It All Gets Real For Lukas Nelson January 3, 2017 10:20

Photos by Jim Eckenrode

Story by Clark Forster: Live & Listen

Lukas Nelson reflects on his group’s time as Neil Young’s band and how father Willie and the Canadian rocker helped Promise of the Real burst into the spotlight.

Seven years after guitarist Lukas Nelson met bandmate and drummer Anthony LoGerfo at a Neil Young concert, the two California musicians found themselves touring the world with their rock hero.

Nelson, the 28-year-old son of Willie Nelson, and LoGerfo formed their band Promise of the Real in the months following their early 2008 concert introduction. Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real have since produced two albums as Young’s band while touring with the folk rocker throughout 2015 and 2016. The group’s time with Young culminated this October when Neil Young and Promise of the Real played back-to-back weekends at Desert Trip in Indio, California. Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Young, Paul McCartney, Roger Waters and The Who made up the all-legend classic rock lineup. And Nelson and Promise of the Real were introduced to 150,000 new fans.

“It was indescribable being up there,” Nelson said of the two shows with Young in Indio. “When we were doing our warm-ups Paul [McCartney] came up to the band and told us what a great band he thought we were. He was talking to Neil about how they were going to do their thing together, then we all went and partied together after the show. It was just magic.”

That’s what life has been like for Nelson the past two years. And now Promise of the Real is taking advantage of its newfound fame.

“Every show that Promise of the Real has played on our own since being out with Neil, there’s just been more and more fans and more people coming,” Nelson said. “It’s just a growing thing. I feel like it’s growing organically and it’s a strong foundation of fans who just won’t ever leave.”

The cowboy-hippie-surf-rock band is made up of Nelson, LoGerfo, bass player Corey McCormick and percussionist Tato Melgar. The lineup was supplemented to include Nelson’s brother, Micah Nelson, when the band began working with Young. The description has hung around through the years, but Nelson said the band has a deeper sound than its label.

“That was just a funny little joke that kinda stuck, the cowboy-hippie-surf-rock,” Nelson said. “I think we’re more like country soul or somethin’. We’ve got this southern thing going but we try and get the soulfulness of those old 60’s and 70’s rockers. We all surf. It just all came together in that phrase.”

Watch Neil Young perform "Keep On Rockin' In The Free World with Lukas Nelson + Promise of the Real at FarmAid 2016 here:

Following the release of Young and Promise of the Real’s “The Monsanto Years” in 2015, the two artists released the live album “Earth” in 2016. The album featured recordings from their 2015 “Rebel Content Tour.” Promise of the Real released its own album “Something Real” in March as the band’s third LP. The nine-track album features seven original songs and two covers. The band put its own spin on J.J. Cale’s “I’ll Make Love To You Anytime” and Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco.”

“I love J.J. Cale,” Nelson said. “I’ve been a huge fan of his for a really long time now. I just think he’s the most underrated performer, writer and guitar player out there. It’s just really nice to be able to give him tribute in that way.

“‘San Francisco’, we did that record in San Francisco,” he added. “The whole time we were doing this record, I had that song stuck in my head and I thought ‘I want to do a recording of that but I want to do it differently.’ We got in there and we had a 150-year-old pump organ we played on it, and we really worked hard. I think we got a good cover.”

Promise of the Real has earned its keep in the rock world through that hard work while logging heavy miles on the road. Nelson estimated that his band has played over 200 shows a year since its formation in 2008. However, he doesn’t hesitate to credit his famous father and iconic bandmate with helping him and Promise of the Real reach dreamlike heights. Nelson was at the music festival Farm Aid in 2010 performing with his father and Promise of the Real when Willie’s friend Young approached the band.

“I never talked to him or knew him much. I just loved his music.” Nelson said of Young. “Then one time he came up to us and said ‘Hey that’s great.’ We stayed in touch over the next three or four years and then finally he said ‘I want you to come in and do a record with us, what do you say?’

“Without dad, without Farm Aid, Neil would never have heard us and said ‘I like that’ and we wouldn’t be with him,” Nelson said. “I’m definitely not one not to acknowledge the reasons that I’m here, other than my own hard work, and that’s Neil and dad and my mom and everybody else that supports me.”

Nelson said one of the highlights during his time with Young came while the group toured Europe over the summer. Willie attended three of the concerts while the band was in Italy. He’d sit and take in the show before hopping on stage to sing with his two sons and Young on songs such as “On the Road Again” and “Are There Any More Real Cowboys?.” It was a family affair for the Nelsons and a trip that left Promise of the Real with a treasure trove of memories.

“After we’d play every show in Europe we’d have however long of a drive to our next hotel,” Nelson said. “We’d work on new stuff and just shoot the shit for awhile. I’d show Neil songs I’d written. Micah would show Neil songs he’d written. We’d all sit around on the bus and jam together.

“I remember I launched into ‘The Weight’ with an acoustic guitar and we all just started singing along to that, just like you would around a campfire. Riding down the road in France, or wherever we were, and just having those amazing experiences.”

Watch Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real perform "Something Real" at FarmAid 30 here:

Promise of the Real may be referred to as Neil Young’s band, but the group shares the spotlight with their Canadian counterpart during shows. Young isn’t afraid to highlight each of the young musician’s talents and let their personalities shine through on stage.

“The same way that [Bob] Dylan was with The Band, Neil was with Promise of the Real,” Nelson said. “There’s a lot of mutual respect between us musicians and we just kinda come from the same place musically. We kinda get what he gets when it comes to playing music.”

Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real is as well-known as ever after the band’s time touring and recording with Young. The band will conclude its “Something Real Tour” Jan. 13 following the week-long Sandy Beaches Cruise 23 with Delbert McClinton and Friends. Promise of the Real plans to release its fourth studio album in May. It’s a record that has Nelson eager to see what 2017 holds in store for the band.

"I think it’s just going to blow people’s minds,” Nelson said of the upcoming album. “Each one of the songs I think is just, forgive me for saying, but they’re just timeless songs that have come out of this period of creativity, this period of inspiration. I feel like people are going to flip out when it comes out. This will be something for the ages. I’m hoping 2017 reflects what I feel like it’s going to reflect.”

 Watch Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real perform "Find Yourself" via Jam In The Van (2014) here: