Picktown Palooza returns this weekend with a lineup stacked with some great bands from the late ‘80s/early ‘90s. $5 a day or $10 for a 3-day ticket, it’s a deal that just can’t be beat. Thursday night will find Lita Ford (“Kiss Me Deadly”) and Vixen (“Edge of a Broken Heart”) kicking things off while Jackyl (“I Stand Alone”) and Lynch Mob (“River of Love”) close things out on Saturday night.

Friday night’s headliner is Slaughter (“Up All Night,” “Fly to the Angels”) with special guest Nelson (“Love and Affection”), who were added to the bill in mid-June after original opener Steelheart had to back out due to lead singer Mili Matijevic experiencing a medical issue with his heart.

This past week, I was able to hop on a call with Matthew Nelson to talk about a wide range of topics, from taking the show back on the road to reuniting with some friends this weekend to meeting the Foo Fighters and Paul McCartney.

You’re doing some dates filling in for Steelheart who had to cancel their tour due to medical reasons. Do you feel a little less pressure since you’re stepping in to help out?

It’s the opposite of that. You know, we hope that Mili gets better, first and foremost. The first thing we did was send him our regards and we hope that he feels better soon. That said, we look at this as a wonderful opportunity/sign because Gunner and I really did not go out and do what a lot of the bands from that era did. We actually haven’t really toured more than the occasional, and I mean really occasional, one-off show for 30 years. We did other stuff musically. And we looked at this as an amazing opportunity.

Gunner and I sat down, talked about it, kind of looked at what was happening in the world, what was happening in our lives, and decided to go the other way, which is we ordered new scenery. We spent thousands and thousands of dollars on a portable monitoring system. We plan on doing this with Nelson for real now. So it’s not like we’re treating it like it’s a couple of fill in shows.

And all these years later, we’ve maintained our voices. Speaking of Mili, he’s a great high-voice singer, almost operatic. It’s very athletic what he does. It’s way up there. Gunner and I have a very unique sound as well, but it’s definitely two brothers singing. It’s almost like a co-lead vocal in our songs.

I always love the bands that could have that type of sound, I’m dating myself, where you’d flash through the radio and you’d hear five seconds of a song and go, “Oh, that’s such and such.” I remember when I saw Cinderella, we toured with them, and when I heard them the first time, I was like, “Well, that’s unique.” There’s so many bands that are like that. And Gunner and I really wanted to ultimately have that happen.

For years and years I was the lead singer. Gunner was playing drums and we did that in clubs and stuff, but it wasn’t the hair metal days. It was before that, in the late ’70s, early ’80s. We were really young, playing clubs with punkers and new wavers. It was a scene before the L.A. Sunset Strip thing.

Gunner’s a great drummer and like a lot of bands, Aerosmith is one of them, even Warrant, the drummer moved up front to sing. We had a development deal, and I’m really fast forwarding, with John Kalodner from Geffen before our first record came out, and he threw us a few hundred dollars. And he was putting Aerosmith and Whitesnake together. They were very busy. So we were left to our own devices with a songwriter friend of ours and we felt like we had written some really great songs.

I was a little burned out. I was in a little studio in the Valley and I went to sit down and have some fast food for dinner and Gunner poked his head in and said, “Hey, Matt, while this is hot, let me try to sing a lead vocal on it.” I said, “Oh, sure, man, go ahead, do it.” And so Gunner sang and he had a different tonal quality in his voice, especially those types of songs. And I came in and did what I usually didn’t do, which was sing above him. And all of a sudden it was like we all looked at each other and went, “That’s the shit. That’s it. This is what has been missing.”

It was so unlikely that that happened. I mean, Gunner had already moved up front to guitar, but as far as him singing on most songs, the main lead vocal, and me singing the high notes above him, which really became our signature sound, it wasn’t by accident. The Bee Gees did the same thing. Barry Gibb was kind of joking around with that voice thing that he did, because they had a whole career before that stuff. And he was joking around when the producers stopped the tape. “Hey, what was that? Do it again.” And it became their thing.

