Their father was a travelin’ man who made stops all over the world, and now twin brothers Matthew and Gunnar Nelson are following in his footsteps.
After a performance in Jamaica, the twin sons of 1950s teen idol Ricky Nelson are making a stop Saturday at Chandler Center for the Arts for “Ricky Nelson Remembered,” a 90-minute tribute show to their late father.
The brothers, themselves rock stars, will be performing songs he made famous, such as “Hello, Mary Lou,” “Poor Little Fool,” “Lonesome Town,” “Travelin’ Man” and “Garden Party;” however, the show promises to be far from your father’s rock ’n’ roll concert.
“This is far more than a rock concert, but an experience” Gunnar Nelson, 44, said.
With the brothers playing bass, electric and acoustic guitar, the tribute has been expanding for five years and sold out last year at Mesa Arts Center. This year’s show will be a multimedia presentation featuring video of interviews and performances from Nelson’s career, similar to an A&E biography.
“It’s always a blessing to come back to an area you’ve sold out before. The show changes constantly and for anyone who comes, you’re going to get more than what you’ve paid for. It’s an American story, and we’ve transformed it into a show about the musicianship,” Gunnar said.
The Nelsons hold the distinction of being the only family in the Guinness Book of World Records to have three generations reach No. 1 on Billboard’s top 40 charts: Gunnar and Matthew with “Love and Affection” in 1990, Ricky with “Hello, Mary Lou” and “Travelin’ Man in 1962, and his father Ozzie of television’s “Ozzie and Harriet” for “And Then Some” in 1934.
Ricky Nelson, who was voted one of TV Guide’s Top 50 television actors of all time, went on to form the Stone Canyon Band in the late 1960s, when he was a pioneer of country rock. He was elected into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 alongside Roy Orbison, Bill Haley and Bo Didley.
The brothers first performed their father’s music at a Thanksgiving show six years ago at a U.S. Naval air base in Japan, where the base commander was a big Ricky Nelson fan.
“We enjoy touring and meeting our fans and hearing their stories about our father, especially the ones when he wasn’t on stage,” Gunnar said. “One time during an autograph session after a show, a fan told us a story about a date he was on in Hollywood in 1958 when he was out with a girl that was way too hot for him. He was stopped at an intersection, and my dad pulled up beside him in his convertible. Assessing the situation, my dad looks over and says to him, ‘Hey man, I’m gonna see you again at the tennis club next week, and we’re gonna play a couple more sets, right?’ That’s the kind of guy my dad was, playing wingman for a guy he never met.”
Nelson, who died in a New Year’s Eve 1985 plane crash with members of his Stone Canyon Band, released his last album, “String along with Rick,” in 1984. Songs for an album he was working on at the time of his death remain unreleased.
Although the brothers hope to someday release the music their dad was working on nearly three decades ago, they know their show must go on.
The brothers are working with a promoter to ink a 45-show tour of “Ricky Nelson Remembered” in the UK.
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