The plane went down over De Kalb, Texas, nearly 28 years ago, taking with it one of rock’s earliest teen idols and his singing career.
But the music lives on through his twin sons.
Matthew and Gunnar Nelson are set to perform their tribute show, Ricky Nelson Remembered, on Dec. 31 at WinnaVegas Casino Resort, marking another year since their dad died in a plane crash on his way to perform a New Year’s Eve concert in 1985.
“We usually try to work on New Year's Eve because it tends to take our minds off of what we lost,” Gunnar Nelson said, “and keep it on what we still have left from our father and all of those friends of ours we lost on that plane – the music.”
Looking back on the time of that fatal crash, the twins were fresh out of high school – just 18 years old – and playing the Los Angeles club scene, trying to score that elusive record deal.
Quickly gaining critical acclaim, they made history in 1990 with their self-penned single “(Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection,” becoming the only family with three generations of No. 1 hit makers.
Their grandfather, Ozzie Nelson, charted a No. 1 in 1930 with “And Then Some” while their father, Ricky Nelson, climbed to the top twice with “Poor Little Fool” and “Travelin’ Man.”
The tribute concert features those hits by Ricky Nelson as well as others like “Garden Party,” “I Got a Feeling” and “Hello Mary Lou.”
Over the past decade, the identical twins have been building the event.
“This is much more than a simple concert,” Gunnar Nelson said. “It's best described as a high-energy rock concert meets an A&E ‘Biography’ episode.”
It began as a one-off show to promote the release of a greatest hits album and grew into a full concert with video support, inviting the audience to relive the music and memories of Ricky Nelson.
Last year alone, they did more than 100 shows.
“It was a conscious decision after a decade of being encouraged by our friends like the guys in Styx and Peter Frampton, who were Ricky fans, to start playing our dad's tunes,” Gunnar Nelson said. “We thought a blended show – of both ours and our father's songs – would be confusing, so we chose to put together a separate, specific show to celebrate our father's music.”
The stage had been set long ago.
Born into a family of entertainers, the brothers’ musical careers began when Gunnar Nelson got his first drum set at 6 years old and Matthew Nelson got his first bass guitar when he was 7.
Even before that, their grandparents epitomized the all-American family of the 1950s in a radio show turned TV series.
America’s longest running live-action sitcom, “The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet,” shot its last episode long ago, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Ricky Nelson tragically left the world too soon.
But the Nelson twins continue to carry on their family legacy to the tune of songs old and new.
“Making music to me is like breathing air – it's not what I do, it's who I am,” Gunnar Nelson said. “I love it so much, I ache. And I wouldn't want to imagine living a life when I wasn't on my way to play that next gig. Or rushing in to the studio to record that next song I've written. I've got the greatest job in the world.”