Fans of Ricky Nelson and his twin sons Matthew and Gunnar Nelson will enjoy the “Ricky Nelson Remembered” tribute concert Friday at The Millwald Theatre in downtown Wytheville.
Ricky Nelson was the son of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson of radio and television fame who often sang on the shows and went on to become successful in several genres of music including early rock ‘n roll, country-rock and pop. He is one of the most important rock artists and influential musicians of the past 50 years, selling more than 140 million recordings.
Nelson was 8 years old when he joined his parents’ radio show, “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.” It became a television show in 1952 and continued until 1966, and is still being shown on some cable systems. Prior to that, Ozzie performed with the Ozzie Nelson Orchestra and Harriet was a musician and singer as well. Her mother was also a singer.
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Ricky Nelson died in a plane crash in 1986, at the age of 45, but his sons have kept the musical tradition going for a third generation and a grandson is showing musical talent to take the tradition to a fourth generation.
The Nelsons are listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the only family to reach No. 1 record status in three successive generations.
Matthew Nelson said he and Gunnar are “tremendously proud” to be carrying the torch for the family’s musical heritage. Their grandfather Ozzie is credited by the Smithsonian Museum with creating, along with Ricky, the first conceptual music video for Ricky’s song “Travelin’ Man.”
Ricky Nelson’s biggest hits during his teen-idol days included “It’s Late,” “Lonesome Town,” “I’m Walkin’” and “Mary Lou.” In later years he and the Stone Canyon Band set the foundation for the Southern California country-rock sound that was popular in the 1970s and included Ricky Nelson’s hit “Garden Party.”
Ricky Nelson was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his contributions to pioneering the country-rock sound that included such groups as The Eagles, The Grateful Dead, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and more.
Matthew and Gunnar achieved success during the early 1990s as triple platinum recording artists Nelson. Their debut album “After the Rain” included the hit “(Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection.”
Matthew and Gunnar also perform under the name of “Ricky Nelson Remembered” as a tribute to their father. They present an interactive, multi-media rock & roll concert experience, taking the audience on a musical journey down memory lane.
The twins were exposed to many famous people while growing up, including George Harrison, a neighbor they knew as Uncle George, and Cass Elliott who served as their babysitter on occasion. Elvis considered Ricky a brother, said Matthew, and the two were great friends and competitors in the music industry.
Matthew said he and his brother didn’t know about the celebrity status of those who visited their home, they were just part of the family environment. “We were just little hippie kids. It was normal for us,” he said.
Matthew recalled a funny story about when his grandfather Ozzie was going to school for a parent-teacher event and all the women put on makeup in anticipation of his visit.
“He was such a kind man,” Matthew said of his grandfather. “He would have loved my kid.”
Matthew and his wife, Kari, have an 8-year-old son named Ozzie — after his great-grandfather. He’s showing talent in music with drums, piano and guitar as well as writing songs and recently singing.
Matthew said he wishes there had been cell phones with video recording capability back when he and Gunnar were kids and when his father Ricky was growing up so there could have been more candid videos of his family. As it is, the twins have some great home movies that will be a feature of the tribute show on Friday.
Matthew said people come to the tribute concerts that never knew Ricky Nelson’s music. Many just knew of the Ozzie and Harriet radio and television shows and enjoy the nostalgia. But Matthew and Gunnar also feature some of their music.
“It’s primarily about Ricky Nelson through the decades of his career,” Matthew said. “It’s fun for people to take that trip. We are two sons who loved and respected our father and aim to please the audience above all, to honor his memory.”
Matthew said that he and Gunnar take a poll at the beginning of the show for their own fans to see if they should play some of their music.
“We always play something new,” he said.
Ricky Nelson’s songs have been heard in Stranger Things, Campbell’s commercials and other places.
“That’s a wonderful way to do it,” Matthew said of keeping their father’s music alive.
“This show we love to do is not something we have to do,” he said of the tribute concert. “It is an opportunity to visit with our father on stage, to help keep his memory alive.”
Another way he and Gunnar are working on that is recent work in a studio to remix and restore the songs that Ricky sang on the Ozzie and Harriet shows and the songs he sang with the Stone Canyon Band and the “Garden Party” era.
Matthew said that “Garden Party” was an unlikely comeback for Ricky Nelson, written after he had been criticized by an audience for playing new music when they expected an oldies show. The Stone Canyon Band was blazing new trails in Southern California’s southern-rock sound and appealed to a whole new generation.
That sound also influenced Matthew and Gunnar’s music so they never fit neatly into a category between the “big hair bands” of the 1980s and grunge rock of the 1990s.
“Our own music sounded a little different from those bands,” Matthew said.
The Nelson twins released a greatest hits album last year and are now recording as First Born Sons instead of Nelson, Matthew said, and focusing on a modern version of the Southern California 1970s era, more guitar and song oriented. They have recorded their first album, expected to be released in about five months, and are planning shows. First, he said, they will do a podcast to get people interested.
They also enjoy spending time with their families. Matthew and Kari have their son Ozzie and several grown stepchildren and some grandchildren through them. Gunnar and his wife, Lila, have three daughters aged 17, 19 and 23.
“Ricky Nelson Remembered” is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on April 14 at The Millwald Theatre, 205 W. Main St. in Wytheville. Ticket prices range from $52 to $67 based on seating. Tickets are available at www.themillwald.org. Check out Millwald Theatre on Facebook.
Contact Linda Burchette at email@example.com.