Lukas Nelson is one of the most exciting voices to emerge in recent years, a true triple threat as a singer, songwriter and guitarist, as captured on the new self-titled album by his band Promise of the Real.
At 28, he’s been on the road with his father Willie Nelson for half his life. But Lukas and his POTR fully came into their own onstage with another icon—recording and touring with Neil Young off and on over the last two years.
“Playing with Neil is like being in a master class with one of your favorite musicians,” says Nelson. “It’s a transcendent feeling that’s almost indescribable.”
Words don’t usually fail Nelson, who is a thoughtful, deep songwriter. He’s soft-spoken and chill, as you would expect of a Nelson offspring raised on the beach in Hawaii. Onstage, though, Nelson is a magnetic, athletic presence, with a physicality that transfers into his lead guitar work, playing with a slashing abandon that echoes surf, blues and country rock.
With Young, Nelson plays a Strat, but in Promise of the Real, he favors a 1956 Les Paul Junior, wrangling great, varied tones out of the single-pickup instrument. “I just love the sound and the way it takes some finesse to change tones,” he says. “If you play lighter it sounds like a neck pickup and if you play harder it sounds like a bridge. It’s all in your hands.”
Vocally, Nelson bears a strong resemblance to his father, especially on mellower numbers. Willie pops up for a solo on “Just Outside of Austin,” along with Lukas’ aunt Bobbie, who has been her brother’s piano player for decades. Lukas is clearly not running from the family connection, and why should he?
“Being Willie Nelson’s son has been nothing but a blessing in my life,” he says. “I wouldn’t trade him for any other dad in the world—whether he was famous or not.”