Remembering Ricky Nelson — Sons pay tribute to their father
When you think of the great singers that come from New Jersey, Ricky Nelson was the "James Bond" of rock 'n' roll.
Back in the beginning of the era, while parents were opposed to rock and pastors called it "the devil's music" there was Ricky, singing at the end of "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet," with James Burton on guitar getting both the music and the message out in what could arguably be the first music videos.
On Wednesday, June 30, Ricky's sons Gunnar and Matthew, who had their own No. 1 hit in 1990 with (Can't live Without) Your Love and Affection play "A Tribute To Ricky Nelson at Caesar's Circus Maximus.
Gunnar attributes those days to his grandfather, Ozzie, himself a band leader, having the guts to fly in the face of criticism and let Ricky do his thing. "Ozzie and Harriet" ran from 1952 to 1966. Ricky was born in Tenefly, and Ozzie has his own street in Richfield.
Nelson's biggest hit was 1972's "Garden Party", and not only was he an influence on the early days of rock, but his "Stone Canyon Band" set the stage for acts like The Eagles and Linda Ronstandt. In fact, Johnny Frusciante from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Brian May from Queen and even Lindsey Buckingham from Fleetwood Mac all named Nelson as a major influence.
"We wanted to make our own mark, and we were lucky to be able to sell records to a bunch of kids who didn't know who Ricky Nelson was," Gunnar told me. "Our style of music was unique to our generation, just like our father's was to his."
What was it like growing up a Nelson?
"To be honest with you, it was just something that was always around. When i was growing up, I thought everyone's Dad was a rock star, I thought all grandparents got asked for their autograph and everyone had people like Dylan and The Beatles coming over. I didn't realize that it wasn't that normal."
Why play Dad's music now?
"It's something I always wanted to do, watching Dad playing from the side of the stage. When we were touring with Styx and Peter Frampton, they were always asking us to come out on stage and sing 'Hello Mary Lou' with them, so we put the show together," Gunnar said.
Ricky, who died in a plane crash on New Year's Eve 1985 while touring, was also a tortured soul who felt the surge of Beatlemania cut his career short. Believe it or not, he's only four months older than John Lennon. I asked Gunnar if he could tell his father how he's remembered, what he'd say.
"There's a wonderful Scandinavian proverb that every man dies you die twice, once when your body dies and again when the last person who remembers you dies. In that case, my father will live forever," he said.
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