Gunnar, left, and Matthew Nelson Pucker Productions

This week’s column is a special one for a couple of reasons: I first interviewed Matthew Nelson when he and his twin brother, Gunnar, brought their debut album tour to the Hampton Beach Casino back in the early 1990s, so when I saw that the twins were coming to the Waterville Opera House I knew that I wanted to reconnect with Matthew.

The other reason that this was going to be a special chat was that I grew up watching “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” (which ran for 14 seasons from October 1952 to April 1966 — 435 episodes in all) and saw Matthew and Gunnar’s dad grow up right on our television. On Aug. 9, I got a phone call from Matthew and we chatted for almost half an hour, the highlights of that conversation follow below.

Nelson: I’m glad to be talking to you.

Q: It has been a while, sir, since last we spoke. When I saw that you and your brother were coming to the Waterville Opera House, I thought it would be nice to reconnect and see how things are going for you and Gunnar.
Nelson: Now, how many years has it been — do you remember?

Q: About 32 years.
Nelson: Well, that’ll do it (chuckle). So it has been a bit of a while, and we’ve been busy, I’m sure that you have, too, and life’s been good so I don’t have many complaints.

Q: Just out of curiosity, how many gigs do you do in a year with this “Ricky Nelson Remembered” show?
Nelson: Well, right now we’re doing 40 a year, maybe, for that brand because we do other things; it was only supposed to last a couple of months, to be honest with you. We were asked to go overseas to play for the U.S. troops in Japan for like a theme night one year — this is before the internet — and the commanding officer was a big fan of ours and our father’s. So he told us that it was a late-50s/early-60s theme and said, “Would you guys be OK with maybe coming down for the sailors and doing a show that was your dad’s music?” Frankly, we’d never done it and when we put the show together and performed it, it was phenomenal and it was so much fun to play. Gunnar and I looked at each other after the second song and said, “Why haven’t we done this?!” That was the genesis of ‘Ricky Nelson Remembered’ and looking back on it now, honestly, that show probably was way back in 1994 or 5; it was after Gunnar and I had had a huge run with our band, Nelson.


Q: Then the early ’90s was a busy time for you two, one would guess.
It was an amazing run but it was also extremely depleting for us so we needed kind of a safe place to go musically and emotionally and that was back home. Our dad was our best friend anyway and we were only 18 when he passed away, but when I say that the show was certainly bigger than we were, we found that there were so many people that grew up, like we did, with him, and especially with his music, and they wanted to go back and reconnect to it. It became like an open love letter that evolved and became what it is now: a high-integrity show and kind of a combination of story-telling from us and our point of view, and going through the journey that he went through as a musician and a person. It really has become something that we get kind of an emotional injection every time we do it, it’s a lot of fun.

Q: Now, when we first talked you guys were touring in support of your first album, “After the Rain.” Are you doing anything with that project nowadays?
Nelson: It’s funny that we’re talking right now because Gunnar and I very recently, as in over the past five weeks, resurrected Nelson, the rock band.

Q: How did that come about?
Nelson: We got a call asking if we’d be willing to put our band back together for a 15-show tour with other late ’80s bands like Tesla, Winger, Firehouse and Great White, bands like that. We hadn’t done it in a long time, and it was fantastic, the response was amazing. Some people hadn’t seen us in 30 years, like yourself, and Gunnar and I have become fairly nostalgic, as well.

Q: What can folks expect from the Waterville Opera House show?
Nelson: Well, without giving away the whole show, the crux of it is that people that grew up with the Nelson family are going to enjoy this a lot because it is all the hits of our father’s that they remember: “Hello Mary Lou,” “Travelin’ Man,” “Garden Party,” “Poor Little Fool,” “Fools Rush In,” “Lonesome Town” — there are so many of them. The man sold half-a-billion singles in his career with over 40 Top 40 hits, so you pretty much know most of the show. Gunnar and I were talking about it and the one thing that was clearly missing from the show is our father, and one day I said to my brother, “I’d give anything to take a step back and have him be there right now!” And we sing with our dad at some point during the show, which is a really nice surprise. So, I get a chance to kind of live out one of my bucket list things posthumously. I think what they get, as well, is two sons that genuinely loved and knew their dad and frankly experienced a lot of the same things that he experienced in his lifetime.

Q: For instance?
Nelson: We had a lot of posters and a lot of young girls coming to our shows as well, at a certain point, so that meteoric thing that happened or where it sounds like a jet engine when you get out on stage. I thought we were prepared for that but there’s nothing that can prepare you for that, really; you have to experience that, and I felt him there with us the whole time, way back when; and as we became men and had families of our own, it was our dad’s advice that guided us. He gave us three rules that we live by and that are in the show: 1.) Be undeniably good; 2.) Never lose your sense of humor because you’re going to need it; and 3.) Don’t be a jerk, and he didn’t use the word ‘jerk’!
But back to your question about what folks can expect, they can expect something very real and very emotional and very loving and very musical, and for anybody that has no idea who we are or who our father is, they’re going to get a really great education in the process, and it is the fastest 90 minutes you’ll ever spend! I’m proud of it, it’s bigger than I am and we always used to vow that we would mothball it and put it away if people weren’t interested anymore, and what’s crazy is that it’s getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and our Pop’s been gone for quite a while now. So we’re honored to just be able to bear the torch and connect with people this way.

Q: Is there anything, Matthew, that you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article?
Nelson: Well, we don’t get up in those parts a lot and we are really looking forward to it, to be honest with you. Gunnar and I are genuinely looking forward to it because Maine is one of the most beautiful places on this earth, so I’m really excited to be coming up there, and I’ll have my eyes and my heart wide open the entire time I’m in Maine!

Lucky Clark, a 2018 “Keeping the Blues Alive” Award winner, has spent more than 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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