Gunnar Nelson likes to think of his dad, Rick Nelson, as the first guy to smuggle rock n’ roll into American living rooms.The Nelson family are music royalty. As TV’s first teen idol, Rick Nelson starred with his parents in the TV series, “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” from 1952–66. In 1957 he debuted as a singer on the sitcom and went on to put 53 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 list. Gunnar and his identical twin brother, Matthew, grew up in a home where Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and the Eagles were regular visitors.
Rick Nelson died in a plane crash in 1985. Five years later, Gunnar and Matthew debuted as the long-white-haired rockers Nelson with the No. 1 hit “Love and Affection,” which put them in the Guinness Book of World Records as the only family to have No. 1 records in three successive generations (their grandfather, Ozzie, had a No. 1 hit in 1934).
Gunnar and Matthew, now 47, will perform “Ricky Nelson Remembered” Sunday at the Clearwater River Casino. In an October phone interview from his home in Nashville, Gunnar talked to Inland 360 about the show, which he describes as “high-energy rock concert meets A&E biography episode.”
360: Why did you and your brother decide to create a show to honor your father’s music?
Nelson: We spent the first 20 years of our career trying to make our mark. We were lucky that we ended up selling to kids who didn’t know who Rick Nelson was. We were on tour with Peter Frampton and he kept bugging us to play our dad’s music. We thought, this is a guy who grew up in England. He didn’t grow up with Ozzie and Harriet but he had (our father’s records). If it’s cool enough for Peter, it’s cool enough for us. Ten years ago we started playing our dad’s music and in the last two years of this show we started incorporating video footage. Dad was the most televised rock star in history. … We added interviews with luminaries in the industry making comment on how he influenced them — Paul McCartney, Kris Kristofferson, Chris Issak. It’s interesting to me that my pop had no idea, really, how his music influenced all these people he listened to.
360: It must be interesting to meet these musicians and hear their stories.
Nelson: Last week we met Paul McCartney before his show in Nashville. He said, ‘I can’t tell you boys how many hours, days, I spent listening to your dad’s records.’ We were able to say, ‘You don’t know how many hours our dad spent listening to yours.’
It’s the coolest. People have been stepping forward, Brian May from Queen, people you never would have imagined — Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin, Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath. … They might not have existed, you never really know. Maybe “Bohemian Rhapsody” might not have been the same song.
360: Who are the audiences that come to “Ricky Nelson Remembered?”
Nelson: The show is really about connection. We play with the audience, not really at them, so I get a really great idea of who is there. I thought it would be an older crowd but it’s four generations, people who knew Ozzie and Harriet, Ricky Nelson, the Nelson brothers, and young kids who didn’t grow up with (any of these). By the end of the show they’ve had a great education on the music they are listening to in their iPod and how it got there. Dad was the first guy to smuggle rock ‘n’ roll into living rooms and there is a light bulb that goes on when everyone realizes this was not that long ago. Our dad was at ground zero when it all started. It’s neat to do that through song.
It’s the show we do because we love to, not because we have to. There’s a Swedish proverb that every man dies two deaths. The first one is when his physical body gives up and the second is when the last person who remembers him dies. When we do this show we feel like our dad is going to live forever.
If you go:
WHAT: “Ricky Nelson Remembered,” starring Matthew and Gunnar Nelson
WHEN: 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 16, 2014
WHERE: Clearwater River Casino, east of Lewiston
COST: $15, $30, $35, $45 at the box office or online at Ticketswest.com, (800) 325-SEAT.