For some, their first musical memory might be a favorite song playing on the radio, a video on MTV, or a concert their parents took them to. But for 22-year-old singer-songwriter-guitarist Lukas Nelson, his first music memory is being onstage with such superstars as Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and his father Willie Nelson singing along and stomping his feet to a crowd of thousands.
“I was out on the road with my dad when he was doing the Highwaymen with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson. I was about two or three. I even took my first steps on my dad’s tour bus at the time, the Honeysuckle Rose. I felt like I understood it a lot, like it was something that was close to me. I kind of knew at that early age that I wanted to play music. It was the only thing that really made me happy,” says Nelson who fronts the Southern-folk-rock group Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, whose full-length debut CD, Promise of the Real, was released December 21, 2010.
To say Lukas was born to play music is an understatement. The sixth child of one of the most acclaimed and beloved music stars of all time Willie Nelson, and his fourth wife Annie, Lukas inherited his father’s musicality, his penchant for penning his own music, and his love of the road. But more important – and possibly more surprising to some – he also inherited his father’s humility and genuineness.
“Our name, Promise of the Real, comes from trying to do it the real way. That’s what my goal in life is – to stay human, stay real, stay humble, and stay grounded for the rest of my life. I’ve learned a lot from my dad. He got me my first guitar when I was 12 and taught me chords, but I also learned by his example of how he lives his life and how he keeps his humility.”
Lukas kept it so real that when his parents cut him off after dropping out of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles (where he studied music), Lukas lived out of his car for a year, couch surfed, and worked as a street performer to get in touch with what is real. “I had read the book, Siddhartha by Hermann Hess and it’s loosely based on the life of the Buddha, who was born a prince but went off to learn what it was like to become a beggar,” he says. “I felt connected to that. I would play guitar and sing on the Venice boardwalk and the promenade in Santa Monica, California and go back to the campus, and sit and play. I learned how to gather a crowd and create these cool little hippie happenings. I felt like I was getting a different kind of education this way.”
Soon after, Lukas began to take his music career quite seriously. He had previously played in a hard rock band when he was just 9-years-old (Kalice), in a reggae band in high school in Hawaii at age 15 (Harmonic Tribe), and formed a band with his younger brother Micah at age 19 (40 Points). But with Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real, his songwriting craft and performance skills were fully honed. The band – which includes drummer Anthony LoGerfo, percussionist Tato Melgar, and bassist Corey McCormick – released a well-received EP, Brando’s Paradise Sessions, in 2009 and then hit the road with everyone from Willie Nelson, B.B. King, Dave Matthews Band, Blues Traveler, Creedence Clearwater Revisited, Bachman & Turner, Toots & the Maytals, the Meat Puppets, and others.
Along with opening slots, they’ve also jammed onstage with Neil Young, B.B. King, Bob Dylan, and of course dad, at Farm Aid 2010 and other gigs. “The live show,” says Lukas, “is always an experience. It’s an energy transfer between people. Nothing makes me happier than when we’re up there jamming and everybody is singing along and dancing. It’s never the same twice.”
Promise of the Real, which was written over the past year and recorded in Austin, Texas in winter/fall 2010, was produced by Lukas and bandmates LoGerfo, Melgar, and former bassist John Avila (of Oingo Boingo fame). The album features nine original compositions, including the kick-off track and first single “Four Letter Word” and the surf rock jam “Start To Go.” It also features two unique renditions of some of Lukas’ favorite music: “L.A.” by Neil Young, and a mash-up of sorts of two Jimi Hendrix songs, “Pali Gap” and “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun).”
“I listen to a lot of music,” explains Lukas. “I learned to play guitar on Mike Bloomfield records and Buddy Guy and Albert King and Freddie King and Eric Clapton and George Harrison. But two records that really changed my life were Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced? and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Double Trouble. I discovered both on a trip up to Northern California and it was like a religious experience for me. I’ve always listened to and tried to absorb different styles and I’m still doing that. And I think you hear that on this record.”
The record is also a family with Lukas recording his version of “Peaceful Solution” a song originally penned by his father and sister Amy Niccore. His proud father contributes backing vocals to “Fathers and Mothers” and “The Sound of Your Memory” and lends his playing skills using his guitar named Trigger on “All the Pretty Horses. Lukas’ aunt (Willie’s sister) Bobbie Nelson contributes piano to “Fathers and Mothers” and his younger brother Micah Nelson is responsible for the artwork in the CD booklet. Micah is also the creator of the band’s peace-sign-tree logo and is considered the sixth member of the group because he often paints onstage during the group’s live shows. Some of these paintings are featured in the CD packaging for Promise of the Real.
Adds Lukas “This album makes me feel good and that’s the point. The whole idea of being a musician is to create joy in the hearts of others. The whole idea of being an entertainer is to make people happy and entertain. And that’s something I think we achieved on this record. I really believe that everybody has their own purpose in life and I think mine is just to play music and spread some joy.”
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