Austin City Limits was saddened to learn of the death of ACL Hall of Famer Art Neville, keyboardist, songwriter, singer and co-founder of funk/soul legends the mighty, mighty Neville Brothers and the Meters, and an ambassador for New Orleans music worldwide, on July 22. He was 81.
The eldest Neville Brother, Art was born in 1937 in the Big Easy. Though he claimed that the brothers had no radio or records growing up, Art still discovered music, falling under the spell of both the 1950s doo-wop groups like the Orioles and the Drifters and the New Orleans piano greats Professor Longhair and Fats Domino – obvious influences on both his instrument of choice and the R&B harmonies of his brothers’ band. He scored a regional hit early on with the Hawketts, recording “Mardi Gras Mambo” when he was only 16. The song is still a staple of New Orleans Fat Tuesday celebrations.
Following a stint in the Navy, Art formed Art Neville & the Neville Sounds, becoming the house band for Allen Toussaint’s many productions and eventually evolving into the beloved funk outfit the Meters. With the Meters, Art contributed the classics “Hey Pocky Way” and “Cissy Strut” to the musical lexicon, recorded acclaimed instrumental albums like Rejuvenation (named one of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time) and backed artists like the late Dr. John (“Right Place, Wrong Time”), LaBelle (“Lady Marmalade”) and Robert Palmer (Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley).
Following the expiration of a contractual obligation that prevented them from working together, Art joined forces with his younger brothers Cyril, Aaron and Charles, backing their uncle, Mardi Gras Indian Big Chief George “Jolly” Landry on the landmark 1976 Wild Tchoupitoulas album, and released their self-titled debut as the Neville Brothers in 1978. The siblings recorded frequently and toured relentlessly for over thirty years, issuing classic albums like Fiyo On the Bayou, Yellow Moon and Valence Street and iconic songs “Sitting in Limbo,” “Brother John,” “Yellow Moon,” “Congo Square” and, of course, the immortal N’awlins anthem “Iko Iko.” Art also resurrected the Meters as the Funky Meters, continuing to perform with both groups as his health allowed until he retired from the stage in 2018.
Called “the captain of the ship” by New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival director Quint Davis, Art Neville made three iconic appearances on ACL with the Neville Brothers, the first Big Easy band to grace the ACL stage: in Season 4 (1979), Season 11 (1986) and Season 20 (1995). We were proud to honor them with an induction into the ACL Hall of Fame in 2017, featuring tributes from some of New Orleans finest including Trombone Shorty and the late Dr. John. Here is Art singing the first number in the band’s 1979 ACL debut: the Neville Brothers classic “Sitting in Limbo.”