Neville Brothers

Neville Brothers

I interviewed Art and Aaron for an earlier MG publication a couple of decades ago. I remember the very first time I heard Aaron sing Tell It Like It Is live- my jaw dropped!! It was the most beautiful song I had ever heard. I’ve been a fan of the Nevilles since they formed the family band in 1976.  I remember seeing the Nevilles the year they first appeared at the Jazz Fest as the Neville Bros. That year, the original Meters also appeared, with new recruits taking Art and Cyril’s places.  What was remarkable about both appearances was each group played the exact same sets!!

Art and Aaron Neville are as well known as any R&B performers in New Orleans, and have been able to attract large audiences for over 45 years both separately and together. Since 1976, with their brothers Cyril and Charles they have been performing as the Neville Brothers Band, drawing big crowds both in town and on their various tours.They have played such cities as New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles as well as in Europe and Asia; and have opened for the Rolling Stones several times during their many tours.

The Neville family influence on R&B  music began with George Landry and continues with Ivan (Aaron’s son) & Ian Neville (Art’s son). Cyril Nevile was a member of the Meters during the group’s later years and Charles wrote the music for Shangri-La, a musical that enjoyed several New Orleans runs.

Aaron has recorded such beautiful ballads as Arianne and Tell It Like It Is, which was a regional hit in 1964 and helped to establish his career. Aaron recorded several Grammy winning, platinum albums with Linda Ronstadt, and also several national TV commercials for major companies.  He has been described by many music lovers and critics as having one of the sweetest voices performing today.


Art Neville started with the Hawkettes as a teenager and while most of the band was in high school they recorded Mardi Gras Mambo (1954) which instantly became, and still is, a Carnival classic.  They Hawkettes were a popular New Orleans group as were the Meters, with whom Art helped found and play with until the Neville’s family band was formed.

Above, an incredible performance of Tell It Like It Is sung by Aaron Neville, Bonnie Raitt,and Greg Allman.

Back in 1979, when NOPD went on strike during Carnival and the Orleans parades were canceled, my family and entourage had to switch plans for Mardi Gras Day. Instead of Zulu, Rex and the trucks, we went for the Wild Tchoupitoulas Mardi Gras Indians in our neighborhood. There was Aaron and Charles Neville with their uncle George Landry and Norman Bell, Chief and Second Chief of the Wild Tchoupitoulas. We smoked a funny cigarette with Aaron while marching around the uptown neighborhood.  It was very memorable and a excellent substitute for Zulu and Rex.

Q. How did you celebrate Mardi Gras growing up, and today?

Art: On the big day everyone masked back then. If then didn’t have the money, they used anything they had, such as bottle tops and corks- people would have them stuck all over. Now, around Carnival time, we play a lot of music, and I like that. I used to go to the parades, but now I don’t – I watch them on TV. I still go out and walk around a little, I like to watch the trucks, but the parades seem all the same, they don’t change.

Neville Brothers

Neville Brothers

Aaron: The Indians were my favorite part of the Mardi Gras when I was growing up, I followed them but I had no patience to sew a costume. Today, I don’t usually go far from home, I manage without that. All the parades pass by near my house, then I come home and each my red beans and hot dogs, and watch the rest on TV. I leave downtown to the visitors.

Q. Can you describe the influence your late uncle, Chief Jolly (George Landry), has had on your music?

Art: He’s a big part of the Neville family tradition. It’s been passed down to us from all our family. Jolly was my mother’s youngest brother, we dedicated one of our albums to him. He had his own style, he was close to the piano.

Aaron: Chief Jolly started the Wild Tchoupitoulas Indians in the mid 1970’s. He’d been with several other tribes throughout his life. I used to watch him sewing his costume on and off all year. If Jolly was alive today, we’d still be doing the Wild Tchoupitoulas with him.  The Indian songs we still do today were done by him. Our mother, she and Jolly had a dance team when they were young, Jolly stayed at the piano while Mother danced. His style was similar to Professor Longhair’s, but his own.

Q. Do any members of the Neville family still put on Indian costumes?

Art: People in New Orleans don’t want to see that most of the year, except around Carnival time. On the road, very few have seen the Indians and it’s extremely effective, it works and there’s no denying it.

Aaron: I don’t put on a costume anymore, neither does Art. I have though, at one time all of us did. The Indian outfits are very hot and heavy, especially after playing a whole set as the  Neville Brothers. In the past, it’s been the Neville children who dress up in the costumes – Aaron Jr., my nephew Derrick, Charlie’s daughter Charmaine, they carry on the stage tradition. On the street, on Mardi Gras, we don’t really participate much anymore, but out of town it’s been part of our stage show in the past.

About Meet de Boys in the Battlefront,

Written by Big Chief Jolly (George Landry), Meet De Boys On The Battlefront is an interesting expression of the Mardi Gras Indian tradition. Boasting about their beautiful handcrafted suits and fighting spirit, his song tells of taking to the streets Mardi Gras morning to have “fun”, displaying, singing cryptic chants, drinking, and doing battle on the holiday. Of course, over the past 40 years or so, their battles have become ritualized public competition to see who has created the best regalia and shows out best on the streets, rather than the sometimes violent gang-style turf fights (using shanks, axes, and even guns) that kept the Indians underground and outside the law for many years earlier in the 20th century.

From the Wild Tchoupitoulas Album, a nice youtube video-

Big Chief Got Golden Crown

Aaron singing Tell It Like It Is in England with the Neville Brothers