Gunner and I didn’t burn ourselves out, and still have had no surgeries, thank God, on our vocal cords. I think we’re going to be swinging for the fences. We’re older. It is an athletic endeavor, and it’s 30 years later. I’m going to blame my brother on this. He didn’t want to go out and tour Nelson. He really didn’t for a long time. That’s the truth of it.

I think he had wonderful experiences with Nelson, and we also had some not-so-wonderful experiences because we were always kind of men without a country. We were too heavy for pop radio and too lightweight for hard rock.

We just released a greatest hits record with Universal. We did a deal with them for our independent stuff, so it made sense on that level to kind of take a look at everything. Then we were offered these shows and 95% of the people are friends of ours that we’ve worked with before. Mark Slaughter lived at Gunner’s house for a while. We’re like brothers. And so it’s going to be a love fest when we play. We really should have teamed up with Slaughter forever ago. Dana Strum has been advising us behind the scenes for a few years. He’s a really bright guy, a great businessman, and has amazing stories. He suggested that we write a book and our book is almost finished. And Mark is a neighbor. We all live in Tennessee, and he’s right down the block.

We’re super pumped about it. And we’re doing stuff like calling up North Coast banners and doing the set design and the scenery and putting a crew together, which is tough nowadays, everybody’s either out working or they don’t want to work. There’s a lot going into it that I haven’t done in a while, but it’s exciting.

You’ve got a lot of connections at Picktown Palooza. Lita Ford is playing Thursday night and her drummer is your former drummer, Bobby Rock. Not sure if this is a fly-in date for you or if you’ll be driving to Ohio.

It’s funny you bring that up. We’re going to be driving up for a couple of reasons. We’re driving up because I have an Airstream trailer which is built in Ohio. It’s like the silver bullet looking thing. It took nine months for me to get a service appointment at the factory, which is only about an hour and a half away from where we are playing. And the appointment is only two days after we play so it was meant to happen.

Here’s the fun thing. Bobby called me up a couple of days ago and he said in his Bobby Rock voice, “Yo, Holmes, it’s my 60th birthday the night that I’m playing with Lita in Ohio. And the next night you and Gunner are coming in and Neil Zaza is your lead guitar player,” who, by the way, played lead guitar on all of Bobby’s clinic stuff that he did for years. He said, “In two days, I am going to be around pretty much everybody that meant something really serious to me in my career, my best friends.”

So we’re going to drive up early. We’re going to be there and hang with him on his birthday. And it’s really fun. Bobby’s wife is Kari. I haven’t met her yet. I think she’s coming in. My wife is named Kari. My stepson is living in Columbus right now so he’s going to be there. It’s such a cool vibe that’s happening.

Beyond that. The Ohio connection to this, which is even cooler from a musical standpoint, is Neil Zaza, he’s the shred factor in Nelson this time, not Brett Garsed. We played with Neil before. We’ve been to England with him with Nelson and done other stuff with him. He’s played on our records. We love him. He’s like a brother. And I brought in JJ Farris as the second lead guitar player. JJ and Neil are both from the Cleveland area and they used to do guitar competitions against each other back in the day. JJ was in a band called Slamin’ Gladys way back when and then he was in a band called The Tories. The coolest thing about it is the band is on fire and has a huge Ohio connection so it just couldn’t be better vibes. I know it’s a great kind of weekend.

Who’s playing drums?

David Keith. Mark Slaughter actually turned us on to David. He’s from the East Coast. He’s a Berklee School of Music grad, and we pulled him from Richie Blackmore’s band. He’s got a blonde mohawk, he’s tough to miss and is a really good drummer. And he’s going to be with us on that show. And he sings, too. He’s a singing drummer, which is rare. I love singing drummers. Like when we played with Kelly Keagey from Night Ranger in Scrap Metal. They’re rare, but they’re him and Don Brewer from Grand Funk Railroad. What a voice. And that little guy that was in a little band called the Eagles didn’t do so bad either. That Henley guy.

Randy Meisner was in my dad’s band before the Eagles. He was one of the founding members. And so what my dad was doing in the late ’60s was that sound before the Eagles. They were put together by our godfather, who produced our album Because They Can, John Boylan. He also produced the first Boston record. He was a guy that really got my dad into songwriting.

And then Saturday night, Lynch Mob, is playing and I know you toured with them back in the day.

