Lukas Nelson has his father's voice.
And though his band, Promise of the Real, plays a gritty style of American rock, there are moments when he plays that if you close your eyes, you'd swear it was Willie singing.
"I get that every time I come off stage," says Nelson, the son of country singer Willie Nelson. "That doesn't bother me."
Nelson has long given up worrying about borrowing from his father's legacy, or sharing his father's voice. Every musician steals from another, Nelson says.
Do it long enough and what emerges is something you can call you own. That's something he learned from his father.
"I just focus on breathing and getting through the day," says Nelson, who plays Friday night at Fulton 55. "I try to let life lead me."
Nelson grew up on his father's music, but it wasn't immediately clear he would follow in his father's footsteps, he says. He was on stage playing percussion for his dad at 3 years old, but he was also on the swim team as a kid. He wanted to go to the Olympics. He wanted to be a pilot, a scientist.
"There were so many things I wanted to be," he says.
It wasn't until he started playing guitar and writing songs that he realized music might be a path, too.
Nelson started Promise of the Real with Anthony LoGerfo, Tato Melgar and Merlyn Kelly in 2008. The band became known for touring extensively, playing more than 200 shows in 2011, including major festivals such as Stagecoach, Farm Aid and the Bridge School Benefit. They've also done several tours opening for Willie Nelson.
The band just finished work on its third album, which was recorded in Los Angeles' Topanga Canyon — an artistic and rural enclave just minutes from the Pacific Ocean.
The group rented an old summer camp where they lived and worked for six weeks with producer Mark Howard, who has produced the likes of Neil Young, Tom Waits and Lucinda Williams.
The seclusion removed all the obstacles that can get in the way during the recording process, Nelson says, and allowed the band to focus on the music.
It shows on the record, which Nelson describes "as leaps and bounds beyond anything the group has released before."
"It was really somewhat spiritual," Nelson says.
Of course, Nelson isn't exactly sure what the final product will be. The band recorded 16 songs, but is still in the process of negotiating a record deal and deciding which 11 tracks will make the final cut.
"I wouldn't be able to tell you what the album will be as a cohesive unit," he says.
But there's a thread that binds the album — and all of the band's music: Nelson's guitar playing and his voice.
And it allows the band to play without the constraints of genre definitions, he says. "In the same way Neil Young can transcend 'genres.' In the same way my father can transcend genres."
Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, 8:30 p.m. Friday at Fulton 55. Locals Blue Crown and Richfield open. Tickets are $15-$20. Details: (559) 412-7400, www.fulton55.com
This reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6479, email@example.com or @joshuatehee on Twitter and Instagram. Read his blog at Fresnobeehive.com