Born: October 14, 1957 Primary Instrument: Guitar, electric
Kenny Neal - guitar, vocals
“Let Life Flow” marks the return of multi-instrumentalist and modern swamp-blues master Kenny Neal, with an inspired set that draws musically from the sizzling sounds of his native Louisiana, while striking a deep, emotional resonance in response to the personal trials he has recently endured. For the past few years, health problems forced Kenny away from the studio and touring, and his first release since signing with Blind Pig Records finds him returning with a renewed vigor and outlook on life. “Let Life Flow” reflects his optimistic sense of perseverance, set to the soulful grooves that have garnered him a solid fan base over the past 20 years.
Neal, born in New Orleans and raised in Baton Rouge, began playing music at a very young age, learning the basics from his father, singer and blues harmonica player, Raful Neal, Jr. Family friends like Lazy Lester, Buddy Guy and Slim Harpo also contributed to Kenny's early musical education. In fact, it was Harpo who gave the crying three-year-old a harmonica to pacify him. Kenny stopped crying that day, and eventually learned to play the harmonica. Along the way, he also mastered the bass, trumpet, piano and guitar. At 13, he joined his father's band and began paying his musical dues. Four years later, he was recruited and toured extensively as Buddy Guy's bass player.
Following Buddy's advice to concentrate on his guitar playing, Kenny relocated to Toronto, and along with his brothers Raful, Noel, Larry and Ronnie - formed the Neal Brothers Band, honing his chops backing up visiting blues stars. Through the years, he has shared the stage or worked with a who's-who list of blues and R&B greats at one time or another, including B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, Muddy Waters, Aaron Neville, Buddy Guy and John Lee Hooker. Later, he fronted Canada's Downchild Blues Band, before returning to Baton Rouge to begin his solo career.
Signing with Alligator Records in 1988, Kenny began releasing a series of consistently lauded albums featuring his laid-back, Baton Rouge blues, with a modern spin on the Louisiana sound he grew up with. Throughout this period, Kenny distinguished himself as one of the brightest prospects of the contemporary blues scene, receiving great critical acclaim in the process. The Chicago Tribune pegged Kenny as one of a mere handful of truly inventive young contemporary guitarists, Neal has something fresh to say and the chops with which to say it, while AllMusic said his gruff-before-their-time vocals retain their swamp sensibility, while assuming a bright contemporary feel that tabs him as a leading contender for future blues stardom. Blues Revue agreed, calling Kenny one of the brightest young stars on the blues horizon, and a gifted artist. Over the years Kenny has been the recipient of a number of notable accolades, including the Big Bill Broonzy Blues Award in Paris (1989), Slim Harpo Award in Baton Rouge (2003), and Junior Wells Harmonica Award in Memphis (2007).
In 1991, Kenny branched out into the world of acting when he starred as the lead in the much-acclaimed musical, Mule Bone, a lost play written by the famed African-American poet Langston Hughes and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston in 1930. Featuring music written by Taj Mahal, Kenny's performances garnered a prestigious Theater World Award for The Most Outstanding New Talent On and Off Broadway, and he concurrently set two Hughes poems to music on the album “Walking On Fire.” Kenny followed his stage success with a 1993 visit to Africa as a representative for the U.S. State Department, performing in seven countries including Rwanda, Kenya, and Uganda.
After his impressive run with Alligator, Kenny moved to Telarc, and continued to release albums highlighting his developing skills as a songwriter, as well as interpreting songs from musicians as diverse as Bob Dylan, John Hiatt, and Nick Lowe. His 2004 release with Billy Branch, “Double Take,” garnered Kenny a W.C. Handy award in 2005 for Best Acoustic Blues Album. More recently, Kenny released “A Tribute to Slim Harpo and Raful Neal,” which pays homage to blues harp icon Harpo as well as Kenny's father, who passed away as the album was being completed. During this Period, Kenny also appeared with a host of blues luminaries on “A Tribute To Howlin' Wolf,” which earned a 1999 Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Blues Album.
After relocating to the Bay Area in 2004, Kenny began hosting his own local cable TV program, Neal's Place. The show features Kenny jamming and talking with the many international blues stars he has met and performed with, as well as local artists he has spotted at festivals and clubs. Filmed in front of a live studio audience, Neal's Place has a relaxed, informal atmosphere that brings out the best in the artists, while giving an unscripted, improvisational edge to the performances.
Commenting on his recent return to recording and performing with “Let Life Flow,” Kenny said: With all the tragedy and darkness I've been through in the past three years, I'm finally seeing the light. I've been waiting for a long time for a record company to say ‘Make a record that you feel good about.' Blind Pig Records gave me that opportunity. And my new CD, “Let Life Flow,” is coming straight from my heart. Hope everyone enjoys it. Co-producer Scott Cable added: I am glad to work with an artist like Kenny who has weathered some very hard times and trying periods. He came through these times with a newfound focus and sense of purpose that comes across clearly here.
Kenny's determination shines through on “Let Life Flow,” as heard on the uplifting title track, the stirring ballad Hurt Before You Heal, and the Latin-tinged grooves that drive the socially conscious It Don't Make Sense Can't Make Peace, while Fly Away offers spiritual yearning set to a smooth urban blues. Elsewhere, Kenny reminisces about his home state on the funky Louisiana Stew, showcases his harmonica prowess on the easy-going Starlight Diamond, and lays down gritty guitar work combined with punchy horns on Blues, Leave Me Alone and Another Man's Cologne. Whether performing songs of soulful catharsis or hip-shaking celebration, “Let Life Flow” announces Kenny Neal's return with an album that pays tribute to his diverse influences, while injecting a heartfelt sentiment born of the real-life, human struggles that any listener can relate to.