Dig Baton Rouge

Blues and bloodlines: Blues Festival’s Kenny Neal discusses growing up in the blues world

Modern swamp blues sensation Kenny Neal didn’t so much as learn how to play the blues, as much as he has lived it. His father Raful Neal is referred to as “the godfather of the blues” here in Baton Rouge as he helped many blues musicians establish their careers, including the legendary Buddy Guy back in the late ’50s. In his household, Neal grew up around some of the great blues musicians from Baton Rouge that are no longer with us today, including Slim Harpo and Tabby Thomas. For Neal, blues was always a part of his life, and is one of his great loves. He sat down with DIG to talk about his relationship with the blues, this year’s Baton Rouge Blues Festival and his current work Bloodline.

DIG: What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what do the blues mean to you?

Neal: Well, the blues means a lot to me, and it’s important to keep the blues afloat and alive because it’s the roots of American music. This is where jazz, rock ‘n’ roll and all that stuff comes from. It’s very important to me to keep this music alive.

DIG: How do you describe your music philosophy?

Neal: Here in Louisiana we created what we call swamp blues because we have so many different styles of music in this area. Louisiana is like no other state in the United States when it comes down to culture and food and the music; it’s just so different. And what I’ve done over the years is taken a little bit of the Cajun, the Delta Blues, the Ragtime Jazz…a combination that I just kinda combined because we have so many different styles, and that’s why I call it the swamp blues.

DIG: Are there any memories from gigs, festivals or studio sessions that you would like to share?

Neal: Well, just the memories from the very first Baton Rouge Blues Festival with my dad and Tabby Thomas and Buddy Stewart. These three guys were the ones who started the Blues Festival up on Southern University campus, and then the city decided to bring it downtown, but my first memory of that was knowing that we was on to something and the blues was going to be okay and come alive again. That’s what I felt, especially since we had such a great turnout for the very first Blues Festival here.

DIG: And what about the Blues Festival this year?

Neal: This year I’m going to share three or four generations of the Neals. Just share that with our audience and all our fans out there, to let them know that the Neals are going to keep the blues going strong. I’m going to have them from ages three [years old] all the way up to 60 [years old].

DIG: We recently spoke to NOVAC on their Music Video Project, and one of the videos was your own. How did the music video shoot with went?

Neal: Oh the shoot was great. The crew from NOVAC was great. I think it’s going to be great for the city of Baton Rouge having NOVAC here as part of the city as well to help broaden the artist career…I did a song called “Bloodline” and it’s about my roots and where I come from, and it was great to have the chance to capture the way we really live and what’s going on around the Neal family house like having a cookout, boiling crawfish, playing music on the front porch. That’s what we captured and it’s going to be a pretty cool video to show at the festival.

DIG: Are you currently working on anything new?

Neal: It’ll be out in June. The name of the CD is called Bloodline; I used that title track for the video, and it was recorded in Nashville.

DIG: Anything you’d like to share about the recording process?

Neal: It’s one of the CDs that I really wanted to touch bases with my roots and the culture of Louisiana and I think I pretty well nailed it.


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