Raelyn Nelson Band

Raelyn Nelson Band

Nashville, Tennessee, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2013 | INDIE

Nashville, Tennessee, United States | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2013
Band Rock Country




"I have seen the future and it's Willie Nelson's granddaughter"

Like the “ethical” (their word) psychotropic drug industry, the music recording business exists to discover, refine, and distribute new product to alter minds and enhance well-being. So when a euphoric sound makes its way into anyone’s ears — let alone the best new music I heard in years — without the benefit of professional dispensers or promoters, you have to wonder: “How did that happen?”

Sure, loads of musical artists pop up on the charts straight out of their first basement recording sessions, but that’s not the case for an original, addictive hybrid style you could call “punk ’n’ billy,” as practiced by a veteran crew known as The Raelyn Nelson Band (RNB).

Imagine three blond, three-chord rocker fellers backing a neo-Linda Ronstadt/Rosanne Cash lead singer, to tunes out of The Cars meet The Chicks. It’s been eight years since they began, yet odds are you’ve never heard them, nor of them, even close to their Nashville roots. But this is a band you should know about.

Listening to the RNB for the first time feels like they’re already inside your head, drawing on rockabilly, British rock, thrash, and outlaw country priors, with hard-driving, toe-tapping, smile-inducing originals. A good place to start is the Raelyn Nelson Band’s website, featuring the low-budget video for “Friend,” a kickass action-comedy accompanying her classic breakup song, punctuated with Raelyn’s refrain “I may be small, but I am pretty strong” summing up her infectious persona.

After a first addictive taste, the band’s album-length 2019 release, Don’t—with its cover art homage to the classic Clash London Calling album—is the way to go, either streaming or on CD. The collection includes wasted, brash, and woo-manly anthems like “Weed and Whiskey,” “Nothing On,” and “Rebel Girl.” Order a small-batch CD online and Raelyn mails it out personally, scrawling her autograph in red Pentel. She may add a free black and white sticker proclaiming, “I SMOKED WEED WITH WILLIE NELSON’S GRANDDAUGHTER.”

Raelyn Nelson Band cover

Indeed, Raelynn was born into show biz aristocracy, a third-generation progeny of mythic songwriter, singer, free-spirit and American iconic doper Willie Nelson. He’s been an influence throughout her life. Among her earliest memories is being taught by her dad and “Papa Willie” to sing “On the Road Again” when she was three or four. When she was 14, the player of a legendary worn-through guitar known as “Trigger” gave her a prized new Martin, on which she still composes her songs.

Growing up in Nashville, almost 900 miles northeast of Willie’s Texas home, Raelyn developed a songwriting style of her own, with less emphasis on wordplay and more hot flashes of emotion. For all her faster, louder rhythms “Papa Willie” has been fully supportive. Among the Raelyn Nelson Band’s earliest big gigs were a couple of Willie’s outdoor Farm Aid concerts in 2014. Since then, they’ve also shared the stage at Willie’s legendary Fourth of July picnics. He even sang harmony on one of Raelyn’s earliest recordings, “Moon Song.”

Willie Nelson Raelyn Nelson
(Credit: Courtesy of Raelyn Nelson)

“He’s told me he’s really proud of me,” Raelyn beams. “He’s always telling me: ‘you’re on a roll. Keep doing what you’re doing.” In the wake of anyone telling her to change, he advises her: “you just stick to your guns.” She adds: “Of course he would say that. He went through people trying to change him.”

These days, there’s little pressure for the RNB to change grooves, since no one in Music City has yet approached the group with a recording contract tempting them to compromise artistry for financial perks. “As an unsigned band, we don’t make money,” Raelyn admits, “but we can create what we want and when we want.”

One would think being blessed with a Nelson connection would have brought interest from at least one recording firm by now. But upon further review it may well be there’s a family hex; throughout his long career Willie (now age 88) has been more successful at remaining married than at staying signed to a company — a mere four nuptials compared to record releases with as many as 11 different labels.

