|Subject: Singer & Songwriter Art Neville (The Neville Brothers, The Meters)
Dies at 81
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Date Posted: Monday, July 22, 10:37:58am
New Orleans legend Art Neville, founder of the Meters and Neville Brothers, dies at 81
Art “Poppa Funk” Neville spent a half-century shaping the sound of New Orleans music. The keyboardist and singer was a founding member of the Meters and the Neville Brothers, and was the voice of the enduring Carnival season anthem “Mardi Gras Mambo.”
Neville died Monday after years of declining health, according to sources close to his family. He was 81.
"It was peaceful," said Kent Sorrell, Neville's longtime manager. "He passed away at home with his adoring wife Lorraine by his side."
Arthur Lanon Neville was born on December 17, 1937, the same day as New Orleans piano legend James Booker. As a boy, he lived in the Calliope housing development and Uptown on Valence. He was drawn to the Orioles, the Drifters and other doo-wop groups, as well as the piano-driven music of Professor Longhair and Fats Domino.
He attended St. Augustine and Booker T. Washington high schools before earning his GED from Walter S. Cohen, where he’d hang out in the music room with fellow members of the Hawketts, the group he joined in 1953.
He was barely 17 when, in 1954, he sang lead on the Hawketts’ remake of a country song called “Mardi Gras Mambo.” Local deejay Jack the Cat convinced the Hawketts to record "Mardi Gras Mambo" at his radio station. Little did they know that, more than 60 years later, the song would still be a Carnival staple.
Neville served six years in the Navy, including two on active duty. During three months at sea aboard the U.S.S. Independence, he worked as a cook.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he recorded a slew of rhythm & blues singles that are classics of the era, including "Cha Dooky Do" and "All These Things."
By the mid-1960s, he anchored a band called Art Neville & the Neville Sounds. The Neville Sounds featured several younger musicians from the local scene, including bassist George Porter Jr., guitarist Leo Nocentelli, drummer Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste and saxophonist Gary Brown.
They held down a residency at an Uptown bar called the Nite Cap before moving to the Ivanhoe on Bourbon Street. Brown left the group before producer Allen Toussaint recruited them to be the house band for his recording studio. They would record with Lee Dorsey, Dr. John, LaBelle, Robert Palmer and many others.
By 1968, they'd been rechristened the Meters and were releasing singles of their own, including the instrumentals "Sophisticated Cissy" and "Cissy Strut." Neville's playful, sing-song organ, Nocentelli's slinky, chicken-scratch guitar, Porter's deep, rubbery bass and Modeliste's crisp, syncopated rhythms forged a template for much New Orleans music that would follow.
In the 1970s, the Meters recorded songs destined to be New Orleans standards, including "Hey Pocky A-Way," "Fire on the Bayou," "People Say" and "Africa." Cyril Neville joined as a percussionist and vocalist before the Meters embarked on long tours of North America and Europe with the Rolling Stones. In March 1975, Paul McCartney, a fan, hired the band to perform at a party celebrating the release of his "Venus and Mars" album aboard the Queen Mary; the show was documented on a live album.
By the late 1970s, the Meters had splintered, frustrated by their lack of commercial success and bedeviled by personal conflicts and substance abuse. But Art Neville had a new project on which to focus.
He and his brothers backed their uncle, Mardi Gras Indian Big Chief George “Jolly” Landry, on a 1976 album called “The Wild Tchoupitoulas.” By the following year, the brothers had resolved to move forward as their own band, dubbed the Neville Brothers.
They presided over countless sweaty, late nights in local clubs, distilling funk, rhythm & blues, Mardi Gras Indian music and soul into a distinctly New Orleans, distinctly Neville, sound. In 1979, they became the first New Orleans band to perform on the "Austin City Limits" TV show. The 1989 album “Yellow Moon,” produced by U2 auteur Daniel Lanois, sold more than 500,000 copies and solidified the band’s international reputation as ambassadors of their hometown’s music.
For many years, the Neville Brothers closed the main stage of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival on its final Sunday. Art, ever funky, ever cool, presided from behind his keyboards, flashing the Vulcan "live long and prosper" salute familiar to fellow Star Trek fans. He won a Grammy with the Neville Brothers and another for his contributions to a tribute to his pal Stevie Ray Vaughan.
The Neville Brothers released their final studio album in 2004. The band's last concert was at the Hollywood Bowl in 2012; they later reunited to perform several songs at the "Nevilles Forever" tribute show at the Saenger Theatre during the 2015 Jazz Fest. The possibility of any future reunions died when cancer claimed 79-year-old saxophonist Charles Neville in April 2018.
But their legacy is untouchable.
Even as the Neville Brothers still toured the world, Art Neville lent his voice and keyboard to other projects. The most enduring proved to be the Funky Meters, featuring Porter and guitarist Brian Stoltz. The Funky Meters continue to perform with Art's nephew, Ivan Neville, on keyboards.
Starting in 2000, the original Meters periodically reunited, spurred by a fresh appreciation for their enormous influence. Samples of their recordings have turned up in dozens of hip-hop songs. The likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Beastie Boys, Phish and Galactic cite the Meters as a major inspiration.
Neville battled a number of health issues over the years, including persistent complications from routine back surgery in 2001; more recently, he reportedly suffered at least one stroke. His back problems limited his mobility and required him to use a cane and undergo physical therapy, though he continued to perform and tour through 2017.
In July 2018, the Meters received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy during a ceremony in Los Angeles. Neville did not attend; his son, Dumpstaphunk guitarist Ian Neville, represented him.
Weeks later, Nocentelli said the Meters were taking a "wait and see" approach to Neville's health: “I’m hoping and praying that he’ll be able to play again."
But it wasn't to be. In December, Neville officially announced his retirement. He spent his last months at home on Valence Street, enjoying the company of family and friends.
Survivors include his wife Lorraine and his three children, Arthel, Ian, and Amelia.
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