plus SAMANTHA FISH
Friday, October 6 / 7:00 p.m.
DoubleTree by Hilton Reading Grand Ballroom
Tickets: $39 / General Admission
Kenny Neal, a true living blues legend, is the real deal and more poised than ever to deliver the blues like no one else can.
One of the strongest modern proponents of Baton Rouge swamp blues, Neal is a second-generation southern Louisiana bluesman who is cognizant of the region’s venerable blues tradition and imaginative enough to steer it in fresh directions. His dad, harpist Raful Neal, was a Baton Rouge blues mainstay whose pals included Buddy Guy and Slim Harpo. At age 13, Neal was playing in his father’s band, and at 17, landed a job playing bass for Buddy Guy.
Kenny Neal’s sizzling guitar work, sturdy harp and gravelly, aged-beyond-his-years vocals served him well, launching a lengthy and prolific career.
The guitarist recruited some of his talented siblings to form the Neal Brothers Blues Band up in Toronto (brother Noel later played bass behind James Cotton; five other Neal brothers also play in various bands) before returning stateside.
In 1987, Kenny Neal cut his debut LP for Florida producer Bob Greenlee, an updated swamp feast initially released by Kingsnake Records as Bio on the Bayou. The following year, Alligator Records signed Neal and reissued the debut under the title Big News from Baton Rouge. Neal was on his way.
In 1998, Neal moved from Alligator to the blues division of the jazz-based Telarc Records, releasing three albums for the label: Blues Fallin’ Down Like Rain (1998), What You Got (2000), and One Step Closer (2001). In the new millennium, Neal recorded sets for a variety of independent labels, including Easy Meeting (a 2003 collaboration with Billy Branch), Double Take (2004, a one-shot return to Alligator), and A Tribute to Slim Harpo and Raful Neal (released in 2005 for True Life Entertainment).
Three years later, Neal hooked up with Blind Pig Records and released Let Life Flow in 2008, once again incorporating his gritty Louisiana roots with a sophisticated Chicago/Memphis soul approach. A second Blind Pig release, Hooked on Your Love, appeared two years later in 2010.
In 2015, Neal released his first holiday-themed album, I’ll Be Home for Christmas. It was his first album for Cleopatra Records, which also issued his critically acclaimed release Bloodline in 2016.
In the last few years, Neal has relocated back to Baton Rouge and has spent much of his time around home with family, writing songs, riding horses and working on his collection of vintage cars, but has come to realize that life on the road is his life.
Neal and his band of brothers (Darnell Neal o bass and Fred Neal on keys) are back on the road and better than ever. They are joined by longtime drummer and friend, Bryan Morris and new addition to the band, Alphonso “AG” Guillory on horns.
Whether one leans towards the blues, opts for Americana or ignites some special fervor by playing with a garage band, there’s a common bond that suggests a reverence for the roots. Looking back towards an earlier template — no matter what the genre — proves the point that appreciating what came before can be a stepping stone for what comes next.
Guitarist Samantha Fish knows that all too well, and it’s been evidenced in the music she’s made her entire career. She made a name for herself as one of relatively few female blues guitarists but she prefers to be measured on her own merits rather than as a female musician.
While she’s well known as a purveyor of blues, having been lauded by such legends as Buddy Guy, the Royal Southern Brotherhood and Luther Dickinson, her real love is simply raw, scrappy rock and roll.
It’s little wonder then that when it came time to record her new album, Chills & Fever (2017), Fish ventured off in another new direction, one she was exploring for the first time in her career. She traveled to Detroit and joined forces with members of the Detroit Cobras, a band whose insurgent ethic has made them darlings of the Midwest punk/blues scene.
The two entities bonded over a common love of classic soul and rollicking rhythms, so much so that the results testify to a seemingly timeless template.
Covering songs from the 1960s and 1970s — indelible melodies from the pens of legends like Jackie DeShannon, Jerry Ragavoy, Bert Berns and Allen Toussaint — and revisiting some earlier demos she cut along with producer Bobby Harlow, Fish and the Cobras created an album that’s best described as a pure slab of rocking rhythm and blues.