GOLDMINE: Thank you and your family for all your entertainment in music and television over the decades, including your sister Tracy on Square Pegs in the early 1980s.
GUNNAR NELSON: Thank you. Oh man, you are really going back.
GM: Yes, and I would like to go back to your and Matthew’s debut album for Nelson and your dad’s music, if we can.
GN: Fantastic! Let’s rock!
GM: There is a pair of songs from the After the Rain album, which is sitting beside me on cassette, that became the flip sides of the first two singles. Let’s start with “Will You Love Me?” It is a great finale on the album. It is powerful and KISS-like in terms of being a relationship anthem.
GN: That is actually a song we had to fight for to be included. We co-wrote most of our songs for the first record with Marc Tanner, who ended up getting to produce the album and had a lot of faith and belief in the two of us. We did our first album managed by John Kalodner, our A&R guy, who had an incredible track record working with AC/DC, Aerosmith after their long absence, Whitesnake, Cher and others. He was very difficult on us. He wanted to ensure success and didn’t let us go into the studio until he felt we had a whole album filled with potential singles. He wanted us to go with a big name producer, but we had made all of our demos with Marc Tanner, who was lesser known. We went with two groups of producers and it didn’t work, and as a result, pretty much lost our record deal two times and when they couldn’t produce results, they blamed me and Matthew. We had to resurrect our music. John wanted to release us from our contract and we told him, “What those producers said was not true and I would like to point out that Matthew and I had done all the demos on our own with Marc Tanner and they were the ones that you loved and had the energy and vision. Why on earth would you want to disrupt that team with other producers who we have no chemistry with and don’t get who we are? Why don’t you send us back to the studio with Marc Tanner and a great engineer who has made hit records?” That’s what he did with us and Marc with David Thoener, who was the sound engineer on Aerosmith’s 1989 Pump album. Basically we recreated the demos in a bigger studio, spending more money, but if you listen to the Nelson album Before the Rain released a couple years back, it has all the original demos from the After the Rain album and what is kind of scary is how similar the demos were to the final product. So back to your question on “Will You Love Me?” All of the songs that were on the After the Rain album except “Will You Love Me?” were co-written with Marc Tanner. Marc pushed really hard to have every song on the album co-written with him. That is the only disagreement that Matthew and I had with Marc in the entire process. Matthew and I dug in our heels and said that we were going to do this other song that we co-wrote with our friend Brad Bailey, who is such a great guy. Because that song was written with another person, you can tell that it has a different flavor to it. I am glad that we put it on the album and as a flip side of one of our huge hit singles, because it transformed his life. He had just gotten married and the royalties enabled them to buy a place of their own. Unfortunately, he passed away just two years after the song’s release from an accident but that one song has always been that incredible emotional reminder to me to hold true to your vision and do what you feel is right as an artist, even if it goes against the wishes of the person you are working with. I am really glad that Matthew and I did that. Brad’s wife told us that other than their wedding day that Brad said that one of his proudest moments was when the single went to No. 1 and he got sent the plaque for it due to the flip side and he really got to realize a big part of a writer’s dream. That was a wonderful experience.
GM: You mentioned Marc Tanner being lesser known. I know one piece of his work. I have the 1979 album No Escape by The Marc Tanner Band which included the single “Elena.”
GN: Oh yeah. I love that album cover where it looks like he is walking on a desert. I think Marc was going for a Boz Scaggs kind of sound on that album and I love Boz Scaggs. I am a creature of the 1970s myself too. When Matthew and I were forming Nelson, we approached it from a song point of view. We went to A&M’s music publishing group and listened to what must have been hundreds of song demos from songwriters and as we went along, putting check marks by the ones that we liked, we found that about ninety percent of the songs that we put check marks by had Marc Tanner in common. So that’s how we found Marc. We really liked his writing style and we knew that he was somebody that we wanted to write with. We met him and hit a groove that was unstoppable.
GM: One that you co-wrote with him, “Fill You Up” has edgy excitement, maybe in a Bon Jovi way.
GN: I suppose so. When we were putting this whole thing together, the toughest thing for Matthew and I was getting out of mid-tempo land. Growing up in Southern California with country rock that tempo would come naturally but the goal of putting out an album like we did was to go out and do a big tour, so we wanted songs that would excite people, so that song was put together from that point of view, as a potential opening number for concerts.
Flip side: Will You Love Me?
A side: (Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection
Top 100 debut: July 7, 1990
Peak position: No. 1
Flip side: Fill You Up
A side: After the Rain
Top 100 debut: November 3, 1990
Peak position: No. 6
GM: Now let’s talk about your dad. In 1965, there was a single “Mean Old World” written by Billy Vera, his first charted single as a songwriter, and its flip side “When the Chips are Down,” written by Seals & Crofts with Keith MacKendrick. Both sides remind me of Del Shannon.