Gunner and I sang on George’s solo album, Sacred Groove. We did the lead vocals on a song called “We Don’t Own This World,” which was, I think, the one he wanted to be his single. Kalodner wouldn’t let it happen. But yeah, we toured with Lynch Mob back in the day. It was Lynch Mob, Nelson, and Cinderella.

Picktown Palooza is always a great time. I’ve seen Jack Russell’s Great White, Firehouse, Dokken, and Enuff Z’Nuff at the festival throughout the years. With this year’s lineup, you have so many connections. Maybe it’s like that with all the festivals you do,

Not really, because Gunner and I, as I said, we haven’t done a lot of those festivals for a long time. We’ve done an occasional one.

When you put something together, and you’re firing on all cylinders, and everybody is pumped, and it feels like it’s got energy, that’s what we got going on right now. It doesn’t feel like this is a temporary thing, it feels like this is the first of a lot of effort we’re putting into this. You mentioned Firehouse. We’ve known them forever. CJ Snare played with Scrap Metal a couple of times. That is one of those pairings that would make a lot of sense. Nelson and Firehouse in the Midwest would just dominate. I think we’re going to be doing a lot of that with those guys.

You put out the Greatest Hits (and Near Misses) compilation last year. Would it be safe to say that if somebody listens to that collection and is coming to see you on Friday, they’re going to be pretty familiar with the set?

If they listen to the After the Rain album, they’ll be pretty familiar with the set. Not to give away anything, but my experience with this is we have, I think, 15 albums, and the truth of the matter is that, with some notable exceptions, for the most part, people really know the first album. That was the one that sold a gajillion copies and the rest of them were solid, but obviously different time, different levels of push.

The one thing that was on the cusp, and I don’t think we’re going to play it at Picktown Palooza, was the song that Gunner and I kind of had a hit with. It was the first thing we released and was on the Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure soundtrack. The song is called “Two Heads are Better Than One,” and we recorded it kind of as a lark with Dweezil Zappa. We wrote the song really quick and recorded it and wound up using half of the demo as the master on the recording. It wound up being a really good soundtrack record. We never got paid a dime for it, which was funny. That’s a different story. But we had to go under an assumed name called Power Tool. We used to do that song, “Two Heads are Better Than One” in our set. As kitschy as it is and as fun as it is, it kind of felt a little lame compared to the other stuff that we’re bringing in. Who knows? This will be the first show of a run and then we’re going to see what happens after it.

We actually did some really great tribute records with Bob Kulick producing. We did a thing called Stone Cold Queen and another one that was a Van Halen tribute. And we sang “Pretty Woman” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” on those two records. We’re going to have those worked up. If we feel like playing them, we’re going to play them because everybody loves something they know. We’re just having fun with it. I mean, Neil had a couple of solo hits and he did an amazing version of “Purple Rain.” Who doesn’t like “Purple Rain”? We’ll see.

Here we are, all these years later, and most of the people that grew up with this music, if they’re still around, they’re empty nesters. They’re ready to have fun. The world is not all that happy right now, and so it’s not a bad thing, honestly, in my opinion, to connect people with memories of their lives that were different, arguably more positive and more fun.

As silly as it sounds, I think that nostalgia rock shows like this, we’re still playing like we mean it, most of us. I know Gunner and I will be. I think that it’s a really cool thing for all of us to do, especially coming out of the last two years of everybody just being so oppressed and lied to. It’s kind of like, “Screw it. Let’s go have a good time.”

While the death of rock has been written about and discussed, there are still newer bands carrying the torch, like Greta Van Fleet. What do you think about the current state of music?

There are glimmers of hope. It’s not dead. It’s still there. I was actually at the Foo Fighters show and it was in Dave Grohl’s hometown in Baltimore. We were just passing through and Rami Jaffee, their keyboard player, is a friend of mine. And he said, “Come to the show.” And I’m thinking, “Okay, great.” We got there, this was, I think, a 6000 seater and it had been sold out for months. And it was a new venue. It might have been even bigger than that. There was a line that started blocks away to get inside. And I’m like, “Oh, man, I’m not good with that. I don’t want to really wait in line for hours.”. I let Rami know that it was a long line. He said, “Come around the back.”

