Aaron Neville

Back to Soul

vocals, piano
born: January 24, 1941 in New Orleans, Louisiana

Aaron Neville - Louisiana 1927 (Live at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival 2008)

After five decades of consistent hit-making, Neville has, in the words of one Rolling Stone writer, "reached a highpoint in a career marked by artistic superlatives. Bring It On Home... The Soul Classics is an album for the ages and Neville's most remarkable work to date."

"These classic songs," says Aaron, "have been pumping blood to my heart from the first second they heard them. They've been a part of my life. Singing them, especially in the aftermath of Katrina, was a deeply spiritual experience. They helped me get through. They gave me hope. And for me, music has always been about hope."

The third youngest of the famous four Neville brothers - Art and Charles are older, Cyril's younger - Aaron was born into one of New Orleans' most celebrated families. His first influence was Art. "I never heard a better singer or funkier keyboardist than my big brother," says Aaron.

"Brother Charles," he continues, "was the family jazzman. He blew sax and schooled me in the ways of improvisation. Brother Cyril was our James Brown. He was - and still is - a great singer. He burns with soul."

Aaron was the first Neville to burn his way up the national charts. In 1966, his "Tell It Like It Is" hit number-one. Unfortunately, the label, Par-Lo, went broke before Aaron got paid. On the strength of the smash, though, Neville toured nationally and established his status and a singular style marked by a rare and haunting beauty.

"That style," he says, "is rooted in the doo wop of the fifties - the Moonlgows, the Flamingos, the Clovers and a close friend, Pookie Hudson and the Spaniels. But I was also deep into the gospel groups, the Pilgrim Travelers, the Brooklyn All-Stars and The Blind Boys of Alabama. And then there were those yodeling cowboys. I loved them."

The seventies were rough, but Aaron successfully fought off a slew of demons and, together with his brothers and their beloved Uncle Jolly, created The Wild Tchoupitoulas, a dazzling suite of Mardi Gras Indian songs that holds a high place in American music.

The brothers pursued other projects on their own, most notably Art and Cyril's work with the Meters. Later The Neville Brothers, with Aaron as one of the lead vocalists, were signed to Capitol, and then to A&M where, in the eighties, they recorded a series of memorable albums, including Yellow Moon. (Aaron wrote the title track, a major hit.) Aaron's solo career was re-launched in the nineties when Linda Rondstadt and George Massenburg produced his Warm My Heart, a major bestseller. The nineties was also the decade when the industry began awarding Aaron with its most prestigious prize: He won two Grammies in duets with Linda Ronstadt, "Don't Know Much" and "All My Life," both ten-top hits.

In the coming years, Aaron would be nominated for 16 Grammies in categories as diverse as country and western, pop, r&b and gospel. In 1994, he and Trisha Yearwood won Best Country and Western vocal collaboration for "I Fall to Pieces." In this same period, he won Best Male Singer two years running in the Rolling Stone critics' poll.

"When I was in the booth singing these songs, songs so connected to my life before Katrina, I couldn't help but think how this storm changed everything. I was thinking about all those people in the water. Thinking of friends I might never see again. Thinking of how I had lost my home, how three of my sons, my brother Cyril and sister Athelgra all had lost their homes. So much loss was on my mind."

"The idea behind the record was simplicity itself," says producer Stewart Levine, whose work, among many others, with Simply Red, the Crusaders and B.B. King has earned him an international reputation for creative excellence.

"We took these iconic songs and stripped them to their essence. We didn't want Aaron to cover them; we wanted him to redefine them. He did just that. He turned them into personal testimonies. The truth is that, as a vocalist, he's on a par with the artists who made these tunes legendary - Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Al Green, Otis Redding, Curtis Mayfield. It's foolish to compare masters - they each possess unique genius - but Aaron's genius, evident in this record, is still expanding, still deepening."

"Aaron also related to the musicians on this record," says Levine, "the rhythm section of drummer James Gadson, guitarists Ray Parker, Jr. and Heitor Pereira, bassist Freddie Washington, keyboardists Neil Larsen and the great Joe Sample. It's an amazing group whose experience and rapport with this music matches Aaron's."

"This is a strange moment in my career," muses Aaron. "Since Katrina I've devoted months and months to benefit concerts - and that's been a blessing. My profile and the profiles of my brothers have been raised by the storm. People all over the world see us as the face of New Orleans. They want to hear us play. They want to feel that we've survived the storm. They want to be assured that life goes on."

