Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, on tour

Lana Nelson,
by Wade Tateangelo

Deciding on a birthday present for Dad can be tough. Especially if he’s Willie Nelson.  At age 11, Lukas Nelson opted to ask his famous father what he wanted. “Learn how to play guitar,” Willie said.

And Lukas did. Fast.

Three years later, Father asked Son to join his Family Band. Lukas, now 22, has been touring with him pretty much ever since.

“I love being with my dad,” Lukas said by phone from a tour stop in Lafayette, La. “On the road is really the only chance to be with him.”

In addition to becoming an ace guitarist like his father with a taste and talent for jazz, country, blues and rock, Lukas excels at writing deftly detailed lyrics that incorporate a myriad of musical styles. Soon after picking up that first guitar, the 11-year-old penned “You Were It.” He played it for Dad’s approval.

“That’s some good songwriting,” said the author of such American classics of “Crazy,” “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “Hello Walls” and “On the Road Again.”

Lukas’ “You Were It” — a bitter breakup ballad that recalls Dad’s gripping, early 1960s work — appears on Willie’s well-received 2004 album “It Always Will Be.”

“I was very happy, I was stoked when he recorded it,” Lukas said. “It made me feel like I could do this.”

Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real recently issued its eponymous debut, full-length album. The disc features everything from searing Texas-style blues to vintage country and fiery folk-rock.

Lukas’ singing has a similar nasal and behind-the-beat quality as Dad’s. But it never sounds like he’s aping one of the most well-known and distinctive vocalists alive.

When he opens shows for his father, the crowd is not always in the mood for hearing something new.

“My dad has crazy good fans,” Lukas said. “And sometimes we’re up there and they’re yelling, ‘Where’s Willie?’

“It gets to me, but I try and be professional. It doesn’t bother me that much. It used to bother me more.”

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