By Bob Belcher
Corsicana Daily Sun
Identical twins Matthew and Gunnar Nelson made it big in their own right, with successful group and solo careers.
As a part of their growth in the music industry, the two brothers have joined forces to pay a tribute to one of the nation’s first “teen idols” — their father, the late Ricky Nelson.
The Nelson family is one that has truly bridged several generations in the entertainment world, from Ozzie and Harriet Nelson — Matthew and Gunnar’s grandparents — captivating America in the golden age of television, to their father’s appearance on that show and then on to a career in music that ended in a tragic plane crash in 1985.
Matthew and Gunnar are keeping the Nelson family tradition alive with a loving tribute to the music of their father with the production of “Ricky Nelson Remembered.” The show is coming to the Palace Theatre in Corsicana for one performance only, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 23.
Matthew Nelson, in an interview with the Daily Sun, reflected on he and his brother’s career, and his family’s legacy.
“We are the only family to have No. 1 hits through three generations,” he said, noting grandparents Ozzie and Harriet Nelson’s 1935 song “And Then Some,” and his father’s string of hits, and their own No. 1 song “(Can’t live without) Your Love and Affection.”
“Fortunately for us, here we are, 24 years after our first big break ... we’ve had a pretty clear-cut avenue of success.”
One thing, he said, has not changed from the days of his father.
“It’s a one song at a time business now,” Matthew said. “People, for better or worse, tend to have one hit song at a time. People don’t buy albums anymore.”
Through promotion, social media, and getting out in front of fans with great music, the Nelson brothers have grown with the industry.
That success has included their successful “Ricky Nelson Remembered” tour that keeps then on the road more days than not. And, he says, it is the live performances that help with their continued success.
“If you can’t (perform live) you only get to a certain place, then it stops, and then you go away,” he explained. “Fortunately, for Gunnar and myself, we’ve always been ‘live’ artists ... that’s how we’ve gotten all of our breaks.”
Matthew said the pressure of having a famous family tradition has made them work harder to achieve their own success.
“We spend a lot of time performing for people all over the world, and we’re glad for that,” Matthew said. “You have to go out there and share the music ... we’re actually very happy doing that.”
The decision to produce the “Ricky Nelson Remembered” tribute was an easy one for them.
“It’s the show we love to do, not the one we ‘have’ to do,” Matthew explained.
The two brothers were supposed to be with their father on the plane that crashed and took his life in 1986, a plane that was headed to Texas. Matthew explained how going through his father’s guitar case after his death helped inspire the show. He found a “set list” — a list of songs to be performed at one of Ricky Nelson’s last shows.
A short time later, he received a call from a friend who was a commander in the Navy stationed in Japan. The friend asked if the brothers would be interested in performing for the troops, featuring their father’s music.
“I said ‘we’ll do anything we can for the troops, so count us in,’” Matthew said. “But I said to him ‘these kids are 18-years-old, they have no idea who we are, let alone our dad.’
“He said ‘look at it this way. If it doesn’t go well, nobody will hear about it from Japan.”
Matthew said the concert of their father’s songs was a hit with the young audience.
“I realized two things,” he said. “These songs are amazing, no matter who’s listening to them. The second thing was, this was really fun. We’ve got to do more of this.”
The tribute show evolved from a pair of acoustical guitars to a multi-media presentation that includes video of his father’s career.
“My father was the most televised rock star in history,” Matthew said. “We had 435 of the world’s greatest home movies in the “Ozzie and Harriet” show, we had amazing interview footage from people who were influenced by him ... he wasn’t just a pop star in the 50s.”
Combining the historical vignettes and their tender treatment of his famous tunes, the two have a hit stage show that appeals to all generations. Personal stories from the two brothers help add to the experience.
Visiting with audience members after performances is another reason the show has gained in popularity through the years, he said. It was something their father loved to do as well, Matthew added.
“He would never say ‘no’ to an autograph,” Matthew said. “He truly loved people, and my brother and I are the same way. We got that from him.”
Tickets for “Ricky Nelson Remembered” are priced at $30 and $40 for the March 23 performance, and are available by calling the Palace at (903) 874-7792.
Bob Belcher may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want to “soundoff” on this story? Email: email@example.com
Ricky Nelson Remembered
Who: Matthew and Gunnar Nelson
When: 7:30 p.m. March 23.
Where: Palace Theatre
Tickets: $30 and $40
Info: (903) 874-7792