Nelson tribute coming to local stage
WORTHINGTON -- It's a show business legacy that spans three generations and more than seven decades.
In the 1940s on radio and the 1950s and '60s on television, "Ozzie and Harriet" was the sitcom that came to symbolize ideal American family life.
From 1957 to 1962, Ricky Nelson --Ozzie and Harriet Nelson's son, who was also featured on the TV show --became a teen idol with 30 Top 40 hits.
In the early 1990s, Ricky Nelson's twin sons, Matthew and Gunnar, performing as a band called Nelson, debuted their own platinum album and, following in their father's footsteps, zoomed to No. 1 with the single "(Can't Live Without Your) Love and Affection."
All the generations will come together in a multimedia production, "Ricky Nelson Remembered" featuring Matthew and Gunnar Nelson, April 20 at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center in Worthington. As per its title, the show is a tribute to their father, but it also pays homage to the entire Nelson clan with never-before-seen big screen video footage.
Rick Nelson was a musical icon, but his life ended tragically. In the midst of a tour of the southern U.S., he and his band were on their way to perform at a New Year's Eve extravaganza Dec. 31, 1985, in Dallas, Texas, when the plane crashed and seven people aboard were killed, including Rick, 45.
"We were his best friends, and we bonded through music," said Gunnar about his father during a phone interview as the current tour was about to get under way. "The idea for this show came from about 10 years ago, when a commander of a U.S. military base in Japan, who was a big Ricky Nelson fan, asked us to do a concert there. We had never performed my dad's music before that. Even though these kids were so young, the music resonated with them. It was Matthew's idea to turn it into a show."
"Ricky Nelson Remembered" features Matthew and Gunnar's renditions of some of their father's biggest hits, including "Hello Mary Lou," "Travelin' Man" and "Garden Party." The show lineup isn't exactly the same every night, Gunnar said, but it always includes their father's most well-known music.
"My favorite song would be 'Lonesome Town,'" said Gunnar, referring to a 1958 release that reached No. 7 on the charts," because it was just dad and his guitar and this lonesome, melancholy sound. If you asked my brother, Matthew, it would be 'Garden Party.'"
"Garden Party" came quite a bit later in Rick's career, in 1972. He wrote it after receiving a cold reception from an audience at Madison Square Garden in New York.
"He was invited to play with a '50s revival show at Madison Square Garden, but at the time, he was involved in inventing what would become country rock music," explained Gunnar. "When he didn't play the '50s stuff that everybody wanted to hear, he got booed off the stage. So the song is about how you have to live up to your own expectations, do what makes you happy."
Singing their father's music onstage is what makes the Nelson twins happy these days. They also continue to tour with Nelson and have another project, Scrap Metal, which features top musicians from 1980s bands.
While a facility such as Memorial Auditorium might not be considered as a site for most of their musical endeavors, the Nelson brothers enjoy bringing their tribute show to smaller venues.
"Ozzie really was all about the heartland of America. His story is America's story, and we love coming out there," said Gunnar.
And Ozzie and Harriet will also share the stage with their grandsons through video clips shown on a big screen. Gunnar noted that his own favorite "Ozzie and Harriet" moment can't be found in one of the iconic TV episodes.
"It's just a snippet that played at the movies," he said. "It shows Ozzie and Harriet sitting in the movie theater themselves. They're obviously watching a thriller, because they are sitting on the edge of their seats. Harriet has both her hands full: In the hand closest to Ozzie, she's got a box of popcorn, and in the other hand, an ice cream cone. As they're watching the show, Ozzie keeps reaching over and grabbing handfuls of popcorn and shoving them in his mouth. At one point, they both jump up because of something they're watching on the screen, and Harriet switches hands. So when Ozzie reaches over to get some more popcorn, he gets a handful of ice cream. Not knowing what to do with it and not wanting Harriet to see what he did, he shoves the ice cream into his mouth, and we proceed to watch Ozzie get the worst ice cream headache. It's really a bit of comic timing genius that ranks up there with Lucy in the chocolate factory."
Gunnar Nelson said he and Matthew are proud to carry on their family's entertainment legacy. The Nelsons are the only family in entertainment history with three generations of No. 1 hitmakers -- an achievement that has landed them in the "Guinness World Records."
"This show is really for all generations, from fans of 'Ozzie and Harriet,' to people who have bought our music," Gunnar said. "And now they're bringing their kids to the show. It's really a history of rock 'n' roll."
"Ricky Nelson Remembered" will come to the Memorial Auditorium stage at 7:30 p.m. April 20. For ticket information, contact the Memorial Auditorium box office, 376-9101, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday. Go to www.friendsoftheauditorium.com.
Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers can be reached at 376-7327