Lukas Nelson, who inherited his guitar chops and unmistakable vocals from dad, country legend Willie Nelson, has managed to create a renowned name and reputation of his own. He has created a spot of his own in the industry separately from his father, who he greatly respects and has worked with for more than a few times.
But how did Lukas Nelson handled a lot of expectations and the overall stress that some people might find pretty discouraging?
Lukas Nelson’s Early Years
Lukas Autry Nelson was born on Christmas Day in 1988. He is the son of country icon Willie Nelson and wife Annie D’Angelo, who married in 1991. He has one brother, Jacob Micah, and five step-siblings from his father’s previous partners.
Lukas Nelson was born in Austin, Texas and his parents raised him in Maui, Hawaii.
“Well, I’m born here in Austin. But my dad’s had a place in Hawaii since, like, ’78. And my mom thought it would be kind of a nice place to really raise me, along with Austin, going back and forth. Because here in Austin, dad’s got this — people think he’s just the king, and she didn’t want me growing up thinking I was a prince. I really appreciate that,” Lukas said.
Lukas Nelson started playing guitar at a very young age, but he did not do it because he was interested or because heard a lot of music around the house growing up, he did it in an attempt to better connect with his hard-touring father.
“When I was 10 or 11 years old. Dad and mom never really forced it on me. They just had ’em lying around the house. It was something I could do to get closer to my dad actually because he was gone all the time. I thought, “If I start playing guitar, maybe that’s something we can talk about,” Lukas said.
Lukas Nelson actually wanted to be an athlete at first. His first dream was to be a pro skateboarder. And then he wanted to be on a pro swimmer, so he joined the swim team. He was really inspired by the Olympics. He was also a great soccer player and was on the golf team. But then he realized that his greatest challenge was his self rather than competing against other people.
“I felt like competing against myself was gonna be more beneficial because then it could be a constant cycle of self-improvement. So I moved toward music because with music, it’s just you and the guitar. But I did that bring mentality to it, like, I wanted to be the best at it. I wanted to be an Olympian in the music world,” Lukas said.
“And also, my dad, I remember, had a birthday coming up, and I asked him what he wanted. And he said, “I wish you’d learn how to play guitar.” And I said, “OK.” So that was something that I could do to get closer to him.”
And indeed, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree! When Lukas Nelson was just 11, he wrote a song for the first time. His dad liked it so much that he recorded his son’s composition, “You Were It,” for his 2004 album It Always Will Be. “You Were It” unexpectedly came to Lukas Nelson one morning while he was sitting on a school bus. “This song started playing in my head,” he remembered. “It came like a radio signal. Yeah, songs just come sometimes.”
And by the age of 13, Lukas Nelson started taking lessons from Maui-based gypsy-jazz guitarist Tom Conway and practiced eight to 10 hours a day. Can you see the dedication right there? Within a year, Lukas was good enough to tour in his dad’s band as his rhythm guitarist and learning the stagecraft that would eventually carry him into his own career.
But his dad wasn’t his only mentor when he was young. He had also toured substantially with Neil Young and an all-star cast, together with Sheryl Crow and Margo Price. Any young musician would surely consider being surrounded by this dream team of mentors a once in a lifetime opportunity. Well, Lukas figured out quickly how to learn from his surroundings.
“Of course, they’re all teachers. And the types of teachers that [I] have, I think it’s better to instead of asking questions, to observe. So that’s how I’ve learned,” Lukas explained. “That’s been my greatest asset, I think, as a musician, being able to observe and listen and quiet myself long enough to hear what’s going on around me.”
Lukas eventually became a rare talent in his own right, as expected. Even Bob Dylan was captured by his charm. In 2004, Dylan has offered him a job. Unfortunately, his mom did not approve of it as she wanted her to stay in school.
“Bob Dylan did offer me a job to go on the road. I sat in with him [in 2004] and he made the offer afterwards, though my mom forbade it. That was OK since I was working on developing my own band and I was playing with dad,” Lukas revealed.
“My mom wanted me to stay in school. Back then I said to myself, “Well, if that ever happens again. If there’s anybody besides Bob, because that ship sailed, but if Neil [Young] were to ever call and asked me to play with him, I would.”
