When I picture Louisiana swamps, oil rigs, Mardi Gras, alligators, Cajuns, voodoo and filet gumbo, soulful musical traditions come to mind. It's these that have shaped Kenny Neal, and molded him into the talent that he is today.
Neal, a native of Baton Rouge, began playing music at a very young age. The oldest of ten children, he learned the basics from his father, singer and blues harmonica player, Raful Neal.
Family friends also contributed to Kenny's early education. Friends like Lazy Lester, Buddy Guy and Slim Harpo. In fact, it was Harpo who gave the crying three-year-old a harmonica to pacify him.
Kenny stopped crying that day, and eventually learned to play the harmonica. Along the way, he also mastered the bass, trumpet, piano and guitar. At 13, he joined his father's band and began paying his musical dues. Four years later, he was recruited and toured extensively as Buddy Guy's bass player.
In 1983, Toronto's "Hip & Happening" music scene beckoned, and Neal made a "run for the border." He formed the Neal Brothers Blues Band and later fronted the Downchild Blues Band, Canada's leading blues outfit. To this day, he still has a staunch Canadian fan base.
The notorious Neal was lured back to the States with a record deal. Packed with catchy R&B and blues tunes, his first and only album on King Snake Records, Bio on the Bayou, was released in 1987. The project immediately caught the ears of Bruce Iglauer, which led to a five album run on the Alligator label.
Kenny, always looking for ways to appeal to a wider audience, took a respite from the cramped stages of smoky roadhouses and headed for the lights of Broadway. In 1991, he starred as the lead in the much-acclaimed musical, Mule Bone. His performances garnered a prestigious Theater World Award for "The Most Outstanding New Talent On and Off Broadway."
His list of musical references reads like a Who's Who of Blues and R& B. B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, Muddy Waters, Aaron Neville, Buddy Guy and John Lee Hooker have all worked on projects with him at one time or another, and have nothing but respect for his talent and abilities.
1998 saw the release of Blues Fallin & Down Like Rain, his Telarc debut, and Kenny began to gain the stature critics had long predicted for him. In 1999, he fronted the exceptional Homesick for the Road with fellow guitarists/vocalists Tab Benoit and Debbie Davies. His third Telarc release, What You Got, is due out in April 2000.
Kenny Neal is once again reinventing himself. Determined to win the hearts of the video generation, look for his style to become more Pop/AC, his image more GQ, and his music smoother and even more polished.