CRYSTAL LAKE – For 14 years, Ozzie and Harriett Nelson were America’s sweethearts in the 1950s and early 60s, providing a look into what could be considered the perfect American family. What began as a radio show in 1944, “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett,” moved to the small screen in 1949, the same year the couple’s two real-life sons, David and Ricky Nelson, joined the show. It is one of the longest-running family sitcoms in history.
The sons of Ricky Nelson, Gunnar and his twin brother, Matthew Nelson, make up the band Nelson, which had its first hit album in 1990, “After the Rain.” The band’s country rock sound was pioneered by their father, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee known for such hit songs as “Travelin’ Man” and “Hello Mary Lou.”
That same year, Gunnar and Matthew’s song “(Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection” was a No. 1 hit, making the Nelsons the only family in history to have three successive generations to reach No. 1, with Ozzie Nelson previously hitting No. 1 in 1930 with “And Then Some,” and Ricky Nelson doing it twice with “Poor Little Fool” and “Travelin’ Man.”
Nelson has released 13 records and has distributed many of them on its Stone Canyon Records label. The brothers, longtime Nashville residents, have several projects outside of Nelson, including “Ricky Nelson Remembered,” a multimedia event that features the live music of their father’s hit songs performed by Matthew and Gunnar and includes never-before-seen video footage of the Nelson family.
The Nelson brother’s project, Scrap Metal, is a combination of artists from the 80s arena rock generation. A collection of frontmen led by Gunnar, Scrap Metal includes his brother Matthew, Mark Slaughter of 80s rock group Slaughter, Kelly Keagy of Night Rider and Eric Martin of Mr. Big. This year, Lita Ford, Dee Snider and Great frontman Jack Russell have all been added, with special guest performers known to pop up in the 90-minute show.
The duo’s latest undertaking, “Christmas with the Nelsons” is a multimedia show with the brothers performing a collection of traditional and contemporary melodies. The show includes videos that present firsthand accounts of growing up in of Hollywood’s most famous families.
The Nelsons’ TV home was a replica of their Hollywood home where David and Ricky grew up. The same home Gunnar remembers converging on each Christmas with family and friends to celebrate the special time of year.
“My dad was a really hard worker. He did 250 shows a year,” said Gunnar Nelson. “We didn’t’ see him a lot, but the week before and after Christmas was sacred. He didn’t work. During that time, we got to connect with our pop. We would all converge on the Ozzie and Harriett home, 1822 Camino Palmero St. in the Hollywood Hills. We got to reconnect with all of our cousins, had this great meal, recounted our year, and then we would adjourn to the living room by the Christmas tree. Someone would break out a banjo, guitar or ukulele, and we would all gather and really innocently sing Christmas songs. We wanted to recreate that feeling with this show. If we do this the right way, we’re opening the Nelson front door to our Christmas for everyone to experience.”
The brothers Nelson are bringing their brand of Christmas to the Raue Center for the Arts on Dec. 1, their third stop on their 11-city tour.
“The video helps us tell our story, the story of three Nelson family Christmases,” Gunnar Nelson said. “First, it’s about our grandparents, and then we move to the ‘70s when toys were designed to kill us,” Gunnar joked. “Then we move on to our families now. It’s genuinely done. We’re not pandering. We’re big fans of Christmas and what the holiday represents. It’s very sincere. This is Christmas.”
Gunnar said the show follows the advice he received from his grandmother, Harriett.
“She would say, ‘Always remember this, boys: If you’re going to do this for a living, the key to the success in the Nelson family is to remember that we’re in the connection business, not just show business.’ That’s what we do and Christmas is supposed to do, connect us with what is important. Our loved ones, our friends, our family, our faith. We need to remember that, and remember what’s important.”
Gunnar and Matthew intend to connect with the Raue audience and leave them feeling nostalgic.
“These are crazy times we’re living in,” Gunnar Nelson said. “Every time I turn on the TV someone is yelling at me and trying to make me afraid of my neighbor. I’m a Nelson, so I don’t buy it. We’re put on this planet to love and serve each other, and I believe that. I hope this show gets people back to that square one, to feel that way we all felt when we were kids, before we concentrated on problems that don’t really matter, when our biggest concern was will Santa bring us what we really, really, really wanted. I hope people leave feeling a little more childlike, a little more hopeful, a little more connected. That’s what I hope.”
"Christmas with the Nelsons" begins at 3 p.m. Dec. 1. For tickets, visit www.rauecenter.org or buy them directly at the Raue Center box office. For information on Nelson and its other show offerings, visit www.matthewandgunnarnelson.com.