Family Affair

Matthew and Gunnar Nelson are all about history — making it, preserving it and living it.
The die was cast a long, long time ago when their grandparents, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson starred in a long-running weekly television series with their children, David and Ricky, from 1952-1966. Little did their family know that show would start a ripple effect still felt by the small pebble that first skimmed the musical waters long ago.
Right before the show came on the airwaves, Nelson fronted The Ozzie Nelson Band and scored a No. 1 hit, “And Then Some.”
Then on “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” without knowing it at the time, they were prominent players in the history of American music. Within the confines of that weekly family-oriented situation-comedy show, young Ricky did something somewhat controversial for the time — he performed rock and roll music.
Though his father, Ozzie, took heat for “introducing the Devil’s music” to ’50s TV audiences, he stood by his son’s efforts. The result was Ricky placing 53 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 between 1957 and 1973, including “Poor Little Fool,” which holds the distinction of being the first No. 1 song on Billboard’s then newly created Hot 100 chart.
After the TV show was cancelled in 1966, Nelson moved on to create another chapter in his musical repertoire by putting together his Stone Canyon Band, early pioneers of the California-based country rock sound, which influenced the Eagles. His song “Garden Party” struck the right chord with listeners and became a major hit. His career came to a tragic end when Nelson was killed in a plane crash in 1986.
His twin sons, Matthew and Gunnar, kept the family musical fires going with their ’80s band, Nelson, and their hit songs “Can’t Live Without Your Love and Affection,” “After the Rain,” and more.
Because of that, the Nelson family is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the only family in entertainment history with three generations of No. 1 hitmakers. Nelson has five Top 40 Billboard hits, four No. 1 MTV videos and has sold more than 6.5 million albums worldwide.
In addition to still doing their own musical things, the Nelsons keep the family history alive by telling their dad’s story in a show they bring back to the Riverside Resort, “Ricky Nelson Remembered,” Wednesday-Sunday, Feb. 19-23.
“The show has gotten better and better,” Matthew Nelson told the Laughlin entertainer. “We’re bringing new scenery with us and instead of a straight duo with Gunner, we’re making this a rockabilly trio because it’s an important year. It’s the 50th anniversary of ‘Garden Party,’ which is a great song.
“I love doing shows that way because it’s the way our father first started doing his own thing,” he added. “We’ve been touring with a drummer who used to be with Mark Chestnutt, which makes sense. If you look at country DNA, Ricky Nelson is there.
“We’re proud to be dealing with his record company to do something big this year to commemorate the song — a huge concert in New York, for one. Some of the footage of ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ we use is out in 4k. It’s both spectacular and creepy at the same time. It’s almost three-dimensional. It’s beautiful.
“We went through some interviews and found Kent McCord from the show ‘Adam 12’ calling Rick Nelson the Godfather of country rock. Dwight Yoakam has focused on that a lot this year. He’s been talking about his influence and what he meant to his music. I’ll take that all day long. Hopefully we can get him involved.”
No matter what might happen in other parts of the country to honor Nelson and his impact on the world of music, he also made history here in Laughlin.
“Our father opened that room,” Nelson said. “He was the first act there and he played there a long time. Every time we go there, it really is a touchstone to our history. It’s why we love that room. We feel our dad on stage when we play that particular room.
“When we play in places that have historical significance to our pop, it means something big to us. It’s not just a gig there, we’re there representing our dad and our family,” he added. “It’s exciting, especially on an anniversary, it’s truly significant and sweet. Life is good, nothing sucks.”
The twins have the best of a lot of worlds. In addition to honoring their father with the show coming to the intimate setting in Laughlin, they also still play arena shows as Nelson. They also are part of another musical project called Scrap Metal.
“We still play the arena shows, it just depends,” he said. “We’re not out to pasture yet. I dare say we’re celebrating the 30th anniversary of our debut album, After The Rain, so that’s coming back around. We get to support our own music along with our father’s, so we have a double anniversary.
“Scrap Metal has a sometimes changing cast of characters from a lot of the ’80s bands — I think the last gig we did had about 6,000 people,” Nelson added. “We do mostly festival stuff, and the cast often includes Lita Ford and Mark Slaughter. We get to play three or five of our biggest hits, it’s revue with hard metal, then we get back to being real, but living in both neighborhoods it pretty cool. The metal stuff is the fantasy — it’s nice to put on the cape and still play super hero as a musician.
“Yeah, we’ve changed from looking like the ‘hot Swedish chicks,’ which some might find terrifying, but we’re not horrible looking,” he said with a laugh. “We don’t cross-pollinate shows. It’s a weird thing, but we know some Nelson fans come to our show about our father, so we will hit them with a little ‘Love and Affection,’ and ‘After the Rain,” but that’s about it.”
He said the hot Swedish chicks have taken hits over the years about their look, their image and their creative use of spandex from naysayers, but that’s the nature of the beast.
“Everybody takes shots at us and it’s 30 years later and people still know who we are, so we did something right,” Nelson said. “In this world of chatter, many artists are here today, gone tomorrow, so to have this legacy where the music endures, and the image still endures, we’re proud of that.
“When our father was singing rock and roll, that was a novelty and his thing was to be as good as his father. His philosophy was, ‘well, I can only do my best and release the best music I can.’ And he did pretty well, so I guess it’s nice that Nelson isn’t done by a long shot. We’re working on new stuff — we’re not only taking advantage of where we’ve been and this nice catalog of our father’s music, we have a new country thing we’re releasing this year. It’s almost finished. We’ve been working on it for 15 years and we’re calling it First Born Sons. We’re delineating from our past.”
While the Nelsons’ story is steeped in tradition and history, it seems to feed their own passion and creativity for exploring their own paths, and choosing what comes next.
“Riffing and rolling with changes is fun,” Nelson said. “I’m happy to say I really love what I do. There are easier things to do. The show and the music are bigger than we are. The world really needs music now, it needs us to do something good.”


THE NELSONS

Don’s Celebrity Theatre within the Riverside Resort

Wednesday-Sunday, Feb. 19-23 (7 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for ticket info