SOUL IS KEY TO NEVILLE’S GUMBO
> NEW ORLEANS ICON TO PERFORM WITH ORCHESTRA FOR U OF M GALA
AARON NEVILLE is best known for his featherlight falsetto, his catalog of pop hits and his work with his brothers, as part of New Orleans’ “first family of funk,” but don’t try to pin him down creatively.
“I don’t want to be pigeonholed in one form of music,” Neville says.
“I mean, if you name it, I’ve done it — everything except rap. I’ve done pop, rock, R&B, doo-wop, gospel, country. I even sang Mickey Mouse. I did a doo-wop version of the ‘Mickey Mouse March’ with Dr. John playing keyboards. I also sang with Ernie on ‘Sesame Street,’” Neville says with a chuckle.
Tonight, Neville will be showcasing his sophisticated side, performing a concert backed by the University of Memphis Symphony Orchestra. The show will serve as the kickoff to the U of M’s yearlong centennial celebration.
These days, Neville resides in New York, though he maintains a house in his native Louisiana. “Mostly, I stay on tour, really,” he says, “I just come home to wash clothes and stuff.”
Neville says the music of the Crescent City remains the foundation of his eclectic approach. “New Orleans is famous for gumbo — just a mix of different ingredients. I’ve picked up things from the Mardi Gras Indian beats, from the second-line brass bands. The way people walk in New Orleans, you walk with a dip, like a second-line dip. The way people talk: ‘Where ya at?’ They got their own language,” says Neville.
“Plus, it’s a place where you have, like, Fats Domino, Dr. John, James Booker, Professor Longhair, Satchmo, Louis Prima, Al Hirt — all them dudes, it’s such a rich musical environment. I was blessed to be born in New Orleans and grew up around all those people, listening to them and getting things from them.”
Music was always Neville’s calling, even though his career aspirations got put on hold early
on. “I was 17 when I got married, so I had to take care of family and play music on the weekends,” he says. “I wasn’t playing for no money, I was playing just ’cause I loved it. I had to work on the docks, loading cargo ships, driving a truck or painting houses. I’ve done all kinds of things. But music has always been the salvation.”
For Neville, in recent years, that salvation has come in the form of gospel. Since 2000, Neville has released a trio of spiritual albums (as well as two Christmas LPs), including last year’s Joe Henry-produced effort,
After recording a trio of spiritual releases in recent years, Aaron Neville plans to fulfill a lifetime ambition of making a doo-wop album.