“I started playing when I was six years old. The only thing I ever really wanted to do in my life was play music that I love,” Gunnar Nelson, the noted recording artist and son of the late Ricky Nelson, told me. Known for his stints on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and his award-winning turn in the film Rio Bravo, Ricky Nelson always considered himself a musician first, at least according to this son.
“I am lucky that I wasn’t sidetracked like my dad,” Gunnar Nelson said. “It’s really important to note that [my father] had to make a decision about what path to go down. He could have gone on to be a fine film actor. That could have been a much easier life, but he chose to go down the rock and roll path.”
The misconception that Ricky Nelson was a TV star who happened to make music is quickly laid to rest in Ricky Nelson Remembered, the multimedia music celebration coming to Borgata’s Music Box on July 14. The show, which was created by both Gunnar and his twin brother, Matthew Nelson, is a labor of love that proves that their father was first and foremost a rock star…that happened to be good on TV. I had a chance to talk to Gunnar Nelson more about growing up in a showbiz household, and what audience members can expect at their Borgata concert.
What was it like growing up with a dad who was such a huge celebrity? For my brother and myself, it was all relative. My dad’s family had been in the entertainment business, so this has been something that the Nelson family has been doing for 120 years now. It wasn’t like American Idol, where someone had a standout season, and then had to adjust to everything. It was the family business. My father acted normal around the home. It was good for us to grow up around. It helped us from getting big head. It’s really important for someone who grew up with Ricky Nelson on their TV to know that he was down to earth and normal.
Tell us about Ricky Nelson Remembered. What can audiences expect? It’s best described as a high-energy concert within an A&E Biography episode. After [my brother Matthew and I] made our mark and sold millions of records of our own, there wasn’a day that went by that someone didn’t ask us to sing one of our dad’s songs. People loved our father and loved his music, and we really think he didn’t get the respect he deserved. We only agreed to do it if we could put together a high-integrity show, that told the story of a guy who lived and died for rock and roll. He’s credited for founding country rock. He really is one of the first guys to prove himself in one genre, and then switch up the game This show walks through that in a really cool way. It’s like a rock history lesson without you knowing it’s happening. There’s something for everyone—if you’re brining your kid who doesn’t know who Ricky Nelson is, it’s totally okay because you get the whole Nelson family story, and rock and roll history, how he smuggled rock and roll into the mainstream.
What’s one of your favorite moments from the show? The songs on their own are amazing. One of the hardest things to do was to pare down all these amazing songs into an hour an a half. For me, one of my favorite moments as an entertainer is performing “Lonesome Town.” It’s me on on guitar, doing it like my father did. He released it at a time when people were experimenting with new recording technology. But, he released this song very stripped down, in a very honest interpretation. We’re not up there in Elvis suits, trying to be Elvis. It would have a completely different impact and meaning. Our dad was our best friend. We knew him very, very well, and we bonded over our mutual love of rock and roll. Up until the day he died, he was exuberant about the music he was making. If Matt and I hadn’t make our own mark in music, it would be different, but this is a show that we get to do, not one that we have to do. We feel really blessed. People really feel that it is coming to them from the heart, not the mind.
“Ricky Nelson Remembered” plays Borgata’s Music Box on July 14 at 9PM. Tickets and more information are available by clicking here.