Aaron Neville is New Orleans lyrical native song storm survivor. Five decades later and 71 years younger, his legacy grows and grows
When Aaron Neville graces the stage at the prestigious Walt Disney Concert Hall on Dec. 18th for a performance of his Christmas Tour he will do so with the spirit beneath his wings.
The native son of New Orleans, born into rich musical culture that was spiced with gospel, R&B, jazz, country western and baptized in doo-wop by his older brother Art, the four-time Grammy winner influenced multiple genres for more than five decades.
Reminded during an exclusive interview that at the age of 71, he looks and still sounds with his timeless versatile voice— much younger, he agreed.
“I feel like I’m 21. I think my music has inspired me to live long. We all have a long way to go and a short time to get there,” Neville told the Sentinel.
The journey for Neville began when he was about 13 with brother Art, sitting out on the patio at the apartment in New Orleans and that is when his soul was touched.
“It was like magic to me. They showed me some doo-wop and it just captivated my soul,’ he remembered. “I use to sing my way into movies and sporting events. When I was in school and the teachers would come looking for me they would find me in the bathroom singing. They would ask me why I wasn’t in class and I would respond this is my class.”
Today, he is in a class by himself with hit songs such as “Over You” (1960), “Tell It Like It Is”, which topped Billboard’s R&B chart for five weeks in 1967 and also reached #2 on the Hot 100. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.
A remake of the song was a Top 10 Pop hit for the Rock group Heart featuring Ann and Nancy Wilson in, 21 years later 1981.
It was when Neville teamed up with Linda Ronstadt in 1989 on the album Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind that America began to really take notice. It was with Ronstadt that he captured two of his four Grammys for Best Pop Performance in 1990 and ’91, respectively.
“I believe those were some of the best times of my life. I miss performing with her and would hope that we can hook up again,” he said.
Neville has toured with the great Otis Redding, was influenced musically by the legendary Sam Cook and elegant Nate King Cole, but has since been making his own gigantic footsteps in the sand.
Although he was won Grammys for the duets “Don’t Know Much” and “All My Life,” and a Grammy for Country and Western in 1994, but I had to ask him if he felt under appreciated because those honors were in compilation with others.
“It is what it is. I do what I do and I don’t worry about it. I don’t even think of that part of it because my fans have sustained me,” Neville answered.
Twice he was voted as Best Male Singer by Rolling Stones in 1992 and ’93 and captured an individual honor as Best Gospel Singer for the Big Easy Awards in New Orleans.
He has performed national anthems at sporting events such was WWE wrestling, sang in the film ‘The Fan’ and Soap Opera’s as well.
However, while there have been many artists before and after him who has been defined by their music, but for Neville it has been multiple life experiences, which have define his music.
The devout Roman Catholic explained; “Losing my mother hit me in the stomach. Doctors had told her that she had three months to live, but my family and I went to St. Jude and she survived for three years. I could not feel what she was feeling and she could not feel what I was feeling, but I got through it.”
Neville also had to deal with the blow of losing his first wife Joel in 2007 that died of lung cancer. The couple had first when then they were 18 in 1959.
He is since remarried to Sarah who he credits with keeping him strong.
“I have been blessed to have three incredible women in my life,” he says.
Neville also reflects of the tragic Hurricane Katrina, which transformed his hometown for years. It destroyed his home in Eastern New Orleans and forced him to move to Memphis.
“By God that was a heavy blow to all of us. Many of us would meet in the middle of the road because our homes had been destroyed. We’d look at each other in the eye and see a tear although nothing was falling,” Neville.
Touring with his band that also includes his brother Charlie, he has visited many cities, including New York when ‘Sandy’ hammered it.
“Tragedy his every where and everybody, but it brings people together. You can’t figure it out and I don’t try to figure it out anymore.”
He learned that a long time ago when he spent an hour in a half with the late genius Curtis Mayfield who was paralyzed and dying.
“It was one of the most powerful moments of my life. We got a chance to reminisce and bring back thoughts of his songs. He was not complaining and going on with life gracefully,” stated Neville.
He is most passionate about his soon to be released project ‘My True Story” slated for January 2013 that shares one of the world’s finest singers in revisiting the music he grew up with, and adding a few new spins along the way.
It is his first release for Blue Note Records is a collection of twelve classic doo-wop numbers, performed in his utterly inimitable vocal style, and co-produced by Blue Note President Don Was and Keith Richards.
The songs on the cut don’t just date back to his youth, but they underpin all of the remarkable music he has created across five decades.
“I attended the university of doo-wop-ology,” he says. “Anything I do has got some doo-wop in it. It’s just part of me—it’s the texture that I’m singing in, it’s the endings, it’s the harmonies. At 3 o’clock in the morning, I wake up with a doo-wop song going in my head and I can’t go back to sleep because I’m singing it over and over.”
This from the embodiment of a human Katrina, a gentle soul whose reflective book of poetry weaves messages spiritual of hope experienced from his remarkable lifestyle to the homeless and hungry.
“That go I but for the grace of God,” he writes in his book of poetry.
But for the grace of God that a priceless soul such as Aaron Neville would be shared with us.