30 years ago today, torchbearers to an American dynasty, Matthew and Gunnar Nelson recording as NELSON, released the self-penned debut multi-platinum After The Rain (Geffen DGC). Featuring the Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 hit “(Can’t Live Without Your) Love And Affection”, the twin icons captured the California pop rock sound blended with folk and paramount—the country rock—pioneered by their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee father, Ricky Nelson. The phenomenal debut also featured the No. 6 hit title track, No. 14 “More Than Ever” and No. 28 “Only Time Will Tell”.
Matthew Nelson’s influences and approach has always been about bass players that can really sing. He cites Paul McCartney, Sting, Benjamin Orr, Randy Meisner, Chris Hillman, Prescott Niles, and Geddy Lee as his musical heroes. He played/recorded the entire After The Rain album with a Steinberger XL2 TAW.
“Though I do play 12 string bass well (a Hamer USA B12L) I did not play a 12er on the After The Rain LP,” Matthew Nelson said. “Save for a couple of cool moments with my Pedulla Buzz fretless, I played/recorded almost the entire After The Rain album with a Steinberger XL2 TAW, an exceedingly rare white Steinberger with a TransTrem (Steinberger's transposing tremolo that could drop keys and lock yet keep the tuning and intonation, as long as it was set up perfectly and you used the TransTrem specific strings, an amazing piece of engineering) that I unfortunately sold to out mix engineer (David J. Holman)'s friend in 1992. I wish I still had that for sentimental and tonal reasons, but it's rare as hen's teeth. I think they made six of them in white in total. The active EMG humbuckers, graphite construction (no 'dead spots'), TransTrem tuning options, and Steinberger 'growl' worked well for me in Cherokee Studio A in Los Angeles. I had my signal split 3 ways (direct into Cherokee's famous Trident A Range console, DI from my AH500 Trace Elliot head, and a Trace Elliot 10" speaker in a 4x10 mic'd with a Neumann U67. We tracked the entire album's basic tracks with the musicians that made up NELSON's touring and recording unit for the following three years: my brother Gunnar on guitar, Bobby Rock on drums, Brett Garsed on lead guitar and Paul Mirkovich on keys, and we were completely locked. What a great band—great players, studio, vibe and songs.
Matthew Nelson said that the only song not completely recorded in the famed Cherokee sessions on After The Rain is “(Can’t Live Without Your) Love And Affection”.
“Upon the initial playback of 'Love And Affection’s’ mix from Cherokee, Gunnar and I were crushed,” Matthew Nelson said. “We knew we didn't 'get it' and it was one of the best songs we'd written for the album. So Gunnar and I chose to re-record the song almost completely with David J. Holman in his studio in Laurel Canyon (we'd recorded the theme song for Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure, "Two Heads Are Better Than One", a year earlier with him. He suggested a completely different approach with the bass tone- passive and vintage- and we rented a vintage '58 Fender Precision with a maple board and round wounds from Andy Brauer rentals. I re-recorded the entire 'keeper' bass track on "Love And Affection", the drums were re-worked, the entire mix was re-approached by Holman with a slicker, more global approach for the mix. His mixing console was completely handmade for him and custom designed- and the Melcor preamps, Stephens tape machines and George Massenberg EQs (and David's abilities) were a big part of the sound of that mix. But regarding the Fender P Bass, I had come up on Fenders (a '77 Musicmaster, followed by a '91 Precision Special), but that studio experience on “Love And Affection’ re-ignited my appreciation and love for what I feel is the Alpha and Omega of electric bass- the Fender Precision. After a long stint with Jackson and then Warwick basses (still the best active basses in the world, IMO, and basses I still highly recommend and use) 95% of my sessions and gigs these days I play on one of my three Precisions: a Vintage '59 Sunburst Precision with a Brazilian rosewood board and a gold guard, a Vintage late '57 Precision in rare Dakota red with a gold guard, and a custom John Cruz Masterbuilt '57 Precision 'Skunkworks' we designed together that looks like a bass Fender would've experimented with when he made the transition between early and late 1957 P's with some modern hidden surprises (SPECS: Ultra Relic, early '57 'tele 'headstock, 'A' narrow nut maple neck, contoured late '57 ash body (sorted for featherweight...that took a while to find) late '57 split P handwound pickups by Abigail Ybarra, string through bridge, passive/18v active switchable Tone Styler tone circuit, Mary Kay trans white and gold hardware. I played in the session band for the American Music Awards and Billboard Awards for 14 years, with guitar whiz and pal Phil X, and these basses- especially my incredible rosewood/gold guard P I bought from Dave Hinson at Killer Vintage in St Louis years ago- are the ones the producer specifically requests I record with.”