We went around the back and he came down and said, “Come with me.” He took us up these stairs and I’m thinking he’s taking us to this green room or something like that. And the door opens and we’re in their dressing room and it’s just the band. It’s us and the band. And they couldn’t have been nicer. And I talked with all the guys and the last guy I talked to was Pat Smear. And he was looking at me funny from across the room.

He kind of had this little kind of impish grin. And he walks over and he’s like, “I know you.” And I said, “Yeah, I know you too.” He goes, “My name is Pat.” And I said, “I know Pat. Nice to meet you.” And he goes, “Yeah, but you don’t know this.” He said, “Your band, the Strange Agents, when you guys were like twelve, was playing at Madame Wong’s in L.A.” And I said, “You know my band?” He goes, “Yeah, man, I was in a band called the Germs.”

I said, “I know the Germs, of course.” He goes, “Yeah, but what you don’t know is across the alleyway from Madam Wong’s, which was the new wave club you were playing, was the Hong Kong Café, and the Germs were playing that. And all of us in the Germs wanted to not do our show and go over and see you guys because we had heard about your band.” And I just went, “Dude, my mind is so blown right now that Pat Smear knew about my pre-high school band.”

It made the whole thing worth it. It was a good vibe, and that’s when they had The Struts opening for them. And I just thought, if anybody can kind of keep that stuff, the spirit of that rock and roll thing going, it’s bands like the Foo Fighters and The Struts.

Gunner and I are on the melodic and pop side of things because that was what we kind of grew up with, that kind of California Laurel Canyon, new wave kind of thing. There was a big California power-pop scene that we came through. We kind of stayed away from that blues rock thing because it just wasn’t us. There were a lot of bands that did that and we just naturally went a different way. It’s weird. Our DNA is closer to the Ramones and Green Day than it is to Guns N’ Roses and Zeppelin, although we love that stuff. It’s great. I think that it’s kind of cool, and I do have to say, to prove my point, our video for “More Than Ever,” I was backstage and Joey Ramone came to meet us backstage, saying he was a fan. That was the coolest thing ever. Some people got it.

Joey Ramone is the first person I ever interviewed and he was great. I imagine if it hadn’t been a good interview, I would have given up and wouldn’t be talking to you today.

It would have crushed you. Gunner and I, we remember this. I mean, the longest in-store signing thing we ever did was 13 hours. And we always stay after shows. We always stay for hours after shows, meeting everybody, because the way we figure it is that could be, and probably will be, the only time we get a chance to actually say something or have an experience. It’s important. And I learned that from my dad. I never saw my dad ever have a celebrity moment. He sold half a billion records. You know, he was like a massive star, up there with Elvis and my experience is it’s people like that, like Joey or my dad, that I’m just aspiring to be.

You never know who you’re talking to, and you could crush them or you can elevate them. And I don’t ever want to be a guy that’s known for, “Hey man, you shit on my dreams,” or “You broke my spirit,” or something like that.
That doesn’t make me feel good at all. And that’s why I’ve always kind of had a little problem with people that get success and turn into that.

That’s one thing that’s really nice about surviving in this business as long as we have. It reminds me of when I met the only person that I really wanted to meet that I hadn’t met, which was Paul McCartney.

I’m a singing bass player like Paul. He’s a Beatle. They changed my life. I saw Beatlemania before Yoko had it ixnayed. George Harrison was my neighbor when I was growing up, and he used to come over and eat with us when we were toddlers. I just was too young to know. But I always wanted to meet McCartney. I had heard he was a big fan of our father. He was supposed to produce our dad’s record the year he died. It just never happened. Everybody would ask me, “Who have you not met that you want to meet?” And I said, “Well, I’d like to meet Sting, but I would love to meet Paul McCartney.” Still haven’t met Sting yet.

I got a phone call. Gunner and I got a last minute, like, really last minute, like, show is going to start in an hour type of phone call. We’re 20 minutes away, and Paul McCartney wants us to come to the show. He wants to meet us. So we hauled ass. We got there as fast as we could with our wives. They sent a person up to Will Call to come get us and they brought us downstairs.