Lukas Nelson and Willie Nelson
Country music icon Willie Nelson has been praised time and time again for his unbelievable impact on country music as well as the music industry as a whole. In addition to being a singer, songwriter, actor, and much more, Willie is also a father to a talented lad.
It’s actually not hard to recognize Lukas Nelson as Willie’s kid. To state the most obvious similarity, the two sound strangely alike–both in speaking and singing voice. Lukas Nelson absolutely bears a strong vocal resemblance to his father, especially when he sings mellower songs.
Despite Lukas Nelson’s busy schedule, touring and recording, he is still very close to his father. “He’s doing incredibly right now. He may be getting the most rest he’s gotten in a long time,” Lukas said about his legendary father, who is now 86 years old. “We’re just hanging out. We’re playing a lot of chess and dominoes, staying informed but not getting too bogged down with the news. And we’re writing music.”
Being Willie Nelson’s son, to Lukas, has been nothing but a blessing in his life. And he will never trade his father for any other dad in the world—whether he was famous or not. His biggest collaborations are the ones he did with his dad.
“I learned everything from him. How to be a performer, how to be in front of a crowd, how to connect with a crowd. He’s taught me a lot about being in a band—like when not to play,” Lukas shared in one of his interviews.
Willie Nelson’s quite good with giving pieces of advice too. “I see songs everywhere in everyday life,” Lukas shared with CMT.com. “My dad told me a long time ago when you’re a songwriter, you can’t force the song because songwriting is like rainwater. If you’ve got a well, and it’s dry, you have to wait for it to rain. Sometimes it rains hard, and you’ve got plenty of water to drink. The songs that you try and write when the well is dry are forced, and that’s not right.”
In 2018, the two crooners take the stage together and sung version of Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe”. They silenced the room together. When their performance comes to an end, Lukas and his father engage in an emotional embrace and everyone kept from fighting tears after listening.
Having such a famous and legendary parent, one of the most influential key players in the world of country music, is often a bit of a hurdle to some, but Lukas has always been delightful when it comes to his family ties. Lukas had always looked up to his dad.
“My dad and I are alike in a lot of ways,” Lukas said. “I’ve always looked up to him, and I’ve always wanted to be like him, in terms of being a human being, and also in terms of being a musician. I’m lucky to have such a great example.”
Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real
When Lukas Nelson was asked how he would describe the live shows of Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real for someone who hasn’t seen it yet, Lukas said: “The only way I can describe it is from a musical point of view. And there’s a transference of energy that happens between me and the audience. There’s a connection, and the audience is as much a part of the show as we are. It becomes an experience, and now we’ve got enough of our fans out there that come to each show and know all the words.”
Well, there’s no doubt to that as Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real was formed from something pretty interesting.
Despite feeling certain that his future was in music, Lukas then moved to Los Angeles to attend Loyola Marymount University in 2007. While there, he saw a concert by Neil Young, whom he knew from the annual Farm Aid benefit concerts presented by his father. At the show, Lukas met drummer Anthony LoGerfo, and the two began jamming together.
“I met my drummer, who I started with the band with — his name’s Anthony Logerfo — we met at a Neil Young concert. And we loved each other’s vibe, and we love Neil, so we decided to start a band together that night, really,” Lukas said.
Soon after, he dropped out of college and formed Promise of the Real in 2008. The band’s name was taken from a lyric of Young’s 1974 epic song “Walk On:” Some get stoned/ some get strange/ but sooner or later, it all gets real.
The band became Lukas’ primary musical outlet over the coming years. In the fall of 2008, the band played their first shows and selling EP Live Beginnings to pay for touring. The album is composed of live tracks recorded at the “Belly Up” venue in Solana Beach, California.
In 2009, the band started a nine-show tour opening for Willie Nelson, including a five-night stop at The Fillmore in San Francisco. They also released their first studio EP, Brando’s Paradise Sessions. And finally, in December 2010, the band released its first album, Promise of the Real.
Forget About Georgia is one of the hit songs in the album, written by Lukas himself. The song is about a woman named Georgia he met during his time in the city. Yes, Georgia was real.
“It’s a true story about me and a girl I went out with for a while. Her name was Georgia. When we stopped seeing each other, I was heartbroken about it,” Lukas Nelson revealed. But what made his heartbreak worse is that when he hit the road with his father, he had to play Georgia on my Mind, a No. 1 country hit for Willie Nelson in 1978, on stage every night.
