The Cyril Neville Band Shows
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About The Cyril Neville Band
Whether you listen to Cyril Neville�s music or soak it in live, prepare to be both educated and entertained. On one hand you see an artist who can interpret and cover songs with a style and energy that renders them, in many cases, superior to the original renditions of the songs. On the other hand, his original material bears witness to the experiences, influences, and other forces that have shaped who he is today. You hear a man who has witnessed and was subject to numerous incidents of racial hatred and oppression. You hear the realization of personal and musical identity, a man who honors the musical and cultural traditions of his native New Orleans, as well as those he has encountered in various forms around the world.
Cyril Neville was born on October 10, 1948, the youngest of six children of Amelia and Arthur Neville. As a small boy, he used to watch and listen to his teenage brother Art�s first band, the Hawkettes, through the proverbial crack in the door. Though he may not have realized it then, the drumbeats that quickened his heart as a child still drive his professional life today. It was Clarence �Juny Boy� Brown, drummer for Fats Domino, who first introduced Cyril to drumming and Aaron Neville�s wife, Joel, who first recognized and nurtured his amazing vocal talent. Although he developed his skills as a youth playing around with such stellar musical friends as Zigaboo Modeliste and Snooks Eaglin, his first professional gig was as co-front man for Art Neville and the Neville Sounds in 1967. The band featured Cyril, Aaron and Art Neville, as well as Zigaboo Modeliste on drums, George Porter, Jr. on bass, Leo Nocentelli on guitar, and Gary Brown on sax. Modeling his stage presence after James Brown, Cyril�s voice and moves lit up audiences all over Uptown New Orleans. Unfortunately, the band was short lived as Art, Zigaboo, George and Leo split off to form a group that became the Meters. Cyril and Aaron kept the fire going by transforming the remaining band into a new group, the Soul Machine, that cooked on for some years. Sadly there is no recording of that sound, energy and sweat.
In 1970 at a recording session in Macon, Georgia, Cyril recorded �Gossip,� released on the Josie label. Backed by the Meters, it was produced by Marshall Sehorn and Allen Toussaint. The pair had notions of signing Cyril to a solo contract, but he didn�t trust the vibe and moved on. The remainder of that decade was powerfully transforming for Cyril. An intense and defiant young man, he became a police target in the racial tension that boiled over in New Orleans in the late sixties and seventies. Thus, it was providential in some ways that he went out on the road, on a forced vacation to visit Charles in New York, a short stint touring as lead vocalist for the Meters, looking for his fortune in Los Angeles with Aaron, and back to Brooklyn, NY to perform with Charles and Aaron. In fact, getting out of New Orleans at that time may have saved his life. And throughout the turmoil he continued to grow musically, because everywhere he went he soaked in the sound and life surrounding him. It was also during the seventies that his musical development received a new and powerful jolt from the Caribbean in the form of reggae music. The beginnings of what would become second-line reggae were born. But there was little time for development � yet.
In 1974, while gigging in New York with Aaron and Charles in an embryonic version of the Wild Tchoupitoulas, Cyril got a call from his mother. The Rolling Stones wanted the Meters to open for their tour and Art wanted Cyril to front the Meters. Almost overnight, his life was turned upside down. From performances at occasional club gigs in New York, he turned to igniting tens of thousands at festivals and arenas throughout Europe. In Cyril�s words, �. . .here I am, a kid from the Thirteenth Ward, on tour with the fuckin� Rolling Stones.� It was some party, but despite the drugs, the unreal lifestyle and the creative tension that always seemed to exist within the Meters, Fire on the Bayou, the Meters album put together at that time, is a classic.
Following the tour with the Rolling Stones it was back to New Orleans. And there all of the brothers were shaken to the core when their mother, Amelia Neville, died tragically in a hit-and-run car accident. Perhaps catalyzed by this tragedy, their uncle George Landry a.k.a Big Chief Jolly, set out to record his interpretation of Mardi Gras Indian chants. Mardi Gras Indians have a rich musical tradition that incorporates the very roots of much African-American culture in America. You hear in their chants the sounds of West Africa, Haiti and Trinidad. You hear in their music the soul of black neighborhoods all over New Orleans. Rooted perhaps as far back as the Civil War, it is soul that stands proud up in the face of the worst that life can muster. Uncle Jolly was the founder of the Wild Tchoupitoulas tribe and in 1976 he pulled all of the Neville brothers together and, backed by the Meters, created the 1976 gem titled simply The Wild Tchoupitoulas. It was the first Neville family release and its influence both musically and culturally is a driving force that resonates in Cyril�s life to this day.
The Meters recorded two additional LPs with Cyril, Trick Bag and New Directions, prior to disbanding in 1977. Unfortunately, the creative tensions that fueled their musical genius proved too much for the group. After the Meters disbanded for good, several seminal events occurred. Cyril met Gaynielle Housey, the woman who became and remains the love of his life. She gave him the strength to dump the drugs and other negative influences that plagued him at that point, freeing his creativity and talent to flourish. Additionally, at the urging of their uncle George Landry and with the proceeds of an insurance settlement related to their mother�s death, Art, Aaron, Charles and Cyril created Neville Productions. Their search to assemble a backing band introduced Cyril to the man he has named as his musical mentor, Gerald Tillman a.k.a. Professor Shorthair. While their initial collaboration was as part of The Neville Brothers, it ultimately resulted in Cyril�s own piece of music history, The Uptown Allstars.
In 1984 Cyril became took over leadership of the Uptown Allstars. It was at a �musical laboratory� on Valence Street called Benny�s Bar that Cyril and the Allstars developed and refined a groove defined as second-line reggae. Second�line reggae is the musical alchemy created when the second-line rhythms and uptown funk sound of New Orleans is combined with reggae and other African and Caribbean-influenced rhythms. While some of the songs he wrote and originated with the Allstars are included in the Neville Brothers library, (i.e. �Sister Rosa� and �My Blood�), they have a discography all their own. Cyril has always felt strongly about controlling, producing and owning his own music. Starting in 1994 with The Fire This Time, all of his music has been released on his own label, Endangered Species Records. The body of work assembled there reflects all of the musical and cultural influences that have shaped his life. Over the past 20 years, the Allstars have served as a creative complement to Cyril�s role as one of the Neville Brothers, and have toured in the U.S., Europe and Japan. Additionally, Cyril is also a sought-after musical collaborator and has contributed to recordings by a variety of artists including Dr. John, Anders Osborne, Monk Boudreaux, and the Wild Magnolias.
New Orleans� Offbeat magazine refers to Cyril as �. . .a prophet, keeper of the flame, poet, archivist, musical alchemist, community leader, historian and very much an artist to amaze, educate and entertain.� Sadly, Gerald Tillman died in 1986, but with the backbone of Cyril, Nick Daniels on bass, Mean Willie Green on drums and Norman Caesar on keyboards the Uptown Allstars remain the world�s one and only second-line reggae band, the keepers of the uptown funk. Their sound is not easy to define and neither is Cyril Neville�s life. It celebrates the best of New Orleans musical culture and reminds us of the worst of our social injustices. And on the most basic human level it moves our musical soul. Cyril is a passionate performer with a voice doesn�t just sing, it preaches. On occasion he even speaks of live performances as �street church�. His personal street has been long, hard and winding. Musically, we are all richer as a result.
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