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John Lamb, Published July 06 2010

Nelson brothers follow their father with ‘Garden Party’

Twenty years after the heyday of hard-rock hair bands, many of these acts are digging out the old leather and tattered denim, covering the receding hairlines and reuniting for tours of the classic material.

Nelson, the band that perhaps unfairly came to represent that genre, is doing something different.

Twenty years after singing/guitarist twin brothers Matthew and Gunnar Nelson offered a glimpse of light – a very brief, very white light – between the sleazy hard rock of the late ’80s and the gloomy grunge of the ’90s, the duo is going old-school.

The twins are playing tribute to their father, former teen idol and singing guitarist Ricky Nelson, who died in a plane crash 25 years ago.

“Ricky Nelson Remembered” pulls into the Fargo Theatre on Thursday. The production includes family pictures flashed on screens as the brothers play their dad’s top-10 tunes like “Hello Mary Lou,” “Travellin’ Man” and “Garden Party,” as well as their own No. 1 hit “(I Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection.”

Matthew Nelson, 42, talked from his Los Angeles home (Gunnar lives in Nashville) about his father’s legacy, what Ricky taught the twins about music and, of course, the Nelson look.

On playing his father’s songs:

It was pretty emotional. You’ve got to imagine, for us it was like watching home movies … . When I play his music, it sure saves a lot of money on therapy, I’ll tell you that much … . This show is like a guilty pleasure for me. We play these songs like he did. He meant every show he ever played. I never saw him phone in his parts, and we’re the same way because we really don’t know if this will be the last show we ever play.

On the last song of the show, the recently penned “Just Once More”:

“Garden Party” may as well have been my dad’s epitaph. This song is that for us … I have been the most blessed human being you’re ever going to meet. I’ve had a lot of opportunity and worked really hard for a lot of things that I got. And quite frankly, there’s not one day that I don’t know I’d give away everything I’ll ever have to experience five more minutes with my dad. That’s the important stuff.

On what he learned from his father:

Write what you feel, not what people want to hear. I think the best stuff he ever did was that way. Except for “Garden Party,” it may have not been his most commercially viable stuff he ever did, but he was happiest when he was doing that music.

I learned as he did, you have to find a balance between satisfying yourself as an artist and satisfying an audience and what they want to hear.

Musically speaking, I always (describe) Gunnar and my style (as), just listen to ‘Hello Mary Lou.’ Dad double-tracked his vocals. That’s our sound. It is sibling harmony.

My dad used to say, “Life is a series of comebacks.” In the music business, that’s all it is.

My dad used to say, “Believe in yourself and keep doing it.” I thought it was the biggest cop-out in the world. What I realized was when he was gone was when it was integrity and persistence.

On the Nelson look:

With who we are, no one would ever believe we grew up in the gutter or came off the Sunset Strip. We weren’t Guns N’ Roses. We were more of a heavy version of The Hollies. We thought, everyone is doing black leather, let’s do color. So we designed our own outfits … . We wanted to be the heavy band on pop radio. We became the whipping boys for the Metallica crowd. We were a chick band. We never did the hairspray or makeup. It was just long hair and it worked.

As far as marketing, the only thing I regret was the approach that Geffen (Records) had to whore us out to every teen magazine there was. Photographers got really rich off us.

The capper was Geffen signed a little band from Seattle called Nirvana. Gunnar and I came home off the road, and the head of the label saw me in the parking lot and said, “What, you’re still here?” That’s how I knew things were not going to work out over there.

If you go

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533