The bassist notes that his and his brother’s time in the LA rock clubs helped shaped his distinctive tone.
“People don't know that Gunnar and I came up in the LA rock clubs of the late 70s and early 80s, not the 'Sunset Strip' glam metal scene that followed in the mid to late 80s many people assume. We developed our chops and sound in the post-punk and New Wave clubs (Madame Wong's West and East, The Central, Music Machine, Blue Lagoon Saloon, etc.) beginning at age 12 and that vibe and energy was put into those After The Rain recordings,” Matthew Nelson said. “My bass tone is a reflection of that New Wave scene, punchy and clear but with a healthy dose of tube distortion without sounding muddy. It's a balance kinda thing and it's mostly 'in my hands' and the way I play. Sting, Benjamin Orr and Prescott Niles (The Knack) and Mario Cippolina (Huey Lewis and the News) come to mind. I rarely play without a pick, because years of playing in clubs unable to cut through the band and the obligatory shitty PA and no monitors got me into developing a live tone with a pick and palm muting and my right hand's attack, to balance huge bottom end glue with 'cut'. I believe I have a distinctive tone and people that play with me know it's me with eyes closed. I will always have a healthy dose of California's musical DNA in what I do on the bass tone-wise, thanks to those years in the clubs.”
After The Rain remained on the charts for 64 consecutive weeks, at the same time Matthew and Gunnar Nelson dominated MTV as well as NBC Friday Night Videos (and Saturday Morning Videos) with colorful visuals and their arena pop rock anthems. Following in the footsteps of their famous father Ricky, as well as their radio and television pioneer grandfather Ozzie, the Nelson family is the only family in history to have three successive generations of No. 1 hit makers. Ozzie Nelson charted a No. 1 in 1930 (“And Then Some”), Ricky Nelson climbed to the top twice with “Poor Little Fool” and “Travelin’ Man.”
“Matt and I grew up as a rhythm section. From the age of six, he was the bassist, I was the drummer,” Gunnar Nelson said. “And when we started to write our songs, the way the bass grooved was the glue that held everything together. Literally, the foundation of everything. And Matt’s always been one hell of a brick layer.
Now, who knows what really goes in to a song like ‘Love and Affection’ going number one? I believe it’s absolutely everything. Everything counts. So much so that Matt and I went back into the studio to completely re-record ‘Love and Affection’ before its Initial release because the drum part in the chorus wasn’t played correctly on the first attempt, and it didn’t groove with the bass part in the way we’d always envisioned. It was just wrong and Matt and I felt it. Maybe no one else would have noticed but we’ll never know because it worked! The way the bass part walks with the kicks and crashes on that song now is the hook. And that No. 1 song made our shared career. That is the best example of how important Matt’s bass playing has always been to our successes. And it blows my mind that people haven’t realized that Matthew Nelson is truly one of the finest bass players in rock and roll until now. Even if we hadn’t split from the same cell, he’d be my first call bassist for any project I would ever do. I’m glad we’re twins though. I couldn’t afford him otherwise. But he’d be worth every penny.”
The long time Nashville residents have never stopped touring and writing. Matthew and Gunnar demonstrate an ever-evolving sound that circles their unique harmony blend and acoustic base. They are in their zone when it’s just their two voices and two guitars. Matthew and Gunnar’s wheelhouse includes a diverse offering for audiences of all ages: Ricky Nelson Remembered, NELSON, SCRAP METAL and Christmas with the Nelsons.
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