Tribute to Our Dad
"Nobody could do Ricky Nelson better than he could, but every time we play a show that includes his music, I'll tell you what, it makes us miss him a whole lot less. It's kind of a theraputic thing ..."



EDITOR'S NOTE: If you were one of the fortunate folks attending the Rockabilly Hall of Fame / Overton Park Shell Benefit Show in Memphis, Tennessee on Saturday, October 11, 2003 - you were part of rockabilly music history. Matthew and Gunnar Nelson, the sons of rock poineer legend Ricky Nelson, made a powerful appearance on stage that night. They ripped through some of their dad's greatest songs with "pure class and emotion." The Nelsons also accepted a special Induction Award, for their father, that was presented on stage following their set by Glen Glenn and Bob Timmers. During their rockin' performance, backed by the Dempseys, Matthew spent some time at the microphone telling the audience (and now rockabilly fans world-wide) some very interesting information about Ricky Nelson. Below is a transcript of Matthew's comments. Ricky has to be darn proud of his sons, we are!!

Ozzie & Harriet, Elvis, Sam...
I want to say that it's very important to express our gratitude for being here ... everybody remembers the adventures of Ozzie & Harriet on TV television right? Well what you don't know is that was our family playing themselves on television for 14 years 435 episodes worth and when my dad turned 16 years old ... well, the problem with the Nelson house was that Ozzie not Osbourn, our Grandaddy who wrote and produced edited every single episode of the television show ... and it was kind of a joke, don't do anything around Ozzie, he's going to write it into an episode. You can imagine growing up on television from the age of eight, there wasn't a whole lot of private stuff. Now dad was a real rockabilly fan and people don't know this, everybody thought because he bore a resemblance to Elvis he was a big Elvis fan, and he was, but he was really a Carl Perkins fan, that was his hero, that was his hero! While making a television show, Ozzie was listening down the hallway and a girl had laughed at our dad on a date when he said he was going to make a record.
           So he made a little demonstration record, and wouldn't you know it, Ozzie wrote it into an episode ... and when our Dad ... you can see the show on reruns sometimes, you can see him terrified up there as a kid but he went into a version of this song we're going to play next. The song sold about a two million copies the first week it was out. It just exploded ... and it was the first time that actually people tapped into our television show for music.
           And lo and behold, later on in his life my Dad actually met Elvis and Elvis could recite scenes from the Ozzie and Harriet Show word for word. I mean he was a huge Nelson fan which my Dad didn't know. They became very good friends and through the years with guys like Elvis and Sam Phillips and people from Memphis. I mean our Dad's heart was in Memphis, Tennessee - the problem was the show was in Hollywood so he couldn't exactly leave and go and make records in Memphis so he kind of made it up as he went along. Later on my brother met with Sam Phillips, they had dinner together and Mr. Phillips said "you know what we used to do was when Ricky came out with a record? We were the first guys in line to grab one of his records, because they were making it up as they went along just like we were." And it was kind of neat because they had kind of a friendly rivalry. It was nice that they seemed to have the country surrounded. Elvis was most certainly the King of Rock n' Roll but I must say, Pop where ever you are, you are definitely the Crown Prince!! This is a song called I'm Walkin'.


Memphis and Family ...
This is a fun thing for us! Our sister Tracy is an actress. She was in Down and Out In Beverly Hills and in The Father Dowling Mysteries. She was on the road once, doing a theater presentation ... she was playing Rizzo in Grease, and called us from the road from a theater here called the Orpheum. Not only did she call to say that Guys I've got to tell you about this one, but I'm in this place and there's a picture on the wall of Ozzie and Harriet and their big band playing the Orpheum Theater back in the 30's and there's a picture of Ricky Nelson playing right next to it in about 1959 and then there's a picture of Matthew and Gunnar Nelson playing in 1991. She was getting her picture put on the wall at that very moment. So its kind of nice that we kind of keep the generations continuing. So we're very lucky.
           Christmas around our house is kind of interesting, you know, because you've got all the Nelsons which are all actors and on the other side of the family we've got the Harmons. Mark Harmon is our uncle, our aunt Kelly is the Tic Tac lady. So we keep the circle going here - and these next two songs - we actually had a number one hit record in 1991 making us the first ones in family history to have three successive generations with number one hit records. We're going to play two back-to-back records that our Dad did and I know you guys will know these songs. (Travelin' Man and Hello Mary Lou)


Our Dad ...
As I said, Nobody could do Ricky Nelson better than he could, but every time we play a show that includes his music, I'll tell you what, it makes us miss him a whole lot less. It's kind of a therapeutic thing. I hope we're doing it justice and also I wanted to mention this too, being that we're in Memphis this is kind of neat -- and this is The Rockabilly Hall of Fame and our Dad's being accepted in it. It was really important for him. I don't know if you knew this, he was a pretty good looking guy and he happened to have a lot of talent. The thing was he was never one to wave his own flag, he was extremely shy, he always took time to meet people. But what really impresses me, and Gunnar and I talk about this all the time, we were 18 when he passed away, when he was on that plane. He was a really good man, and people if they went up and talked to him, he took the time, never said I've got to go. He was always one of those guys you had to pull out of the crowd. I guess it meant a lot to people.


The Carl Perkins Influence ...
You know how it is, people don't know what they have until it's gone or taken from them. He passed away on his way to a gig in 1985 and I think that's probably the way he would have wanted it you know, he went out playing. He was always a rocker, he never gave up. Right before the accident, about 2 months before, he was asked to go to Memphis to be part of something called "The Class of '56" and it was his only Grammy, he won it posthumously after selling 100 million albums and having 40 top hits, singles, and stuff, gold records.
           He never really got accepted and never wanted to do anything about it, he just felt that he was very lucky and the fact he was asked to this thing in Memphis at Sun Records, at the studio, was a big honor because Johnny Cash was there, Jerry Lee was there, Roy Orbison was there and his hero, Carl Perkins was there. And he had believe it or not, through all the years, never met Carl Perkins. So he was there and they did an interview thing. He was included in that even though he was never a Sun artist. And he was just like a big kid and was sitting in the room next to his hero Carl Perkins. Nobody was around and he told us this was his crowning moment in life - when Carl Perkins looked at him and said "Well, Ricky it looks like we're the last two real rockabillies left." That was something that really meant a lot to our dad. Pretty much if you knew this, for a long time he went as Rick Nelson after he turned 21, he wanted to be "Rick". But he changed his name back to "Ricky" after Carl called him Ricky. Dad went out a rockabilly ... he was always a greaser at heart.





© Rockabilly Hall Fame®    Ricky Nelson photo courtesy: Leda Woznick Carmody