neil young

How Micah Nelson Transformed His “Piss Yellow” Melody Maker Jr. into a Mighty Tone Wizard

Stripped finish … Firebird pickup … aftermarket Bigsby. Willie’s more experimental-leaning son on resurrecting “Gandalf the Grey” and more!

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“I think he’s one of the best that ever lived,” says Lukas Nelson of Neil Young’s guitar-playing abilities. Promise of the Real is backing Young on his current tour, including this recent performance at the New Orleans Jazz Fest on May 1, 2016.
Photo by Douglas Mason

Boasting a prominent bloodline and an enviable gig backing Neil Young, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real demonstrate how to deliver on a moniker.

Lukas Nelson is having a busy year. He and his band, Promise of the Real, recently released their third full-length album, Something Real, and hit the road in support of it. They’re also touring and recording with Neil Young as his backing band—a project they began last year with a lineup augmented to include Lukas’ brother, Micah. In addition, Lukas somehow finds time to accompany his dad, country legend Willie Nelson.

But despite his pedigree and the auspicious company he keeps, Nelson is no next-generation-of-greatness clone. While he counts his father as an obvious and huge influence, that didn’t stop him from absorbing the classic riffs and tones of artists like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Jimi Hendrix, the blues feel of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Hubert Sumlin, and the three Kings, and the improvisatory exploration of the jam-band world. His work ethic is serious, and he’s developed significant chops, killer tone, and stylistic flexibility. It didn’t hurt that he shared a stage with Buddy Guy, Young, and other titans along the way.

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An intimate look at the jam-band scene’s most iconic instruments.

San Francisco-based photographer Jay Blakesberg has been documenting the growing improvisational rock scene long before the “jam-band” moniker became popular. Blakesberg’s latest book, Guitars That Jam, focuses on a cross-generational group of musicians and the tools that fuel their exploratory solos and wildly interesting collaborations. Admittedly, the “jam” label gets stretched a bit—we’re looking at you Satriani—but the stalwarts are well represented with insights from Phish’s Trey Anastasio and Mike Gordon, the Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh and Bob Weir, and members of moe., String Cheese Incident, Widespread Panic, and the Tedeschi Trucks Band.

Rarely does a photographer have the ability and access to capture how a scene evolves more than Blakesberg. His images have graced countless magazine covers and albums while offering a unique perspective that fans don’t often see. For more than 30 years he has captured the essence of improvisational music. In this exclusive excerpt, we take a look at five artists that live comfortable within the community but also do what they can to expand it.—Jason Shadrick

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