Sooner or later it all gets real for Neil Young’s 26-year-old guitarist Lukas Nelson

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By Steve Newton

Willie Nelson celebrated his 82nd birthday on April 29, so when his son Lukas calls for an interview the next day, the first question has to be “So how was the party last night?”

“It wasn’t much of a party,” he replies. “We just played poker, and a little golf.”

If copious amounts of weed were smoked as well, Lukas isn’t saying. He does report that his jay-smoking dad is “doing wonderful”, but doesn’t recall if the old guy cleaned up at the poker table or on the course. You can’t really blame him for forgetting minor details these days, because he has a lot on his mind.

For a start, he has his own band, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, which has been making records and touring since 2008. As expected, Nelson picked up musical pointers from his father at a young age, and says he actually started playing guitar in order to get closer to his dad, who was out on the road so often.

By the time he was 13, Lukas was playing rhythm guitar for Willie, and he hasn’t looked back—except to spot some of the other music greats that hung around with his pop. One of those was Neil Young, who would perform with the elder Nelson on Farm Aid concerts. Now the collaboration has been handed down a generation, as Promise of the Real just finished recording Young’s upcoming album, The Monsanto Years, and may become his next touring band as well.

“We spent six weeks in the studio together,” Nelson happily declares. “We did it at Teatro in Oxnard, California, where my dad had done a record with Daniel Lanois. It’s actually an old theatre, just a beautiful little building that we set up as a studio.”

Nelson’s connection to the Can-Am rocker and activist runs deep. For one thing, he first met POTR drummer Anthony LoGerfo at a Young concert in 2008. And they based their band’s name on lyrics from Young’s 1974 song “Walk On”: “Some get stoned, some get strange. Sooner or later it all gets real.”

The music of Promise of the Real is best described as gritty, rootsy guitar rock, not that far removed from what Young has been known to make with Crazy Horse. The group, which also includes bassist Corey McCormick and percussionist Tato Melgar, hasn’t released a studio album since 2012’s Wasted, but according to Nelson it has a new disc recorded and mastered and ready to go. Its release has been put on hold while the ramifications of “this Neil thing” are worked out.

As Young¹s backup band, Promise of the Real is in fine company, not only joining the ranks of the incredible Crazy Horse, but also Pearl Jam. So can we expect the same kind of rocking vibe that Eddie Vedder and the boys brought out in Shakey when they made Mirrorball with him in ¹95?

“Yeah, it’s kinda like that,” says Nelson, “but there¹s some quiet songs and some acoustic songs that we play with him too. It’s a very diverse record, with a lot of great melodies. I’m really stoked.”

Before making any racket on-stage with Young, though, Nelson’s band is committed to a tour opening for Chicano blues-rock trio Los Lonely Boys, which visits Hard Rock Casino Vancouver on Saturday (May 9).

“They’re good friends of ours,” he says. “Before they really hit the big time, they came and stayed at my house in Hawaii for a while, and I consider them big influences on me when I was a kid. I can’t wait to be on the road with them.”

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