Art Neville (1937-2019) – in a year already hit with the tremendous loss of New Orleans cornerstones Dr. John, Dave Bartholomew and now Art Neville, this is shaping up to being one of the worst years in terms of losing pivotal figures in music. In the case of New Orleans, practitioners and pioneers of Funk and blues; the backbone of a musical style and genre.
Neville grew up in New Orleans. He was the son of Amelia (Landry) and Arthur Neville Sr. He started on piano and performed with his brothers at an early age. He was influenced by the R&B styles of James Booker, Bill Doggett, Booker T. Jones, Lloyd Glenn and Professor Longhair. In high school he joined and later led The Hawketts. In 1954 the band recorded “Mardi Gras Mambo” with Neville on vocals. The song gained popularity and became a New Orleans carnival anthem. The band toured with Larry Williams. Neville performed regularly in New Orleans, joined the U.S. Navy in 1958, and returned to music in 1962. He released several singles as a lead artist in 1950s and 1960s, and recorded a string of iconic singles for Specialty Records in the 1950s.
In the early 1960s Neville formed the Neville Sounds. The band included Aaron Neville, Cyril Neville, George Porter, Leo Nocentelli, and Ziggy Modeliste. Shortly after, Aaron and Cyril left the group to form their own band. The remaining four members continued playing at the Nitecap and the Ivanhoe nightclubs. The band backed up many notable musicians such as Lee Dorsey, Betty Harris and The Pointer Sisters. The band had a strong sense of groove and unlike traditional groups each instrument was free to lead and go anywhere musically. Over time the band’s style came to represent New Orleans funk.
In the late 1960s the band changed its name to The Meters and released three instrumental albums. Early on, compositions were through live improvisation, however this changed in the early 1970s. The band gained notoriety in the rock music community including with musicians Paul McCartney, Robert Palmer and The Rolling Stones. The group released five more albums and disbanded in late 1970s due to financial, managerial and artistic factors. The band’s musical style emphasized rhythm over melody and had a lasting impact on upcoming musical styles such as hip-hop as well as jam bands including Phish, Galactic and Red Hot Chili Peppers.
As tribute to a remarkable and much loved artist, here is a concert performed in Japan from July 1987, featuring Dr. John along with Art, Charles, Cyril and Aaron Neville.