Big News From Baton Rouge!!
Son of Louisiana bluesman Raful Neal, Kenny's a triple threat on guitar, harmonica and vocals. "Undeniably contemporary, authentic young bluesman just bursting with ideas"--BLUES & RHYTHM
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All songs Midnight Creeper Music/Booga Music, BMI, except *
Kenny Neal, Electric and Acoustic Guitars, Harmonica and Vocals
Bryan Bassett or Ernie Lancaster, Rhythm Guitar
Lucky Peterson or Kenny Burch, Keyboards
Anthony Hardesty, Darnell Neal or Bob Greenlee, Bass
Gralin Hoffman, Jim Payne, Mark Blair or Denny Best , Drums
The King Snake Horns:
Bill Samuel, Saxes and Horn Arrangements
Bruce Staelens or Sylvester Polk, Trumpet
Jan Pattishall, Trombone
Leroy Cooper, Baritone Sax
On Early One Morning, the players are:
Kenny Neal, Guitars, Bass and Vocals
Pat Rush, Rhythm Guitar
Steven Hunter, Keyboards
Eddie Tuduri, Drums
The Humber College Horns
Produced by Bob Greenlee and Kenny Neal
Recorded at King Snake Studios, Sanford, FL
Early One Morning recorded at Eastern Sound, Toronto, ONT
Engineered by Bryan Bassett, Pete Carr and Bob Greenlee
Mixed by Jay Shilliday at Streeterville Studios, Chicago, IL
Early One Morning engineered by Dan Durban
Mastered in Dolby SR by Tom Coyne at Frankford/Wayne, New York, NY
Cover design by Eileen Mulkerrin and Craig Havighurst
Cover photo by James Terry
Special thanks to Ray Lewis, Bill Wokersin and the staff of Alligator Records
Kenny Neal is big news in Baton Rouge and just about every other place that he has played. Although he's only 30, Neal has been turning audiences on their ears for more than two decades now.
Although Neal's name is relatively new to record buyers, he's one of the most exciting blues musicians to come along in years. Not only does he bring an electrifying presence to the stage, he also plays harp, guitar, piano and bass with equal skill. For a young man, Kenny's songwriting, playing and vocals are strikingly assertive, but considering his background, one shouldn't be surprised.
Kenny Neal is a second generation bluesman who has quite a noble pedigree. His father is Raful Neal, one of Louisiana's top blues harpists. Although he wasn't recorded as often as many of his Baton Rouge contemporaries, Raful Neal and the Clouds were one of the area's top blues attractions for decades.
"I grew up surrounded by blues," recalls Kenny. "B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry--those were the big names around my house. Not only that, guys like Slim Harpo and Lazy Lester were my dad's best friends. They'd always be stopping by the house."
The piano was Kenny Neal's first instrument and he made his debut at the age of six playing What'd I Say on one of his father's shows. Saturday blues matinees were popular around Baton Rouge in the1960's, and Raful often snuck his son into the Temple Roof Club in order to see the real thing.
At the age of 13, Kenny joined his father's band, originally subbing for an undependable bass player. "My dad didn't even know I could play bass," laughs Neal. "His band used to keep all their instruments at our house and I'd pull out the bass and the guitars while dad was sleeping. One night dad had a job but he couldn't find the bass player. He was getting ready to call the club and tell them he couldn't make the gig, but I stopped him. I told him I'd been practicing on the bass and could play with his band. Dad hesitated at first, but he carried me along that night and everything sounded great. I was my dad's bass player after that."
Like many young black musicians, Kenny experimented with playing funk at one time, but he quickly realized it wasn't up his alley. "Yeah, there was a time when I decided I was gonna be cool and play funk," he admits. "I told my dad I was quitting his band and joining a funk band. He told me 'That's OK, son, do whatever you feel is best.'"
"I tried it for a while but it didn't work out. I didn't feel what I was playing in the funk band. Finally I asked dad for my old job back."
The first major break in Neal's career occurred in 1976, when Buddy Guy--one of Kenny's father's former sidemen--called from Austin, Texas, desperately looking for a substitute bass player. Kenny's playing fit Guy's style like a glove, and he eventually joined the flamboyant guitarist's band for the better part of five years.
After graduating from Guy's band in 1980, Kenny relocated to Toronto, Canada, where he laid down the bass and started to bone up on guitar. In just a matter of a few months, Neal was considered one of the top guitarists in the city. Besides backing touring blues artists that visited Toronto, Neal had a short stint with the Downchild Blues Band, one of Canada's top blues groups.
"I feel like you can express yourself on guitar more than you can on bass," explains Kenny. "And quite honestly, I felt there were alot of guitar players out there with big names that really weren't all that great. I felt that if I could play what I felt on guitar, I could really make a name for myself."
In 1984, Neal returned to Baton Rouge, where he quickly recruited a band that was capable of supporting his expanding musical ideas. Besides playing his own music, Neal could also be found backing his father, as well as many other Baton Rouge blues artists.
"Baton Rouge is a great blues town," states Neal emphatically. "There's a lot of history here and I feel like I'm helping to carry on the tradition."
In 1986, Kenny met a Florida blues fan, Bob Greenlee, who was interested in starting his own label. The result of their meeting was Bio On The Bayou , released on Greenlee's Kingsnake label. Soon after, the album came to the attention of Alligator Records, who quickly agreed to re-release the LP after remixing it and adding three new cuts. This superb blues album will introduce Neal to a broader audience and hopefully many more Alligator releases will follow.
Not surprisingly, Neal remains firmly committed to playing the blues the way it should be played, adding his own forceful touches of originality. "The blues is the real thing," he concludes. "It's about real people and real situations. It's about what's around me in my life."
-- Jeff Hannusch a/k/a Almost Slim
Jeff Hannusch is the author of I Hear You Knockin': The Sound of New Orleans Rhythm & Blues