Country rocker Lukas Nelson, son of Willie Nelson, plays Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races

Hear our full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Lukas Nelson at Hollywood Casino (Part 1)

He’s deftly followed in his father’s footsteps, making distinct tracks from those iconic outlaw boots by crafting his own career of country-rock music, including writing many of the tunes for the movie “A Star is Born” (2018).

This Saturday, Lukas Nelson plays Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in West Virginia.

“Every once in a while, I’ll throw in one of my dad’s tunes, but now we’ve got a pretty strong following of fans who really want to hear my stuff,” Nelson told WTOP. “Luckily, Dad’s still out there touring, so you can go see him! But as far as our shows go, we’ve really got an eclectic mix of the old stuff and new stuff and combine it to put together a really dynamic, fun show. A lot of people come away from the show feeling like they’ve gone to church.”

Born in 1988, Lukas Nelson’s signature sound was cultivated growing up between rural Texas and tropical Maui.

“I was born in Austin but had my first birthday in Hawaii and went back and forth between the two, so I got a little bit of both upbringings. And I went to school in both places, so it was very interesting,” Nelson said. “Also, all through the United States, even Europe and all over, so I got an education in the cities of the nation, as Dad says.”

He got his first guitar around age nine and wrote his first song called “You Are It.” “My dad liked it so much that he put it on a record of his … from the 2000s called ‘It Always Will Be,'” Nelson said. “There’s a song on there called ‘You Are It.’ The chorus is (singing): ‘But now I’m fine, all the pain is gone, I once had a heart, now I have a song.'”

He’s long admired his father’s songwriting, saying, “‘Healing Hands of Time’ is a great song. ‘Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground’ is probably one of my favorite songs that he wrote. ‘Crazy’ is another song that a lot of people think Patsy Cline wrote, but he wrote that. It’s one of the greatest songs of all time. He’s one of the great songwriters.”

Nelson also learned a thing or two from listening to his father’s iconic country supergroup The Highwaymen, including the great Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings (died in 2002) and Johnny Cash (died in 2003).

“Kris gave me the most mentorship, I suppose, as a songwriter, but Waylon and Johnny passed before I got a chance,” Nelson said. “I knew them as uncles, but I didn’t know them as mentors. Kris has always given me good advice and just basic encouragement, liking the songs that I’ve written, telling me that, so that’s helped me out.”

In 2007, Nelson moved to Los Angeles to briefly attend Loyola Marymount University; but he soon began touring instead with his band the Promise of the Real. The band name references the Neil Young song “Walk On,” which features the lyric: “Some get stoned, some get strange, sooner or later, it all gets real.”

“We started little fires in a lot of different places, then did 300 shows a year for about 15 years,” Nelson said. “My percussionist and I have known each other for 25 years now. … The newest member of the band I’ve known for 15 years, so we’ve been playing together for a long time and we have good chemistry.”

While touring with Young, he caught the attention of Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga during the making of the movie “A Star is Born” (2018). Not only did Nelson write eight or nine songs for the film, including the introductory lick for the Oscar-winning song “Shallow,” his band actually appears in the movie alongside Cooper.

“Bradley had seen me playing with Neil Young and called me up and asked me to help him look the part and play the part authentically,” Nelson said. He really did take a lot of my mannerisms from, and then I taught him how to pretend to play guitar, although the guitar you hear is me. I did sit with him while he practiced singing. I think that was the most impressive thing that he did. He was actually singing — and well — in that film.”

If you’re new to his music, he suggests checking out the 2017 album “Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real,” including songs “Just Outside of Austin,” “Find Yourself,” “Forget About Georgia” and “Set Me Down on a Cloud,” which have all become staples of his live show. He also suggests the 2019 album “Turn off the News (Build a Garden).”

“On both sides of the aisle, there’s a bunch of bullsh*t,” Nelson said. “I saw the news media as this bad actor. It just seems like it creates more problems than it solves. While I think it’s important to stay informed. I would see my parents sitting there watching the news all day long. This is a bipartisan issue. At a certain point, I wanted them to go outside and enjoy life. Instead of hearing about your neighbor on TV, try getting to know your neighbor.”

He just released a Lainey Wilson duet called “More Than Friends” ahead of the band’s next album July 14.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Lukas Nelson at Hollywood Casino (Part 2)

Hear our full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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