In his first autobiography (he’s done several), Willie Nelson describes his first wife (Raelyn’s grandma) Martha as “the prettiest girl I had ever seen in my life…Martha did love a good time, and we had plenty of them all over the country…”

Raelyn didn’t fall far from the family tree.

Her father, Willie Nelson Jr. (often called Billy), met Raelyn’s mother in a promotional whirlwind, when riding on the tour bus with Willie Sr. At a stop at a Nashville radio station, Billy met a local “radio promo girl” and fell in love, marrying her and settling down in Music City, where Raelyn was born. At the age of seven, she would be left fatherless when one of his demons caused Billy to take his own life. (Raelyn paid an upbeat tribute to him in one of her signature songs, “Daddy’s Grave.”)

Her conservative, pious mother tried to keep Raelyn away from the progressive, wild weird Willie side of the family, but would take her to see him when he came through Nashville. He remained an inspiration as she embarked on her own show biz career, playing the cards that fortune dealt.

“I started out writing country songs and I went to record some demos at a backyard studio that belongs to Jonathan Bright,” says Raelyn. “JB comes out of underground rock and we decided to start a combo at the end of that first session.”

Raelyn Nelson Band

Bright plays guitar and arranges the RNB’s tunes. In his studio, Raelyn discovered that the ukulele suited her diminutive frame better than a guitar — as a performance instrument. Preach Rutherford soon joined up as the group’s bass guitarist, while more than a dozen different drummers have been their collaborators over the years.

Because she was a young mother sticking close to home, it took a while before Raelyn and the band began releasing finished recordings and started touring to expose their tunes to wider audiences. Even now, with all their day jobs and domestic commitments, the group plays only about a dozen live shows per year across the USA.

At their slow but steady pace they have paid their share of performers’ dues — playing the likes of The Basement and The Basement East, The Rabbit Spot, Hummingbird Stage, Punkinstock, and most recently were on the menu at the Farm-to-Fork Festival in Sacramento, California. “We’ll play for 10 people or a stadium full of folks,” Raelyn declares. A Nashville friend acts as their booking agent—all very indie and home-spun.

Nonetheless, after all the independent fun interacting with fans on the road like country musicians of old, by securing industry backing a talented group like theirs could advance to the next level of global exposure and popularity they rate. The RNB’s members have yet to play a concert in Europe or Asia—where they might score as big or bigger than in their native land. “I would love it!” Raelyn says. But that’s not in the cards for now, without a multinational label to pay their way.

Someone on staff at one of the Big Three record labels should have taken notice of The Raelyn Nelson Band. The group has opened shows for major rock and country acts and grown an enthusiastic fan base. Multi-tasking off their musical chops, RN and JB also host and produce a well-received podcast called “Music Is Funny,” with musicians talking to comedians about music and comedy.

As if that weren’t enough, Raelyn also oversees Willie Nelson’s online communications with his fans. Every email sent to him is read by her and passed on to Willie or family when appropriate, though not all messages receive replies. Instead of some anonymous screener, having kin make better decisions is doubly beneficial. Says Raelyn: “My grandpa gives me the job so I can stay home with my young’uns and pursue my dreams.” With twin sons aged 14 and a daughter 11 she’s been home-schooling since they were this tall, there’s been little time to obsess over not scoring a lucrative recording contract.

Raelyn Nelson Band The Who

Even if signed, artists like the Raelyn Nelson Band may only get one chance or two to score a hit and impress a music industry backer, before being shuffled backstage. A study published two years ago (and currently being updated) shows an increasing number of acts scoring contracts with the Big Three record companies that dominate the business—Universal, Sony and Warner—with about two deals a day, 365 days a year. Ultimately the most resources will go to the successful proven acts, with others soon left behind.

The author of the study, Larry Miller, is also the Director of the Music Business Program at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. Having once founded and run his own independent record label, Miller notes artists need support in creating awareness. The barriers to getting music uploaded to streaming services have never been lower, but with over 60,000 daily song uploads to services like Spotify — nearly one per second — it’s never been more difficult to breakthrough.

