ONE SPIN OF LUKAS NELSON AND PROMISE OF THE REAL’S
debut five-song EP, Brando’s Paradise Sessions [promiseofthereal.com], and you’re immediately taken by Nelson’s huge, pure
Strat tone. Together with drummer Anthony Logerfo, bassist
J.P. Maramba, and keyboardist Chris Williams, Nelson and
company create a riot of bluesy soul. Nelson’s supple and
sparkling rhythm playing takes precedence over preening
solos, but he does cut loose with melodic sweet ’n’ sour lead
breaks, deftly mixing Southern rock-infused major pentatonic
majesty with an aggressive, growling attack, while never
veering into SRV-land. “I was obsessed with Stevie Ray when
I was a kid,” explains Nelson. “I would even dress like him!”
But when it came to inspiration, Nelson never had to look far—
he’s the son of the legendary Willie Nelson.
“It’s safe to say my overall musical
tone comes from my father,” says Nelson.
“I can’t escape it.” But when he says he
has inherited tone from his old man, he’s
not talking about tone in the most obvious
sense. After all, the younger Nelson’s
wound-up Stratocaster is a different beast
than pop’s warhorse Martin N-20 nylonstring,
Trigger. The tone he is speaking of
has more to do with truth, soul, and conveying
the magic of the moment rather
than turning a knob on a piece of gear.
How did you start playing the guitar and what
were you into?
Obviously, I was around music a lot
with my dad and his friends. I had been
singing since I was three, but by the time
I was 11 or 12, I fell in love with Hendrix,
Stevie Ray, Mike Bloomfield, and
Dire Straits. I felt comfortable with the
guitar pretty quickly and I completely
immersed myself in it. I knew I could
make the instrument sound good if I
worked hard and dedicated myself to it.
I would just sit in my room and listen
and watch videos of my heroes playing.
I’m the kind of guy who says nothing is
impossible. By the time I was 14, I was
able to go out and play with my dad’s
band and I still do that when Promise of
the Real isn’t touring or recording.
Your rhythm playing is big and full, yet you
never really strum.
I do the hybrid-picking thing with my
pick and fingers a lot, especially for
rhythm playing. It sounds bigger than
strumming to my ears. I also do a lot of
trills and hammer-ons and pull-offs within chords, which fattens up simple
harmonies. Hendrix did that a lot and
so does Neil Young.
Have you always been a Stratocaster guy?
Always. My main guitar is a 2000 Fat
Strat. I string it with a DR .011-.052 set.
Like everyone who was into Stevie Ray,
I did my time with .012 and .013 gauge
strings, but that just gets ridiculous. My
action isn’t really high or anything either.
For amps, I’ve been using Fender Twin
Reverbs. The Twin at its quietest will be
on four or five, but more often than not,
even at small venues, it gets turned all
the way up. I do take a Deluxe Reverb
around if we’re playing a really small
venue. On the sessions for our new fulllength
album, I used a ’64 Super Reverb
and I’m probably going to start using
those live. My only effects are a Boss
tuner and BD-2 Blues Driver. The Blues
Driver gives me a nice growl—kind of
like Clapton when I’m on the front
pickup, but when I switch to the rear
pickup, it screams like Neil Young or
Hendrix. I swear, I try not to limit myself,
but those two pickup positions alone
through a cranked amp give me all the
tones I need and more.
A lot of guys think Twin Reverbs are too
loud and clean to turn up.
The Twin Reverb is actually a real soulful
amp. The clarity it gives me is like a
good song lyric—I can easily hear it and
it speaks to me. I mean, you’re supposed
to play your guitar like you’re singing
right? How can you project your voice if
it’s all muddy sounding? I’ve always liked
tones like Freddie King, Doug Sahm, or
even Mark Knopfler—their tones were
always clean, but big. Besides, turn a Twin
Reverb up and put a little elbow grease
into it and you’d be surprised at the ripping
sound you can get!
Would you ever do the sideman thing?
I would if the timing were right. I
really love Bob Dylan, for example, and
I’ve been lucky enough to play with him
a couple of times. But Bob asked me to
tour with him and I had to pass, so Charlie
Sexton eventually took the gig. I know
people think I’m crazy for not doing it,
but I’m just too into my own music right
now. I love Bob. He’s a hero of mine and
I was privileged to even be asked,
because he always has such amazing
players in his band. But Bob also fires
his guitarists left and right, and I want
to keep my relationship with him as awesome