“At the time, I was playing shows with my father and I had to go out every night and play “Georgia On My Mind). Playing that song every show made it impossible for me to forget about this girl. That’s why I wrote Forget About Georgia.”
In 2015, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real collaborated with the legendary Neil Young. They recorded Young’s 2015 album “The Monsanto Years.” Then you went on to tour with Neil as his backing band. Playing with Neil is something Lukas compared to “being in a master class with one of your favorite musicians” and “a transcendent feeling that’s almost indescribable.”
“I pictured myself playing with him ever since I was a little kid,” Lukas said “The first show we did with him with the band was in Nebraska, and it was like we had been playing together for years. Working with Neil has added a lot of weight, and the energy that we absorb from being around Neil carries over into the music that we put down afterwards.”
And then 2016 comes, which put the band in a whirlwind of good fortune. Bradley Cooper saw Nelson and his band, Promise of the Real, performing with Neil Young at 2016’s Desert Trip. Lukas wasn’t only crushing everything Neil was throwing at him, from a gentle, acoustic “Comes a Time” to a wild, frenetic “Cowgirl in the Sand”, but he looked like a movie star while doing it.
“Bradley is a huge Neil Young fan,” Lukas said. “He looked at me and said to himself, ‘I want this guy to teach me how to present myself as a musician in this movie.’” Cooper contracted Lukas to be a music consultant, but the moment he started writing with Lady Gaga, they discovered such incredible chemistry that Cooper brought him and Promise of the Real on board to serve as his character’s onscreen backing.
“That was like the highlight of my life at that point,” Lukas said of being singled out by Cooper from an all-star lineup at what he lovingly refers to as “Oldchella.” “And then, you know, another sort of highlight was born from that.”
So Lukas Nelson did not only co-wrote with Cooper for the film and served as a vocal coach but at the same time serve as the band that backs Bradley Cooper’s Jackson Maine in 2018’s A Star Is Born. During his interview with Billboard, Lukas shared, “I’m stepping back from my lead role and playing sideman to other artists, who were Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. Having that ability to be a lead, I think it’s also really important to know how to be in a band. The way I approach my songwriting, I think there’s a lot of me in [A Star Is Born]. These are songs that I’ve written about my own life, and in a way, they can be applied to any situation.”
“A Star Is Born was incredible,” Lukas said in another interview. “I feel lucky to be amongst those two superstars — and I don’t use that term lightly. They’re really super-talented, amazing people, and they really know how to work hard. We’re a big part of the movie, so we’re really excited for people to see it.”
Lukas’ friendship with Lady Gaga has also deepened that she agreed to sing background vocals on his song “Carolina,” which appears on Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real’s 2017 self-titled LP. “I wrote a bunch of songs with her for the movie and we became really good friends. She does an amazing job in the film. Stefani (Lady Gaga’s real name) is an incredible vocalist and the comparisons to Barbra Streisand (who starred in the 1976 version of the film) are striking”.
In 2019, the band released new album Turn Off the News (Build a Garden), where they double down on their mind-blowing cowboy anthems, with help from friends including Sheryl Crow, Kesha and Young himself.
Today, Promise of the Real are gearing up for the release of their new LP, “Naked Garden.” It is a 15-track collection that comes on the heels of last year’s album, “Turn Off the News (Build a Garden) as well as Lukas’ Grammy win for his work on the soundtrack for “A Star Is Born.”
“I’ve got the best rock and roll band in the world, and I’m not just saying that. We were up there with the heaviest hitters in rock and roll and we held our own. I feel very lucky,” Lukas Nelson said. Promise of the Real’s current six-piece lineup includes longtime bandmates Tato Melgar (percussion), Anthony LoGerfo (drums) and Corey McCormick (bass, vocals).
Lukas Nelson indeed has been hard at work carving his own for most of his young but extremely eventful life. Despite following in his dad’s career path, Lukas naturally seems to march to his own beat.
“My goal is to create a new world and when people come and listen to the music, they feel good,” Lukas said. “I do try and keep the subject somewhat personal to me. I always try to write something I can relate to, even if I bring myself in someone else’s shoes.”
“There’s really no subject that’s off-limits. Wherever the source of inspiration is in general, you can’t really limit that. You can’t really put chains or bars on that because if you do, you might snuff it out.”