Hot Roots: Lukas Nelson
Lukas Nelson remembers how anxious he felt when he had to call his father, Willie Nelson, to say he was dropping out of college to go into the family business. "My dad said, 'The best education you could get is being on the road,' " Lukas says. "He said, 'I believe in you. Go ahead and do it.'"
It's worked out. With classic blues-guitar chops and a voice that uncannily resembles his dad's, Nelson has carved out his place as both a go-to guitarist and a frontman. Take the next few months alone: The 28-year-old is selling out clubs nightly, playing his excellent new LP, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, which ranges from roadhouse rock to Texas Hill Country folk. He just finished his third album backing Neil Young, who hired Nelson's band to go on tour in 2015. And in 2018, Nelson will make his big screen debut, acting alongside Lady Gaga in a remake of A Star Is Born. He wrote several songs for the film and backs Gaga on many of them. "She's an angel," Nelson says. "She's an amazing friend."
Nelson grew up in Maui, Hawaii, but he often joined his dad on tour. By age 16, he was sitting in with Willie's tourmate Bob Dylan, who was so impressed with Lukas' guitar playing that he offered him a job in his band. "My mom wouldn't let me go," says Nelson.
One caveat of dropping out of school was that Nelson couldn't get financial help from his parents. He lived out of his car, busking around California, and partied too hard. "I almost died," he says. "I had this episode that involved pills and drinking, and I almost asphyxiated like Hendrix." That was a turn ing point: Nelson started running seven miles a day and cleaned up his act, for the most part. "Well, I smoke a ton of weed," he says. Nelson sees himself as a torchbearer for sounds far older than he is. "I don't see a new Bruce Springsteen, or even a Tom Petty out there," he says. "I think there is a craving for rock & roll somewhere." His dad couldn't be prouder: "I hear a lot of my licks coming back at me a lot better than they went out," says Willie. P.D.