Sons celebrate Ricky Nelson with tribute shows

Matthew, left, and Gunnar Nelson will perform today and Saturday at the Atlantic Club Casino Hotel in Atlantic City.

Some children would have decided against entering the family business if their father achieved as much success as the late Ricky Nelson.

Nelson first became a public figure during the early 1950s as a teenager on his parents' TV sitcom "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet." Nelson later turned into one of the most successfully prolific 1950s rock and rollers, was an employer of guitarist extraordinaire James Burton and was one of the first country-minded rockers. Nelson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

This legacy did not keep his children - Matthew and Gunnar Nelson - from pursuing a career in show business and becoming successful recording artists in their own right.

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Vocalist, bassist and guitarist Matthew Nelson and his twin brother, vocalist and guitarist Gunnar Nelson, come Friday and Saturday to the Theater at the Atlantic Club Casino Hotel in Atlantic City to celebrate the music of their father by playing a show full of his hits including "Garden Party," "Hello Mary Lou" and "Travelin' Man."

Gunnar Nelson, 46, was born in 1967. Ricky Nelson's song, "Garden Party," reached No. 6 on the pop charts in 1972 when Gunnar Nelson was age 5.

"My dad was putting the Stone Canyon Band together in the house. They were down in the house in a spare room rehearsing every day. My dad always had an acoustic guitar in his hand. He was always writing. People were always singing, so for me, for real, it was absolutely 100 percent normal," Gunnar Nelson said. "It was great social proof for me that achieving music success at the highest of levels was possible because my dad had just had a hit with 'Garden Party.' He had caught a second wave in his career. I got to see that firsthand. That was pretty cool."

As adults, Gunnar and Matthew Nelson did have their own music business success. They formed the hard rock band Nelson in 1990. They did something their father never accomplished by co-writing their No. 1 hit, "(Can't Live Without Your) Love and Affection" in 1990.

The idea of the Nelson brothers doing their father's music kicked off in 2000, but Gunnar Nelson said their performance is not a tribute show in the conventional sense of that word.

"We never want to sound like our dad. We never wanted to look like him. We refer to it as a celebration," Gunnar Nelson said. "We still sound like us. We are just celebrating his life and times."

The celebration concerts started because Ricky Nelson's old label, Capitol Records, wanted the shows in conjunction with releasing Nelson's catalog on CD for the first time.

"They wanted us to do two shows for the (music) industry, one in Los Angeles and one in New York, and we did those two shows. We never played our dad's music before, and when we did those shows, the response was so overwhelming positive. We thought, 'We might have something here,'" said Gunnar Nelson, who credits his brother, Matthew, for developing the show to the level it is currently, which incorporates video.

When Ricky Nelson died in a plane crash in 1985, he was only 45. The "Ricky Nelson Remembered" shows help keep his music alive for the people who lived through it and for a new generation.

Ricky Nelson's name is not the first one people think of when they recall 1950s rockers such as Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Bo Diddley. Gunnar Nelson said recognition for his father has improved during the past 20 years, but it's not completely fixed.

"When Ricky started to sing, rock and roll was really, really new. This was not a guy that came from rags to riches. This was not a guy who was raised in a shotgun shack in Tupelo, (Miss., like the late Elvis Presley). This was Ricky Nelson. He was always known to be a star. He was already a star. He was beautiful. He was rich, and that's what the perception was, and you had a lot of critics back in the day that lost a lot of girlfriends to Ricky Nelson posters or concerts. You had a lot of guys loving Elvis Costello because frankly a lot of critics look like Elvis Costello," Gunnar Nelson said.

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If You Go: "Ricky Nelson Remembered"

9 p.m. today and 8 p.m. Saturday in the Theater at the Atlantic Club Casino Hotel in Atlantic City. Tickets, all priced at $20, are available at the Atlantic Club box office, Ticketmaster and

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