Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Ricky Nelson is credited with pioneering the sound of country rock. With a legacy of more than fifty hit singles on the Billboard chart to go with his 19 top-ten hits, Nelson is one of few artists to achieve success both at a young age and after reinventing himself years later with The Stone Canyon Band.
It’s been thirty years since Ricky Nelson’s untimely death in a plane crash on his way to a performance. But his twin sons, Gunnar and Matthew Nelson – both multi-platinum recording artists in their own right, continue to relive the music and memories of their father with “Ricky Nelson Remembered Starring Matthew & Gunnar Nelson. It’s a high intensity show that includes a stop at The State Theatre in Easton, PA on Friday, March 18.
In addition to performances of their father’s hit songs like “I’m Walkin’”, “I Gotta Feeling,” “Hello Mary Lou,” and the quintessential “Travelin’ Man’”, the show also highlights Nelson’s life with stories and videos, including never before seen interviews from the artists Ricky Nelson influenced.
Matthew and Gunnar Nelson took the world by storm in 1990 with their monstrous debut album, After the Rain, which featured the hook-laden title track and a #1 smash – “(Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection”. The brother’s have released several other albums over the years – most recently, the acclaimed Lightning Strikes Twice (2010) and last year’s Peace Out.
I recently spoke to Gunnar Nelson about the Ricky Nelson Remembered show and more in this exclusive interview.
James Wood: Last year, Nelson released the album, Peace Out. How has reaction been to the new material?
Gunnar Nelson: It’s been great and as an artist it was a statement I needed to make. Working on our last two albums [Lightning Strikes Twice and Peace Out] was a catharsis for me. I am really proud of those records. The great thing about records is that it’s one of those things where as long as you make something that’s artistically true to who you are, there is no shelf life to it.
JW: What do you enjoy most about these Ricky Nelson Remembered shows?
GN: There are a few things. First of all, I love doing these shows with my brother. Doing them allows me the privilege of feeling closer to my father, who I still miss even after thirty years. When I’m doing this show, it really feels like I’m being the good son. It’s also definitely improved my guitar playing. Playing the rock stuff is great and I love it, but when you do Ricky Nelson Remembered and start performing James Burton’s stuff, you can’t hide behind a wall of distortion. You have to play clean and you really have to be very precise in your playing. That’s what made him what so great. In fact, all of the work I did on the Lightning Strikes Twice and Peace Out records wouldn’t be the same without ten years of chop building by playing James Burton solos in Ricky Nelson Remembered.
JW: What are some of your best memories of childhood and growing up with your dad?
GN: There are so many. You have to remember that when we were growing up, our dad was putting together The Stone Canyon band in our house. He always had a guitar in his hand and was always writing a song. The band even rehearsed right down the hall. So I was immersed in music from a very young age and it was all very normal. I consciously decided that music was what I wanted to do when I was probably six years old.
JW: Who were some of the visitors to your house in those days?
GN: It was pretty critical period for country rock in Southern California at that time and people were always coming over to the house to visit my dad. George Harrison lived next door to us; Cass Elliot was our babysitter and Bob Dylan was over all the time. It was one of those things where you had a very small circle of musical friends. I remember Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, and Joni Mitchell – who were also friends of my dad, often coming over.
JW: What are you looking forward to about the year ahead?
GN: I’m excited about the fact that we’re working with a new team of people who really believe in us. They make us feel proud of where we’ve come from and what we’ve accomplished and given us the viability to put out new material that’s going to make a huge impact. Lengthy careers in the music industry are rare these days. It’s just the nature of the businesses. But I think we’ve really come full circle. Being around people that encourage what we’re about and what we do is extremely liberating. We’re still doing the Ricky Nelson Remembered shows as a celebration of our dad and we’re selling out shows everywhere that we go. We also have a few new projects we’re going to be focusing on this year. It’s an exciting time. We have the best fans in the world and this next year is going to be a thank you to all of them!
JW: A lot of artists have started publishing biographies about their lives and careers. Have you ever given thought to writing a book about your own life at some point?
GN: I’ve thought about it and it’s something I’d like to do at some point. Right now, I still feel like I’m a work in progress. I don’t want to sit down and write my memoirs when I feel like I’m only halfway through the book. But I love the fact that all of these years later, I still have the privilege of doing what I love to do. The trends and the times have changed but the feeling I have is still the same. Music isn’t what I do. It’s who I am.
Ricky Nelson Remembered Starring Matthew and Gunnar Nelson will perform at The State Theatre in Easton, PA on Friday, March 18.