GN: Our father was going through a tremendous amount of growth from 1965 through 1967 when he was putting The Stone Canyon Band together. He was putting these songs out during a period of time out of the ashes of being lost. The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett television show was ending. When he started out doing that show in the 1950s the world and the music industry was an incredibly different landscape. After The Beatles and Bob Dylan, artists were expected to write their own songs. He went to Nashville and he had conversations with Bob about what he would do next. He wanted to do more than just oldies shows. People love hearing their memories and there are a lot of people who resist a new sound from one of their musical favorites. Our dad went through a lot of that. Bob said, “Yes, they may think you are yesterday’s news, a relic, and completely irrelevant. Why don’t you shock them and do something like I did when I went electric at the folk festival? Do something different.” Our dad wanted to put together the storytelling of country music with the passion of rock and roll and he did that. I had never seen our father more fulfilled and happier during that creative period of time, which is actually the period of time that I was raised in.
GM: During the late 1970s, his Intakes album, in addition to his and the band’s compositions, it opens with his version of “You Can’t Dance,” a favorite of mine that I first learned from the Canadian band Jackson Hawke. It received some Canadian radio airplay and I bought your dad’s Intakes album like I had purchased Jackson Hawke the prior summer. I grew up in Cleveland where, in addition to strong Cleveland radio stations, we could listen to Canadian radio too.
GN: Wow, cool. An obscure one. If you grew up in Cleveland, then you grew up listening to a friend of mine David Spero on the radio. I have done a lot of radio time with David over the years. In the era when that album came out every band was freaking out because they thought that disco music was the new normal. Almost every act out there had their answer to disco to get themselves on the radio. Our dad had “You Can’t Dance” and he couldn’t dance in that era, ironically. It was probably a song that the record company wanted him to do to get back on the radio. I personally think his shining moment in his career was in the early 1970s with his Rudy the Fifth album.
GM: That album’s finale, “Gypsy Pilot,” which he wrote, is powerful. I hear Randy Meisner’s bass and the harmonies sounded like what we would soon hear from The Eagles. The song was released as a single with your dad’s version of Bob Dylan’s “Love Minus Zero/No Limit,” as its flip side, another favorite of mine from Rudy the Fifth.
GN: Yes, “Love Minus Zero/No Limit,” his compositions, and more from start to finish, that album, to me, is his masterpiece. Everybody talks about the Garden Party album that followed next, but to me, Rudy the Fifth is really the one. Whenever I talk to anybody about the whole Stone Canyon Band era, I say that there is just one album you need to listen to, and it is Rudy the Fifth.
Rick Nelson & The Stone Canyon Band
Flip side: Love Minus Zero/No Limit
A side: Gypsy Pilot
Debut: December 1971
GM: When you do the Ricky Nelson Remembered concerts featuring your father’s material, you end the shows with “Just Once More,” which is not one of his songs but fits so well.
GN: It is a song that our dad was destined to co-write with us and he just wasn’t around to do it. It is a song that came to me and Matthew with a couple of co-writers. Matthew and I have learned in our journey that the most important thing in life is telling the people that you love that you love them while you have the chance and that is where that song came from. To me it sounds like a Stone Canyon Band-type song. It is amazing doing the Ricky Nelson Remembered show with big giant hits but the one that gets the incredible emotional response is that particular song that we leave people with. Most acts will leave people with a high energy hit but the reason why we end with it is that you can’t really play anything after it. It is a very emotional song and is about losing people that you love and saying that you would give everything you have for just five more minutes with them.
GM: I remember enjoying watching your dad on Saturday Night Live in the late 1970s. Then in the early 1980s, he made a guest appearance on The Toni Tennille Show. The Captain and Tennille were my first interviewees back in the mid-1970s. Toni shares the same birthdate as your dad, May 8, 1940. I know in Burbank there was a tribute concert planned for him on May 8, which has been postponed due to the coronavirus lockdown in California. Now it is tentatively rescheduled for August 16 at Joe’s Great American Bar & Grill. Also, you will be part of the Malt Shop Cruise with Gladys Night, Mary Wilson of The Supremes, Jay Siegel’s Tokens and others, departing here in Florida on November 1 assuming that cruises will happen by then.
GN: These are crazy times. Matthew and I now live in Nashville. We just got back from Niagara Falls, Canada where all of our shows were sold out. Then we got the word about the spread of coronavirus and were told that only half of the shows would go on in the casino. It is a big room and we had eight shows scheduled. They came to us on the fourth day and said that the prime minister mandated that no one was going to meet in congregations of over fifty people. When we did the last show, it was really hard to do. We looked out at our audience and for the Ricky Nelson Remembered show our audience is pretty much the endangered populous. These are older folks and we love them. We put Ricky Nelson Remember together because we felt that our elders weren’t being catered to. They were like the forgotten generation. We remind them that it is their generation that invented rock and roll in the first place. I am looking out at the audience and I am seeing the fear and I feel that it is pretty selfish for me to have any concern whatsoever about not doing shows during this time even though it is going to be devastating. Financially for performing bands it will be devastating but we are all in this together. We put food on the table for our children by playing shows. Our job as entertainers is to make people feel better when they are scared. We run toward the fire but what makes this situation different and doubly frustrating is that we can’t do the job we were meant to do as it would endanger people who would come to shows if we still held them. It is not about endangering us. So we have moved to doing some live streaming concerts and segments from our homes in Nashville until this blows over and still make people feel good and comfort them with great music. Thank you for all the support of our family’s music. The Nelson family has been doing this for over 100 years.