As the son of legendary New Orleans musician Aaron Neville and nephew to the other members of the Neville Brothers, Ivan Neville has been steeped in music from a young age.
While he’s recorded and performed many times with the band made famous by his father and uncles, Neville has established himself as a noteworthy musician in his own right. He was a member of Bonnie Raitt’s band in the late ‘80s, formed the jam band Dumpstaphunk with his cousin Ian in the early ‘00s, and has recorded and toured with a number of other artists including the Rolling Stones, Don Henley and Paula Abdul.
Neville has also recorded four solo albums, and he had a Top 30 Billboard hit with Not Just Another Girl, the first single from his debut solo effort If My Ancestors Could See Me Now.
He joined us in the Gumbo Kitchen over the phone from his home in Baton Rouge, La., to tell us some of his stories about his family, Keith Richards, James Booker and more.
How old would you have been during the Wild Tchoupitoulas sessions?
That was in ’76, so I guess was 16 or 17 years old.
Your uncle was a well-known Mardi Gras Indian, Big Chief Jolly. I know he meant the world to your father and uncles. Did you ever get to play with him?
Yes, I did. I recorded with the brothers and my Uncle Jolly. It was before the brothers had actually formed as the Neville Brothers, and it was at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 1977. There was also a movie called Always for Pleasure, and one of the songs is part of that film.
You put together a band with possibly the greatest name in music history: Dumpstaphunk. I’ve got my own theory of where the name came from — you know when you get stuck in traffic and you’re caught behind a garbage truck?
Ooohh. That’s stinky, yeah.
That face you make as you roll up the windows, that’s Dumpstaphunk.
You’re right about that!
You guys recently toured with George Clinton and George Porter, right?
We did a full tour with George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, and we did one date in New Orleans that George Porter was a part of.
I had your uncle Cyril Neville on the show once, and we were talking about Walter “Wolfman” Washington’s late drummer, who used to bring a skunk on stage with him. Your uncle said the only way you could get funkier than that is to have been born a skunk. I imagine that’s what that night was like.
It was pretty much that funky. Yes, indeed.
When you were growing up, your house must have just been full of incredible music, right?
We listened to music all the time, and there was always a piano in the house. The atmosphere was about music. And just being in New Orleans, you walk outside and there’s some sort of music in the air. There were a lot of groups rehearsing in the neighbourhood, a lot of bands forming in that time, and also the tradition of second line, the Mardi Gras Indians and all that stuff, it was all part of being a kid in New Orleans. You experience all that, and that’s some fun stuff.
There’s a song you play on Keith Richards’s album called Wicked As It Seems. You play some really heavy stuff on the clav, but you play one note in particular on that tune, which to me ends up being the hook of the entire record. It’s just one little clav splash, but it’s pure brilliance.
I remember. That was from the Main Offender record, Keith’s second solo album. It was one of those things where we had done the track already, and we were in there, and my clav part was an overdub, which rarely happened in those sessions. A lot of the stuff I played was usually recorded with the band. But that particular song, I overdubbed the clav part, and it was one of those things where it was more of a guitar song, and what do you add on the keyboards? You don’t want to get in the way, but you want to add something to spice it up and enhance whatever’s already going on. And that clav part was one of those things. I remember the expression on the guys’ faces and the body language when I was playing that part, everybody was like, “Oh yeah, that’s it! That’s it!”
I read that one time you slept through a Stones gig backstage, when you were supposed to be on the stage. Is that a true story?
This was on the Voodoo Lounge tour, and I had played on the Voodoo Lounge record. They were on tour, and I was invited by Keith to come hang out — just to come and hang out and see the show. I was invited to come and play on a song, and I got a little too loaded, and I ended up falling asleep. I passed out in the dressing room, and I woke up and had missed the show. That was a bad consequence of misbehaving. Since then, I’ve straightened out. I’ve cleaned my act up. I’ve been in recovery — alcohol- and drug-free for 21 years now. I had to change some things about my lifestyle, you know.
I know you’ve got some crazy stories, but one of my favourite musicians ever is James Booker, and I heard a story involving a cop uniform. Can you tell me that story?
OK, so what happened was there was a time when Booker showed up somewhere dressed like a police officer. It was hilarious. Why does Booker have a police uniform on? My mom, who knew Booker and went to high-school with him, she told me, “You know what, James Booker’s sister is married to a police officer.” So she pretty much said that Booker must have taken that guy’s uniform — whether he borrowed it, or just took it, or whatever. So, he made the decision to start parading around the streets in a police uniform. This was a regular occurrence. And the funny thing was he had one eye, and he wore a patch over the missing eye. So he had the cop’s uniform on, and he had some aviator sunglasses, and he had glitter over the bad eye, where the patch would be.
We were in this club and we had been rehearsing. We were standing in the back of the club, and we were smoking some marijuana, and we saw our friend Nick standing closer to the front door by the bar. And we saw James Booker, dressed like a cop, walk up to Nick … and he didn’t know Booker personally, so he thought this was a cop. So, we saw Nick pull his wallet out and show his ID. We were over there dying laughing, because Booker’s harassing Nick. So Nick comes over to us and he says, “Hey man, y’all better put that weed out. There’s this cop over there harassing me” And we say man, that’s not a cop. That’s James Booker. So we were laughing.
Flash forward, what ended up happening is that for the next couple weeks or a month or so, Booker was still wearing the police uniform, and at one point he had a billy club, and then later on he added a starter pistol. He was really taking it seriously with this cop thing. Eventually, he pulled the starter pistol out in the wrong place and in front of the wrong person, and I think he shot the gun in the air. It was a gun with blanks in it, but he was eventually arrested for impersonating an officer.
So what’s up with Dumpstaphunk? What are your plans?
Dumpsta’s working on new music right now, and the rhythm section and myself, we’re going to go on a tour in October with a group called Take Me to the River.