthew that I would be at the show, he concluded the interview by telling me, jokingly, “We have to see you because its been too long since we made a video together!” I worked on the Nelson music video, “After the Rain” in 1990. A very long time ago! I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed speaking with Matthew. He is such a kind, genuine and down to earth person. And he and his brother are seriously amazing musicians with voices that have to be heard to be believed. This is going to be an incredible show. Not just two guys with guitars, but a real entertaining two hours filled with amazing music. Tickets are on sale now, and I think this one is going to sell out. Get your tickets by contacting the Downey Theater box office at (562) 861-8211 or on line by CLICKING HERE.
The Downey Beat and the Downey Theater will be having a promotional contest for the show. We will be giving away two tickets to the show (great seats), dinner for two at Mimi’s Cafe, A “Ricky Nelson Remembered” CD, which the brothers will gladly sign, and a meet & greet with Matthew and Gunnar before the show! Please look for details on the Downey Beat site on Tuesday!
Ricky Nelson Remembered