Former Reynolds board chairman now 'killer dude'

John Nelsen, 53, former chairman of the Reynolds School District Board, may have received the best Father’s Day compliment ever.

Both he and his son, Ray Nelsen, 22, guitarist and singer for The Cry — who play the Portland Rose Festival at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, June 7, in Tom McCall Waterfront Park — admit they did not always have the best relationship.

“Ray struggled academically all the way through school, and this led to him running with a pretty rough crowd,” John says.

However, things have changed over the past few years, both men say.

“I realized later on that my dad was not a Nazi,” Ray says. “He’s actually a killer dude.”

As impresario for The Cry, a power-pop band making noise in the rock ‘n’ roll underground, Nelsen responds like any dad would when told his son thinks he’s cool.

“He is going to find his own path in life, and if I can help along the way, I will every time.”by: JIM CLARK - John Nelsen gives a listen to The Cry as they prepare to play the Portland Rose Festival Saturday, June 7.

From board to band

The last time The Outlook interviewed John Nelsen regularly, he was shepherding the Reynolds board through a tumultuous era, as it grappled with the controversial departure of a superintendent and related issues. Nelsen also ran as a Republican in a failed bid to represent Oregon House District 49 that same year. In 2010, after a decade on the board, Nelsen resigned, citing family issues that had become overwhelming.

“In about 2008 our family started experiencing a series of deaths,” Nelsen says. “Three of four of our children’s grandparents and our son’s 21-year-old fiancee all passed over a period of a year. The emotional toll on the kids was heartbreaking.”

Ray, in particular, “started really searching for meaning and purpose,” Nelsen says, adding that he and his wife, Vicky, were also doing some searching themselves. In the process, the young man and the former school official found their mutual salvation in rock ‘n’ JIM CLARK - The Cry run through one of their power-pop anthems. The band recently opened for Irish rockers The Strypes and gig regularly in such area clubs as the East End and Mississippi Studios in Portland.

“I have always been a musician at heart, so when, at age 11, Ray started showing a lot of interest in my old gear — I had amps, guitars, mics — I saw an opportunity for him to learn some higher-order skills and experience some success that had eluded him in school,” John says. “He was an eager student and soon brought a couple friends around and wanted to have a band. We created a band, The Delinquent Souls, out of three kids at H.B. Lee Middle School (where Ray was a student) and within a couple months the kids were gigging around town.”

A fan of KISS, the Ramones and the Beach Boys, Ray says getting a guitar and a drum kit in fourth grade sparked his passion to rock out. Over time, he developed a love for less-is-more rock ‘n’ roll, the economical guitar solos of George Harrison, the simple riffs of Chuck Berry.

“I’m a big fan of the two-minute song,” Ray says. “I just like, ‘Don’t bore us, get to the chorus!’”

On the same track

When he was a senior at Reynolds Learning Academy, Ray Nelsen ran into Brian Crace, a senior at Reynolds High School, at the MAX stop on 172nd Avenue.

“He was like super punk back in the day,” Crace says. “He had on two belts ... leather jacket ... completely punked out. I was a little more reserved looks wise in high school. I was just always a longhair.”

Crace was looking to do a senior film project on bands and wound up shooting footage of a group Nelsen led. While the band took a break, Crace tried out one of their guitars, and Nelsen was amazed by what he heard.

“He said, ‘We should start a band, you’re (expletive) good!’”

Crace started jamming regularly with Nelsen, and to this day, the two play together almost daily. While Nelsen is The Cry’s primary songwriter, Crace contributes tunes as well (as does John Nelsen).

“Ray’s really prolific,” Crace says, talking about their different yet complementary approaches. “I’ll spend like six months writing a song.”

The two young men jam — LOUDLY — five days a week in a downtown Portland rehearsal hall and recently brought in three new members — drummer Joey Prude, a Spokane native; keyboardist-guitarist Victor Franco, a Southern California native; and Mike “Corsh” Cortichiato, a Chicago rocker who met the band in the Windy City and moved to Portland to play with them. Together the quintet create a sound that mixes the vocal attack of The Clash and The Beatles with the anthemic assault of The Cure, The Small Faces and the early Who.

Top of the pops

John Nelsen and the band have a simple goal — world domination. Their debut album in 2011 received rave reviews from Rolling Stone, Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll and other sources. They released a second album, “Dangerous Game,” this year, and have played all over the country.

Their videos have been viewed by tens of thousands on YouTube, and they also have recorded “Shama Lama Ding Dong” and “Shout” for the soon-to-be-released “Animal House of Blues” documentary commemorating the John Belushi flick of the same name. (You can learn more at

“Seriously, we want to be the best power-pop band in the world,” John Nelsen says, noting he handles promotion, booking, publicity and a host of other duties. However, his ultimate goal is to deliver the band to a label or manager who can take them to the top.

“My boys will always be ‘my’ boys,’” he says. “But they need to grow professionally beyond my ability to lead.”

Nonetheless, his boys like what he’s doing.

“He’s totally one of the band members,” Prude says, echoing what the other members say.

In an industry filled with double-talkers, Nelsen cuts to the chase every time, Franco says.

“He doesn’t say anything unless it’s going to happen, which is refreshing.”

“I feel he has good intentions all the time,” Corsh adds.

As for Ray, he’s just fine letting Dad do the legwork while he and the boys crank up their amps and get the girls to dance.

“He’s like all of our dads,” Ray says. “He’s a good dude.”

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