Gunnar and Matthew Nelson salute rock pioneer, their dad Ricky Nelson
Early rock n' roll pioneer Ricky Nelson boosted weary ("Poor Little Fool") and worldly ("Travelin' Man") with youthful bravado ("I'm Walkin'"). The late singer's sons Gunnar and Matthew Nelson salute their father Wednesday at One World Theatre.
"(His) legacy is still being written," Gunnar Nelson says of Ricky, who debuted on "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" 55 years ago next month. "People are admitting that this guy was single-handedly responsible for smuggling rock n' roll into living rooms."
American-Statesman: Explain the song selection process for this show.
Gunnar Nelson: The hardest part about putting this show together was taking a guy who had sold 240 million singles in his lifetime and paring that down into 90 minutes of music in a live concert. Matt and I chose to start with the iconic hits like "Travelin' Man," "Hello, Mary Lou," "Poor Little Fool," "Lonesome Town," "Teenage Idol."
What do you find most compelling about your father as a singer?
You know, when everybody else was screaming, my dad was singing. Bob Dylan wrote that listening to Ricky Nelson sing a rock song was kind of like the eye of the hurricane. He was the calm in the middle of the tempest. His delivery was so smooth (and) it was very similar to the kind of guy he was. He was a very easygoing, smooth person.
How present was his music in your childhood?
My first memory was sitting on a little apple crate on the side of the stage as a 2-year-old watching our dad perform at Knott's Berry Farm with the Stone Canyon band. We grew up in a house where the Stone Canyon band was rehearsing down the hall. That couldn't help but affect what Matthew and I were doing.
How did you carry that into work with your band Nelson?
When everybody else was doing derivative blues-rock like Guns N' Roses, Matthew and I were heavy metal folkies. You had 12-string electric guitars, big vocals, melodic lines in the songwriting. We wanted to be the heavy metal Hollies.
What's your goal as an interpreter in this show?
Well, to do (the songs) justice, first and foremost. I really respect the music. It was a simpler time and the music and the production was a lot simpler, but that's where the genius lies. They didn't have all the studio tricks. These were people who had to write and perform great songs done by great musicians and they had to be able to do it live around one microphone.
Describe the emotional connection you feel when singing these songs.
Our dad was our best friend. It's a double-edged sword here. I mean, on the one hand, obviously it's great to hear the music; on the other, it's really important to me and Matthew because we feel like we miss our dad less every time we play one of his songs. In a very real sense, doing this show helps me feel like he's not really gone.
What do you miss about your father the most?
His laugh. He was a really freakin' funny guy. He was the true north in my family.
What would he say if he could see this show?
I think he would've been really proud, but he also was a very humble guy. He was never one to wave his own flag. Fortunately, God made twins to be able to do that for him.