Aaron Neville when he first knew that his voice was something
special, and he has a ready answer. "It was the day I was
born" he says with a little grin. "The doctor slapped me, and
I said "Ah-aaaah!"
follows is one of those classic, tremulous Aaron Neville
falsettos it may be impossible to capture on the printed page,
but you've heard it before. You heard it on his classic 1966 ballad,
"Tell It Like It Is," on his acclaimed records with his
brothers in the New Orleans first family of rock 'n' funk, "The
Neville Brothers," on his Grammy-winning hit duets with Linda
Ronstadt and Trisha Yearwood, and on his A&M Records solo albums
Your Heart," "The
Grand Tour" and "Aaron
Neville's Soulful Christmas."
As one of the great distinctive singers of the past
four decades, Aaron Neville's contradictions have long been
noted: the body of a linebacker and the voice of an angel; the arms that
look as if they could snap a microphone in half, coupled with the voice
of an angel; the arms that look as if they could snap a microphone stand
in half, coupled with a voice of startling purity, grace and even
innocence. Aaron calls it "the perfect package," and even he
is not immune to the spell his music can cast. "When people tell me
that my voice helped them through their rough times, I know what they're
talking about," he says quietly. "Because it helped me through
my rough times, too."
Aaron might well be singing about that bond in
"Everyday Of My Life," a gorgeous, doo-wop influenced ballad
Tattooed Heart." "I want to have and to hold you, inspire
and console you," he sings with his usual delicacy, and it sounds
as if he's aiming the words partly at a woman, partly at his audience.
"I wanted to make a record that would be real soulful, with a
little more of an R&B edge," says Steve Lindsey, who has now
produced three of Aaron's albums as well as working with the likes of
Peter Gabriel and
Leonard Cohen. "Not a modern R&B edge
more on the level of early Aretha or Wilson
Pickett." As for Aaron,
his mission is, as always, simpler and purer: "I just wanted to
make a good record," he says. "I don't want to just sing
songs, you know? I want to sing things that people can feel, and
to let them know that I feel it too."
This is the kind of music he's been listening to since
he was a child, growing up in the Calliope housing project in New
Orleans. Living in that city was its own musical education, of course.
Keeping its own lazy pace in a bend of the Mississippi River, the Big
Easy has long absorbed the music of the American South, of the
Caribbean, and of Africa.
Everything eventually makes its way down the river or
across the sea to New Orleans, where jazz, blues, country, reggae and
many other styles are simmered into a gumbo of astonishing riches. But
music was also inescapable inside the Neville home: Aaron's mother and
uncle were once a song and dance team, his uncle George Landry
("Uncle Jolly") led a band of Mardi Gras Indians and his
father collected Nat "King" Cole records. Aaron, as the third
of the four Neville Brothers, also had the influence of older siblings
Art and Charles.
He loved it all, which is why he still sings it all.
Aaron was embraced by Nashville when he made George Jones' "The
Grand Tour" the title song to his second A&M album. "I
grew up going to the movies watching Roy Rogers and Gene Autry,"
admits Aaron. I was a big Hank Williams fan, and later on I loved Patsy
Cline. I was a cowboy. I used to yodel and everything."
There's also a tip of the hat to an old favorite of
Aaron's, Bill Withers. In the early Seventies, when Bill Withers had his
biggest hits, Aaron was at a low point in his career. He'd been making
records since the early sixties, and had a couple of hits including
"Over You" and of course, "Tell It Like It Is." But
like virtually every other great New Orleans musician of the time, he
wasn't the one making money off his success. Instead, he had to work on
the docks, in the steel mills, wherever else he could get a job that
paid the bills.
But he still sang when he had the chance and in
the small clubs where he appeared, he would perform Withers' classic
hits "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Use Me."
This is a man who used prayers to St. Jude the
patron saint of lost causes to get him through the years when it
seemed as if his vocal gifts might not be enough to rescue him from the
dead-end life of many of his friends. Faith sustained Aaron when his
musical and personal fortunes were at their lowest, and it sustained him
after he rejoined his three brothers on the infectious "Wild Tchoupitoulas" album in 1976.
It would be thirteen more years, several acclaimed but
unsuccessful albums as the Neville
Brothers, and countless prayers before the breakthrough: first the Neville
Brothers masterful 1989 album "Yellow
Moon," then Aaron's four duets with longtime fan Linda
Ronstadt on her double platinum "Cry
Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like The Wind," then his first solo
album on A&M records, "Warm
Two albums, four Grammy Awards and a couple Rolling
Stone magazine critics' poll victories later, Aaron remembers what it
took to get him here and so he ends each of his albums with some
sort of hymn.
With every new album, Aaron Neville carries on
the legacy of the greats who influenced him, and sings for the friends
and relatives who didn't make it through the obstacles and the family
that has stood behind him. The open, generous heart, at the core of his
music is tattooed with the names, emblems, and dreams of those who came
before, those who didn't make it this far, those who needed his music in
the past and will need it in the future.
"They've been with me almost all my life, since I
was a teenager," he says of his visible tattoos, the ones that
adorn his face, his arms, his body. "And they'll be there
forever." So will his music.
Hit songs include --
- Everybody Plays The Fool
- Tell It Like It Is
- Don't Take Away My Heaven
- Somewhere, Somebody
- Over You
- Can't Stop My Heart from Loving You
- Crazy Love
- Don't Fall Apart on Me Tonight
- Say What's in My Heart
- It's All Right
Aaron Neville may be available for your next special event!
.New Orleans R&B.
..60s, ..70s, ..80s, ..90s, ..00s, ..10s
Born: ..in Louisiana
..in New Orleans
Jan 24, 1941
Based: ..in Louisiana
..in New Orleans