Now, this is Nashville, so it’s like L.A. or New York. The entire backstage was a who’s who. They brought us into a green room, and everybody in the music business was in there, and actors, too. I mean, it was crazy. It was surreal. And we were only in there for about 30 seconds before I saw Doc McGee. And then the same assistant came in and said, “Nelsons, please come with me.”

So they pulled us out. I saw some jealous looks, and we went to the holding area where Paul was doing photos. They had a little thing set up with the lights and the photographer, and there were only a few people in a very small line. It was Gunner, myself, and our wives at the front of the line. Behind us was Reba McEntire, the band Rascal Flatts, both Brooks and Dunn, and Simon Kirke from Bad Company. Everybody’s waiting to meet their idol. We’re looking at each other collectively in the room. There are millions and millions of records that have been sold in this room and they’re all just like little kids. They’re not big stars anymore. Reba looks at Gunner and says, “Hi, I’m Dolly Parton.” It was really fun. It was good. And we talked to Simon Kirke a lot because I was a big Bad Company fan growing up and he couldn’t have been nicer.

And then I kind of felt something change, the energy changed. I turned around and there was Paul and he was a little smaller than I thought. He was kind of slight. And he looked at everybody, gave everybody a nod, and he looked at me right in the eyes, and he walked straight up to me and grabbed my face and said, “Don’t you look like your daddy?”

And I kind of joked, I said, “Well, I think I look more like my mom, sir, but thank you.” And he gave me a hug and he said, “I’m so happy you’re here.” And I kind of mentioned to him a couple of things I brought him. Back in the ‘50s, they only gave two Gold Records away. When you got a Gold Record award as an artist, they gave one to the artist, and they gave one to the head of the record company. And it’s not like today where they give everybody Gold Records.

There were only two. And I gave him a photograph of my dad accepting an award for a song that he did called “Lonesome Town,” because Paul McCartney had covered it on his Run Devil Run album. And I gave him this plaque, and I was thinking I took it off my wall and I told him the story behind it.

He was like, “Oh, that’s very nice of you.” The feeling I got, I didn’t know if he really appreciated it too much, because I’m sure people give him stuff all the time. And then I said, “I’ve got a surprise for you. I had heard that you were going to produce Pop before he died.” He said, “Yes, I was.” I said, “Well, I don’t know if you know this, but the last song he ever recorded was ‘One After 909,'” which was the first song that Paul ever did with John Lennon. That was the first song he ever wrote. And his eyes got huge, and he said, “Did you bring me a copy?” And I said “Yes.” I gave him a CD, and he started jumping up and down like a 12-year-old holding it to his chest, saying, “Oh, I am so excited about this.”

He handed it to his assistant. He said, “Put that in my bag on the bus. That’s what I’m listening to right after the show. I’m so excited.” He gave me another hug, and he said, “Well, we’re going to take a picture.”

We took a picture. It looks like we’re standing by a cardboard standee. Everybody thinks it’s not real. But you’ll see a look on my face of true joy. And I remember floating out. My wife was with me. He’s the only guy that I was starstruck over. But he couldn’t have been nicer, couldn’t have been kinder. Here’s arguably the most important famous musician in the world, and he couldn’t have made me feel more comfortable.

I floated out into the arena and ran face-to-face into Alice Cooper. And he looks at me and he goes, “Hey, Matt, how was that?” And I said, “I’m actually talking to Alice Cooper, who’s a friend of mine, asking me what it was like meeting Paul McCartney between Reba McEntire and the Brooks and Dunn guys.” I said, “Only my life.” I said, “Dude, it was like having an audience with the Pope. I don’t even know what to say.” And I went up to watch the show. I cried six times during the show. I mean, seriously, it doesn’t get any better than that.

But it was that kind of moment that I was so happy that when I finally met somebody like that, that they didn’t treat me like I was less than, they treated me like I was just hanging out with them. And I’m so glad that you had that experience with Joey Ramone, because my experience was very similar.

I don’t know that any 18-year-old takes advice from parents or thinks about the future, because I certainly didn’t. When you were 18, did you see that your dad had made a career out of songs he had written decades earlier? Did that make you think, when you were writing the songs for After the Rain, that you wanted to write songs that you could still play 30 years later rather than trying to make something that sounded very specific to the early ‘90s?

