When twin music-makers Matthew and Gunnar Nelson first teamed up to celebrate their father’s legacy on their latest tour, they wanted to make sure it wasn’t billed as a “tribute show.”
“When I hear ‘tribute show,’ I think of some guy up on stage dressed as Elvis, trying to speak like him between songs, sing and move like him,” said Gunnar Nelson. “It’s nice and all, but no one in the audience is fooled that they’re seeing the actual Elvis perform.
“We’ve never tried to be Ricky Nelson,” he said of his famous dad, a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer whose rockabilly hits and movie-star good looks helped make him a stage and screen sensation. “No one could be him but him. We’re his sons, celebrating his life through the power of his great songs, wealth of video footage and hundreds of stories about our pop that we acquired over 18 years of us all being best friends. The stories all change organically from night to night. And they’re sincere, sometimes funny, sometimes melancholy, but endearingly honest, because this whole show comes from the heart.”
The identical siblings, set to bring “Ricky Nelson Remembered Starring Matthew and Gunnar Nelson” to the Lancaster Fairgrounds on Saturday afternoon, also represent the third successive generation of No. 1 hit-makers in one family.
Ricky Nelson, who died in a plane crash on his way to perform a New Year’s Eve concert in 1986, got an early start at show business in a family that embraced life on the traveling circus circuit and Vaudeville stage. Tapping into what decades later would become the standard for the evolving MTV generation and reality television craze, Ricky, his brother, David, and their parents invited America into their lives, sharing tunes and tales beginning in the mid-1950s on “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.”
“Ozzie and Harriet were leaders who knew what they offered and what they did best, and that was working together as a team, even though they were exceptionally strong talents as individuals,” Gunnar Nelson said of his grandparents. “They made the conscious choice to team up and make their act — today we’d call it a brand — completely and instantly recognizable.
“Matthew and I have that in common with them. We’ve consciously chosen to be a duo as that is ‘our brand,’ and that is who we really are. Our father’s tagline in his song ‘Garden Party’ speaks for itself: ‘You can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself’.”
Ricky Nelson would go on to chart 19 Top 10 hits, as well as 53 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart from the mid-1950s through the mid-1970s. His most popular tunes also included “Hello Mary Lou,” “Poor Little Fool,” “Travelin’ Man,” “I’m Walkin’,” “I Gotta Feeling” and “Teenage Idol.” And, in addition to his time on television, Nelson earned success on the big screen, winning a Golden Globe for his role in the John Wayne western “Rio Bravo.”
He is the only artist to have a No. 1 song, No. 1 movie and No. 1 TV show in the same week, show promoters said
Life in the spotlight is a familiar place, too, for Gunnar and Matthew, multiplatinum recording artists whose pop-rock collaborations hit a highpoint in 1990 with their self-penned “(Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection.” That single became the third No. 1 tune for the family; Ozzie Nelson topped the chart in 1930 with “And Then Some” while Ricky Nelson led rankings twice with “Poor Little Fool” and “Travelin’ Man.”
The twins, nephews of actor Mark Harmon, over the years had four additional Top 40 songs — “After the Rain,” “Only Time Will Tell,” “More Than Ever” and “All Shook Up.”
“(The concert) is a completely unique, fun, honest and energetic trip through 100 years of American entertainment history, brought to you by two sons who’ve legitimately been there, done that, and are honored to in front of you right now ...,” Gunnar Nelson said.
The stage show will feature interviews with a diverse roster of artists who acknowledge his father’s work influenced their own careers, including Paul McCartney and Chris Isaak.