The most important work any man can accomplish is fatherhood. The desire to do something enduring and exceptional is instilled in us by nature, so there is no wonder the bond between two exceptional stars is evident from the stage when these guys are performing together to a sold out crowd.
Willie Nelson and his son Lukas Nelson are two generations of extraordinary musicians. Though both perform totally different kinds of music, their music is similar in nature. Willie’s music is laid back and soothing to music lovers across the board, and Lukas’ music is bluesy with a rock edge, but he sounds a lot like Willie. Willie Nelson hasn’t yet passed the torch, but he’s certainly lit the fire of music for Lukas.
When you’re the son of Willie Nelson, you know you have a lot to live up to, but Lukas doesn’t look at it like that. His dad is his hero, the man that shaped who he is, so there’s no doubt there’s a great bond between them.
When asked how big of an impact his dad had on his music Lukas replied, “Monumental. Every early childhood memory I have has a musical tint to it. His music shaped my life. Literally. I grew up on tour with him and his friends and so he definitely is my biggest influence without a doubt. My whole life I’ve been performing. I’ve been playing since I was very young. Singing when I was really young and then I used to go up on stage with my dad when I was a little toddler. It has been a part of my entire upbringing.”
Willie Nelson’s music was influenced by artists like Bob Dylan, Hank Williams Sr. and Frank Sinatra. Like his dad, Lukas’s influences stretch far and wide as well. Outside of his dad’s music, blues guitarists rank high on that list. Lukas expressed, “Jimi Hendrix was the reason I started playing guitar. One of the reasons I really started playing was I really wanted to be close to my dad, and it was something that I knew I could do that would bring us closer together. And so I wanted to learn, and Dad wanted me to learn. It was something we had in common.
Then Hendrix came along, and then I just really fell in love with rock ‘n’ roll and that’s what kept me. I think you can’t do it for anyone else, really. As much as it was for my dad, a big reason was just because I was so in love with it.” His guitar playing screams Hendrix influences as well as BB King and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Like his father, Lukas is also a songwriter. He writes with his band Promise of the Real sometimes and shares the glory. “Yes. We collaborate. I’ll write a song and then bring it into the band, and we’ll collaborate,” Lukas relays. “I write the lyrics, and I write the melodies most of the time.”
Songwriting has always been the legacy of the Nelson family and that tradition will not stop at Lukas Nelson. Like Willie Nelson always says, “A lot of country music is sad. I think most art comes out of poverty and hard times. It applies to music. Three chords and the truth – that’s what a country song is. There is a lot of heartache in the world.” That attitude gives the Nelsons an aura as the first family of songwriting.
Willie Nelson performed on many variety shows such as the Grand Ole Opry package show in 1965 and the Late Show with David Letterman show as well. Like his father, Lukas is headed down the same path. “David Letterman reached out after seeing a video of us on YouTube. So my dad’s name is out there and having him as a father opens a lot of doors, because people a lot of times will give it a listen just to see, ‘Oh, what about Willie’s kid?’” Lukas Nelson explains, “we…take advantage of those open doors, you know. We’re actually a great band and we have fun and it’s a great energy and a good vibe – people like the live shows. It’s totally different from dad’s stuff. I think it’s a surprise for people that we play rock ‘n’ roll.”
One of the final musical guests on the Late Show with David Letterman prior to its final episode, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real performed in April 2015 for the venerable late night talk show host.
Lukas Nelson & Promise of The Real’s tour schedule has exploded. They are working a tremendous amount of dates, along with Lukas still performing some with his dad. “Oh yeah, I’m out with my dad any chance I can get. Then I have my band, too. We’ve got a record we just finished. We have a tentative title for it called ‘Something Real,’ and man, in our opinion it’s light-years ahead of what we’ve put out so far,” Lukas expressed.
“People are going to be really stoked. There’s no song on there I don’t like. I’m so happy about it. We did it in a Victorian mansion called the Westerfield House,” Lukas explains. “Jim Siegel, executive producer – he owns the house, and it was just really incredible.”
Most everyone has heard of Farm Aid, which is a concert founded by Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp back in 1985 to raise money to help American farmers in danger of losing their farms through mortgage debt. The concert has become a tradition for many, and the Nelson family is the core of that tradition. Willie Nelson has passed on the giving back trait to Lukas as well.
He participates in many fundraising concerts across the country like Harvest of Hope, Farm Aid and many others throughout the year. “I was just talking to a friend of mine, Charles Attal, he’s one of the C3 guys. He’s a great guy and lives down in Austin. They put on a lot of the music festivals. He’s a very privileged guy, and so am I, and we were talking about how important it is when you have so much to give back more than you receive and just try to think about life as a cycle and watch the way nature works,” Lukas says honestly.
“I like to use the bees and the flowers as a good example. They give and receive, and it’s a whole cycle. That’s how nature works. I think that there is a really important, subtle metaphorical sutra. It’s a very profound simplicity in giving back. It makes me feel good and makes me feel like I’m a part of something bigger than myself.”
Armed with a great attitude, Lukas has aimed for the sky. Just like his father Willie, that kind of positive thinking comes naturally. As Willie has said in the past, “Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results.” That’s the kind of positive thinking that has stretched two generations, giving the Nelsons an upper hand.
Willie’s laid back attitude about life drawing energy from the “Flower Power” era has influenced Lukas as well. When asked how he feels about having big shoes to fill, Lukas expressed, “I don’t really think too much about it. I just play music. That’s all I know how to do well. I’m not really good at determining whether I have relevance in the world. If you find anybody good at that, let me know. I don’t think that’s an answerable question anyways. I’m a philosopher, but I try not to let it run my life.” That is the power of music – it seems to help keep musicians young or at least young at heart.
Over the years, many children of stars have tried their hand at performing. Some have succeeded, and others have failed. Lukas Nelson will be one to succeed. The bond between a father and son isn’t always a close bond, but some bonds are unbreakable – like the one between Willie Nelson and Lukas Nelson.
Willie Nelson is America’s favorite great all-around musician. He is admired by music lovers of all genres and will go down in history as one of the greatest musicians of all time. Lukas will follow in his footsteps and take the world by storm the way his father has. In generations to come, they will look back on past music and see Lukas and Willie’s music as groundbreaking, each from their own time. They will clearly understand why people will say Willie and Lukas Nelson are like father, like son.