He cites another study confirming the waning of traditional means of music discovery, including physical copies like CDs and radio play, now far outweighed by streaming services and digital downloads. But who wants to depend on bloodless algorithms to find welcoming ears?

Fortunately, there’s still serendipity. The way I discovered the RNB was entirely by chance–the result of emailing info@willienelson.com on behalf of a friend. When Raelyn responded, a quick online search uncovered her underappreciated music.

Raelyn Nelson Band
(Credit: Erick Anderson)

By coincidence, some 48 years earlier I praised Willie Nelson’s album Shotgun Willie (which I witnessed recorded) in Rolling Stone with the then-less-than-obvious prediction: “At the age of 39, Nelson finally seems destined for the stardom he deserves.”

Jon Landau was my editor for that review, a year before he would declare in Boston’s Real Paper: “I saw rock and roll’s future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.” In one of history’s great conflicts of interest, Landau morphed from objective music critic to big money manager, masterminding The Boss’ climb into entertainment’s Elysian fields.

Nobody needs someone like me to lead the Raelyn Nelson Band’s just claim to fame.

It would be enough for Raelyn, now 36, for this story to catch some record executive’s attention, leading to a long-overdue contract and finally the stardom she and her band deserve. - Spin

"Raelyn Nelson Band's Country Punk Brother Video"

“I can’t breathe but I’m still smoking, I’m so high but I keep toking” is a hell of a way to start a song, but would you expect anything less from the cow punk revivalist granddaughter of Willie Nelson, Raelyn Nelson and her Sonic Youth-loving, flannel-shirt-sporting band? Their new single, “Brother,” is a high-energy threat to a philandering lover, that combines a quick-stepping country boogie with a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am punk shred — all with Nelson in the center, strumming mischievously away on her ukulele.

“The song came about when I was watching a TV show and got inspired by the storyline of a girl getting her three older brothers to track down her unfaithful boyfriend,” Nelson tells Rolling Stone Country. And for the video, she and her band went super DIY, shooting it all with one GoPro camera. “[Guitarist Jonathan Bright] and I got together and wrote it, and we were trying to come up with a video concept that we could do on our own. The ‘band side’ was done with a tripod, some cheap workshop lights and a clear shower curtain as a light diffuser. The other side was just Jonathan running around with the GoPro strapped to his head. Then with some tips from friends, YouTube tutorials, and editing software we managed to pull it off. And we came in right on budget — which was zero!”

Willie Nelson and Jimmy Kimmel
Watch Willie Nelson Score 'High' Grade on Jimmy Kimmel's 'Pot Quiz'
That scrappy nature is nicely reflective of Raelyn Nelson Band’s overall mantra – which is to not really care if things look perfect or fit into current country convention. “It’s not that we’re against the Nashville music scene, it just seems like there is no place for us right now,” says Nelson, who spends more time playing local rock clubs than honky-tonks — probably because their sound has much more in common with Social Distortion or LA punk outfit OFF! than, say, current chart-toppers Zac Brown Band or Darius Rucker. “Our music doesn’t fit into any playlist. The collaboration of old country and dirty garage rock is original in itself and kind of cool.” Indeed, feedback, head-banging and fiery shouts of “one, two, three” aren’t the most familiar sounds in the new incarnation of “Papa Willie’s” genre, but they sure are welcome.

When it comes to releasing new music, Raelyn Nelson Band don’t plan on doing that conventionally, either. “I think we’ve decided this year to skip the traditional ‘CD release’ and just release a single every month or so, with a video and new T-shirt to go along with it,” Nelson says. “We have the songs, but it makes more sense to us to release them as singles and have something new to offer each month, instead of beating a record to death for a year.”

And the Red Headed Stranger approves. “Before I do anything I text him,” she says of her famous grandfather, whose famous Fourth of July Picnic she’ll be playing this summer. “And he’ll send me a big smiley face.”