Tell It Like It Is
Everybody Plays The Fool
Don't Know Much (with Linda Ronstadt)
All My Life (with Linda Ronstadt)
I Fall to Pieces (with Trisha Yearwood)


Essential Aaron Neville album: Ultimate Collection

- Warm Your Heart [A&M 5354, June 1991] with Greg Adams (Tower of Power), Robert "Kool" Bell (Kool & the Gang), Robbie Buchanan, Larry Carlton, Valerie Carter, Emilio Castillo (Tower of Power), Ry Cooder, Rita Coolidge, Dr. John, Donny Gerrard, Don Grolnick, Plas Johnson, Jim Keltner, Bobby King, Larry Klein, Russ Kunkel, David Lindley, Cyril Neville, Jason Neville, Dean Parks, Linda Ronstadt, Bob Seger, Brian Stoltz, Lee Thornburg, Carlos Vega
- Aaron Neville's Soulful Christmas [A&M 540127, October 1993] with Jim Gilstrap, Paul Jackson jr., Plas Johnson, Dean Parks, Leland Sklar, Lee Thornburg, Freddie Washington
- The Tattooed Heart [A&M 540349, 1995] with Barry Beckett (Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section), Steve Cropper, Paul Franklin, Jim Gilstrap, The Neville Brothers, Dean Parks, Lee Thornberg, Waddy Wachtel, Freddie Washington
- To Make Me Who I Am [A&M 540784, October 1997] with Robbie Buchanan, Roberta Flack, Ivan Neville, Dean Parks, Linda Ronstadt, Leland Sklar, Carlos Vega
- Devotion [Chordant 20287, August 2000] with Billy & Sarah Gaines, Jim Gilstrap, Rachael Lampa, Ivan Neville, Dean Parks, Lee Thornberg
- Ultimate Collection [Hip-O 520192, August 2001] compilation album
- Believe [EMI 20381, January 2003] with Barry Beckett, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Jim Gilstrap, John Jarvis, Blue Miller, Art & Charles Neville, Dean Parks, Freddie Washington
- Nature Boy: The Standards Album [Verve 065633, July 2003] with Michael & Randy Brecker ( The Brecker Brothers), Ron Carter, Ry Cooder, Roy Hargrove, Charles Neville, Linda Ronstadt
- Christmas Prayer [EMI 73631, October 2005] with The Blind Boys of Alabama, Mike Brignardello, Milton Davis (The Four Tempos), John Jarvis, Phillip Manuel, Blue Miller, The Neville Brothers, Ivan Neville, Jason Neville
- Mojo Soul [Music Avenue 250132, June 2006]
- Bring It on Home... The Soul Classics [Burgundy 85489, September 2006] with Jack Ashford (Funk Brothers), Chris Botti, Lenny Castro, Barbara Ann & Rosa Lee Hawkins (Dixie Cups), Chaka Khan, Neil Larsen, Art Neville, Athelgra Neville, Jason Neville, Ray Parker jr., Joe Sample (Crusaders), David Sanborn, Mavis Staples, Lee Thornburg, Freddie Washington, Fred White (Earth, Wind & Fire)

He appeara on the following albums:
David "Fathead" Newman - House of David: The David "Fathead" Newman Anthology [Rhino 71452, 1993] 2-CD set
Various Artists - The Songs of Jimmie Rodgers: A Tribute [Sony, August 1997]
Johnny Adams - There Is Always One More Time [Rounder 611581, October 2000]
Faithless - Back to Mine [Ultra 1080, February 2001]
Ivan Neville - Saturday Morning Music [Uptop 218, January 2002]
The Blind Boys of Alabama - Go Tell It on the Mountain [Real World 90600, September 2003]
Ivan Neville - Scrape [Compendia 5554, January 2004]
Various Artists - Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens: The Big Ol' Box of New Orleans [Shout! Factory 37441, October 2004] 4 CD Box set
John Scofield - That's What I Say: John Scofield Plays the Music of Ray Charles [Verve 9880534, June 2005]
Various Artists - A Celebration of New Orleans Music to Benefit the Musicares Hurricane Relief [Rounder 2185, October 2005]
Various Artists - Hurricane Relief: Come Together Now [RIAA 2311, November 2005] 2 CD set
Kenny G - The Essential Kenny G [Arista Legacy 75487, January 2006]
Michael Lington - Heat [Nu Groove 2016, September 2008]
Take 6 - The Standard [Heads Up 3142, September 2008]

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