I had hoped so. Music for me has never been temporary. It’s my life’s mission and I had other things that happened to me in my life that I was good at, that I could have done something different.

There was a point where I got really into motorsports and I won some big races and I was asked to race for a Porsche team at the 24 Hours of Daytona in a GT2 car, which is a 200+ mile an hour car as a co-driver.

And that was the point where I actually had to really evaluate, do I go into racing full time because I really had the talent to do it? And I thought about my brother and I thought about the music that I had started and I wasn’t done saying what I needed to say, so I had to walk away from it.

It was really tough for me and that happened after the After the Rain thing. So no, for me, it’s never been temporary. I’m also Ozzie and Harriet’s grandson, and the stuff that they did has lasted nearly 100 years. My dad’s stuff, too, and he’s been gone a long time. He had kind of a resurgence right before he passed away with the whole rockabilly thing. Everybody was citing him as an influence, like the Stray Cats were huge fans and he kind of was making kind of a comeback with that stuff. But we had been estranged because our mom was really difficult. We turned 18 only about four months before he died, but we lived together and kind of caught up. It’s not that we felt estranged from him, it’s just he was working so hard just to pay legal fees and stuff like that associated with their divorce, and it was really rough.

When he got his family back, man, everything came together. And we spent so much time with him, and he was so committed to his music and what he did in entertaining people. And I remember there was one time right before he died, and it was one of those things, I think he did it as a favor for the manager. It was something that wasn’t magnanimous. It was like an RV show in Ontario or something like that.

They had a stage out there, and it was a job, it was a gig. But he had a great band and stuff. Gunner and I went, and I remember it was very lightly attended. There weren’t a whole lot of people there. I’d seen him at the Universal Amphitheater and there were 7000 people there, but there just weren’t a lot of people at this RV show. He was embarrassed because we showed up backstage. He was a little sheepish and stuff.

I said, “What’s going on, Pop?” And he said, “Well, look where I am. Look at this thing. You guys are here. I’m a little embarrassed.” And I looked at him and I said, “Did you get paid?” He said “Yeah.” And I said, “You have some people out there?” He goes, “Yeah.” And I said, “Then go kick their ass.” And he gave me this huge smile and a hug, and he put on the best show I’ve ever seen him do and he was always good. If you ever saw my dad, he was great. But his band tore it up and people filled in. There were about 1000 people by the time he was done. And I remember when he went out there and it was lightly attended, I turned to Gunner and I said, “God forbid something happens to him. They’re going to call him a legend.” And he died a month later. And that always was heavy on my heart. I didn’t want to feel like I invoked something.

People took him for granted all his life in music. They tried to write him. “Oh, he was just made for TV” or “This was something he didn’t need to do.” And if you were one of those lucky people that ever saw him perform or listened to the Garden Party or Rudy the Fifth albums or all the great early rockabilly stuff he ever did, you can just feel it in people’s voices. You know if they believe in what they’re doing. You know if they’re in it for the right reasons. He was in it, and his stuff has lasted.

Gunner and I, from jump, we’ve been in it, and the rare occasions where we haven’t, we can raise our hand and say, “Well, this album was a stinker, and we just kind of threw it together. We’ll never do it again. We learned from it.” So no matter what we’ve done, we put into it and it’s come back to us. And hopefully one day my grandkids will be listening to my music and living their life to it as well.

That’s all you can hope for. I mean, I think that’s a really cool thing. Whether you write a book or you leave a garden behind you or there’s poems about that or you make some music that some people had experiences that mean something to them if you’re connected to that, man, what a cool thing that is to have lived and done something like that. I feel really blessed.

Well, After the Rain was a big album for me in 1990 and I can definitely recall listening to the album and associating the songs with experiences I had in my life.

It was a good album, start to finish, and it was a soundtrack for a lot of people. And all you need to know is that we’re definitely going to bring it. It’s like when you start a tour, you’ve got some things you’re going to work out. It’s gonna be better on the 12th show than it was on the first. You always kind of learn little things or you’ll play a song that you’ll say, “That was kind of a stinker” or “Let’s just replace that,” but I can say that we’re definitely going to bring it, and if it sucks, it’s Gunner’s fault. (laughs)