“I think there are plenty of guys in today’s country music that are creating the same sound, and I’m a country girl with an actual rock band so I don’t see how the sound doesn’t fit in,” she adds. “And I’m having a blast rocking out with those guys. I get to sing my country tunes louder.” - Rolling Stone

"New Country Artists"

Sounds Like: A country Runaways; Cheap Trick fronted by Loretta Lynn

For Fans Of: Nikki Lane, Lydia Loveless, Eighties punk-rockabilly like Social Distortion

Why You Should Pay Attention: Willie Nelson's granddaughter isn't afraid to make her family blush. With lyrics like "we should getta room/before we get arrested," she and her band of garage-rock converts push out tracks that are a country-rock clash of three power chords and the truth. Raised on devotionals and "Papa's" classics, Nelson changed her tune when she met Jonathan Bright, a veteran of the underground scene. Paired with Nelson's cheeky twang that can hit on both Loretta and Liz Phair, the result is a quirky continuation of the California cowpunk tradition.

She Says: "At first, I was nervous to say I was Willie's granddaughter," admits Nelson. "I'm very proud of him, but I didn't want to be compared to him because I'm not a great player. But when I sent him our music he was ecstatic, saying, 'Let's get it out there!' Before I do anything, I text him — and he'll send me a big smiley face. He's so supportive."

Hear for Yourself: The Ramones-esque vamp of "Getta Room" —Marissa R. Moss - Rolling Stone

"Farm Aid Moments"

Farm Aid's Best Musical Moments - Rolling Stone

"Her own woman: Daily Times "

Raelyn Nelson combines famous grandfather's country with rock 'n' roll - Daily Times

"Raelyn, Willie, and the Boys"

Raelyn and Willie and the Boys
Willie Nelson’s granddaughter comes to Memphis with a pocketful of surprising influences. - Memphis Flyer


Don't-Album 2019
About That
Everything Falls
Good Time
Weed & Whiskey
Hating You
Nothin On
Mama Cry
Rebel Girl (cover)

Singles Volume 1-EP 2016
Daddy's Grave
Mason Jar
Sold! (cover)

Raelyn Nelson Band EP-2013
Do You
Getta Room
The Moon Song
He's All Mine



As an emerging female country artist in Nashville, history suggests that the quickest path to success is somehow aligning oneself with one of the major publishers, producers, songwriters, labels, or managers that are the heart of Music Row. So what do you do if you are an emerging female country artist in Nashville, and also happen to be the granddaughter of musical icon, Willie Nelson?

 You hook up with an independent producer and veteran of the rock/punk scene, write some songs that are part Loretta Lynn, part Cheap Trick, and form the Raelyn Nelson Band. 

Raelyn Nelson has been singing since she can remember. Having been raised on a steady diet of traditional country and gospel music, a gift from her grandpa in the form of a guitar during her teenage years was the inspiration she needed to begin writing her own country and folk songs. 

Looking for a place to record these songs, a mutual friend suggested 

JB (Jonathan Bright), a veteran of the underground rock scene and independent producer. After recording some of these early songs, they decided to try to write some things together and see what happened. 

The result? A completely fresh and original sound, a true hybrid referred to by some critics as "Country/Garage Rock."

When they aren't recording their songs or making music videos, they are on the road taking their high energy live show to the people. Having shared the stage with such diverse musical acts as country superstar Tim McGraw, indie rock icons Drivin' n Cryin', jam band supergroup Hard Working Americans, and legendary punk band Decendents, the RNB is proving that you don't have to fit neatly into any particular "genre" to find success. 

"I don't really have any desire to be a  'solo-artist'. Everyone in my family who plays music has always placed a lot of importance on band chemistry, on stage, off stage and in the studio. Our band can almost read each other's minds. Why would I mess with that? We try to keep it simple: Write songs we like, record them, make a video, then go out and play them for people."- Raelyn Nelson 

Band Members