Almost all bands consider themselves family. Willie Nelson stacks his with real family.
The country music legend has one of the longest-running bands in the business, which includes his sister Bobbie on piano and now his son Lukas on guitar. The whole clan comes to the Turlock Community Theatre on April 6 for a sold-out show.
Willie Nelson & Family have been crisscrossing the country since 1973. Fifteen years later, Nelson’s oldest living son, Lukas Nelson, was born. The younger Nelson, now 25, said he didn’t decide to follow in his famous father’s footsteps into music. It was just always in his blood.
“I didn’t really have a choice, I think music found me,” Lukas said in a phone interview while relaxing from the tour in Jackson Hole, Wyo. “It was more of like I was drawn to it, and it wasn’t like a premeditated thing. It just happened.”
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Growing up, Lukas listened to everything from Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix to The Beatles and Bob Dylan. And there was always his father’s work, as well.
“My only requisite for the music I listen to was it has soul to it,” Lukas said. “There are all different kinds of soul and all different kinds of music.”
The elder Nelson’s music has become an American institution. He started as a songwriter in the late 1950s, penning such classics as “Crazy” and “Funny How Time Slips Away.” Across six decades, he has won 11 Grammy Awards, been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and received the Kennedy Center Honors.
In 2012, Willie released the studio album “Heroes,” which included new renditions of some of his favorites, classic numbers and new songs co-written with Lukas.
When the album was released, Willie told The New York Times that playing with his offspring on stage was “the biggest thrill I can get.” But Willie said having real family in his Family isn’t as much about passing the torch as it is making good music.
“I’m just playing music with someone really good. He happens to be my kid. It makes it that much better for me,” he told the Times.
Lukas told The Bee the familial bond simply makes their music better. “I think when family members play music together, there is a connection that can’t be found in any other situation,” he said. “Music is about making connection. When you already have such a strong connection to someone by being a family member, the music just amplifies that.”
But Lukas isn’t just a Family member, he also has his own band and sound. While he started playing with his father’s band on stage at age 13, Lukas decided to pursue music while in college. He dropped out and said he has been on tour ever since.
He started his band, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, about five years ago. It plays a blend of rock and “a whole bunch of stuff that influenced me and our music,” Lukas said. In 2011, Promise of the Real played Ironstone Vineyards in Murphys as part of Willie Nelson’s Country Throwdown Tour.
The group, which opens for Willie and Family on tour, has a new album, titled “Love Yourself,” coming out in a couple of months. It will be the four-piece band’s third studio release.
The Nelson family’s cultural influence shows no signs of slowing down. Willie, who turns 81 next month, continues to tour perpetually. This year, he performed during the Grammy Awards broadcast and at the popular South by Southwest festival, with Lukas.
Lukas said he plans to keep making music and touring for the rest of his life. Being on the road again – like father, like son.