Kenny Neal visits and discusses his new album

On March 9, 2017, Pointe Coupee Parish Office of Tourism had the opportunity to interview the legendary blues musician and recording artist Kenny Neal. Kenny Neal called me and said that John “Chris” Christophe told him to give me a call (Chris knew how I felt about Kenny Neal). During our phone conversation, Kenny and I shared stories on how we were each raised. We both came from musical families, played guitar, and both were one of ten children. We immediately felt connected. He said he wanted to meet with me, and I wanted to write a story about him.
Kenny drove up in vintage panel truck. It was an eye catcher; shiny new white paint job, chrome wheels, and he talked about his love for vintage cars and trucks

Legendary blues musician and recording artist Kenny Neal

Legendary blues musician and recording artist Kenny Neal

To make Kenny to feel comfortable during the interview, I invited my brothers Donald and Charles J. Miletello who are musicians and played music with Kenny’s family. John “Chris” Christophe and David K. Jarreau, Vice President of the Tourist Commission, were also there. John and David are musicians, too; isn’t it a small world?
I’ve been following Kenny’s story for years, and what I really like about him is that he is so genuine. He cares about his family, friends, and puts his heart into his music. I hear a little bit of Zydeco and a whole lot of blues in his style, and the combination makes him unique.
Kenny has never forgotten where he came from. His Louisiana heritage is embedded into his heart. He knows it is tough for musicians to rise to the top like he did, and now he is trying to pave the way for them. He is involved in mentoring programs for future musicians.
Kenny gives back to his family and is involved in charitable organizations.
Kenny announced that he is opening Kenny’s Juke Joint in Baton Rouge soon, and anyone or any band that plays music can put their name on a list to play there. He wants to provide a place for musicians to gather and just be able to play music.
I can see what inspired Kenny to write songs for his newest album “Bloodline.” He shared a video with us, and in the video Kenny is on stage playing music with his twin sisters, brothers, cousins and children. His mother and grandchildren are all on stage, too. They are his inspiration and bloodline. His album “Bloodline” is not only a reflection of his past, but clearly a reflection of the future of blues music, and it comes from his family’s heritage.
Kenny Neal was born on October 14, 1957, in New Orleans, Louisiana. His family later moved to Baton Rouge. Kenny was three years old when he started playing the harmonica and by the time he was thirteen years old, he was playing music in his daddy’s band. Kenny plays three instruments; bass and lead guitar, harmonica, and lap steel guitar.
When Kenny was a young boy he would sit in the truck or car until it was time for his daddy put him on top of the bar. He would do his James Brown/Michael Jackson thing and when he finished, there was more money thrown on top of the bar than his Daddy made playing all night. After his performance, he went back to the truck and would go to sleep. When he returned home, his daddy would tell him, “Alright, boy now empty your pockets, let me put that money away for you.”
I could relate to his story, because my father had to get a judge to issue a court order for my brothers to be able to play music in nightclubs since alcoholic beverages were sold. They were also young boys, and they emptied their pockets to put bread on the table for the rest our family.
Kenny’s daddy was Raful Neal, and he was a blues music legend. He was friends with Buddy Guy and Slim Harpo who are also blues legends. He said that in 1976 Buddy Guy gave him a call and asked him to play bass guitar in his band. He told him to pack his suitcase to go on tour with him, and Kenny said, “A suitcase, what’s that? I don’t own one.” Kenny was seventeen years old when he stared touring.
We snacked on boudin and donuts and talked about how good it was to be from Louisiana. We also talked about what musicians go through. Most of them experience ups and downs in their careers and their personal lives.
Kenny said his daddy, years ago, tried to discourage him and said he couldn’t make a living playing blues music. Kenny said he didn’t want to hear it, because that was the only kind of music he had ever known. Thank God he didn’t listen to his dad!
Most musicians struggle before they make it. Kenny’s first other job was a hospital orderly, and his second job he worked in a school lunchroom – the first male lunchroom worker in the state. After that, he played music full time. I forgot to ask him if he learned to cook after working in the lunchroom; I guess I will never know. But one thing I do know is that he learned to cook a good batch of blues that turned into an abundance of “greens!”
He also told us that he buried his daddy, brother and sister all within three months of each other in 2004.
David and I presented Kenny with a Pointe Coupee Tourism Award and thanked him for promoting tourism in many parishes across Louisiana. I told him I knew it wasn’t as important as achieving a Grammy, but our award came from the heart. I told him he put Louisiana on the map and thanked him for doing so.
Kenny is nominated in three categories at the upcoming Blues Foundation Music Awards Ceremony that will be held on May 11: Blues Album of the Year Award for “Bloodline,” Contemporary Blues Male Artist of the Year Award, and Contemporary Blues Album Award.
He continues to tour nationally and internationally, and he is still taking home numerous awards. For more details about his career, visit www.kennyneal.net.
He is a very talented individual and extraordinary man. Like his father and his father’s friends before him, he is among the next generation of famous blues musicians. It is indeed his bloodline.

by Jeanie Andre

Jeanie Andre is director of the Pointe Coupee Parish Office of Tourism. Photos provided by Donald Miletello, David Jarreau, & John “Chris” Christophe.