Art Neville, co-founder of Meters and Neville Brothers, dies at 81

New Orleans keyboardist and singer Art Neville, a founding member of the Meters and the Neville Brothers who contributed to the funky mix of jazz, rock, R&B and soul music that have defined the city’s music for decades, died Monday following a long illness, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival officials confirmed on Twitter. He was 81.

His longtime manager Keith Sorrell told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that he died at his home with his wife, Lorraine, at his side, after years of declining health. “He toured the world how many times,” Sorrell said, “but he always came home to Valence Street.”

For decades Art shared the stage with his younger brothers, singer Aaron, saxophonist Charles and percussionist Cyril. As the Neville Brothers, they worked together at home in the Crescent City, on tour and on a string of more than a dozen studio and live albums released from 1978 to 2010.

For many years they were afforded the honor of being the closing act for each edition of the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Charles died last year at age 79.

Long before they came together in name, all or some subset of them worked together backing a variety of other New Orleans musicians. It’s a role Art Neville carved out during the 1960s with his group Art Neville & the Neville Sounds, which originally featured guitarist Leo Nocentelli, bassist George Porter Jr., drummer Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste and saxophonist Gary Brown.

After Brown left, Nocentelli, Porter and Modeliste stayed with Neville in the group that was renamed the Meters in 1968, and working often with producer-songwriter-arranger Allen Toussaint, they served as a backing band for performers including Dr. John, Paul McCartney, Lee Dorsey, LaBelle (on the group’s 1975 No. 1 hit “Lady Marmalade”), Robert Palmer and numerous others.

The Meters played a similar role to the one performed by Booker T. & the MGs at Stax Records in Memphis, the Funk Brothers at Motown Records in Detroit and the Wrecking Crew in Los Angeles recording studios for countless big and small-name musicians.

Arthur Lanon Neville was born Dec. 17, 1937, on the same day as another fabled New Orleans pianist, James Booker.

He grew up listening to doo-wop groups of the late-’40s and 1950s such as the Orioles and the Drifters, and also was taken with the piano-heavy recordings of New Orleans musicians including Fats Domino and Professor Longhair.

About the same time Elvis Presley was getting started in Memphis in 1954, Art Neville recorded a song titled “Mardi Gras Mambo” with the group the Hawketts, a record that became and remains a standard during the city’s annual Mardi Gras celebrations.

After two stints serving in the U.S. Navy, including a job as a cook, he returned home and kept recording, delivering regional hits such as “Cha Dooky Do” and “All These Things.”

With the Meters later, he helped spread the popularity of songs including “Hey Pocky Way” and “Fire on the Bayou.”

The Meters toured Europe opening for the Rolling Stones in the ’70s, and in 1975, came to California at the behest of Paul McCartney to perform at a record release party for his 1975 album “Venus and Mars.” The group’s performance with Professor Longhair was captured on a live album originally released in 1978 and reissued earlier this year.

Conflicts among the musicians led the Meters to disband, paving the way for Art to connect with his brothers to back Mardi Gras Indian Big Chief George “Jolly” Landry, their uncle, for his 1976 album “The Wild Tchoupitoulas.” Shortly thereafter, the Neville Brothers officially became a band as well as a family unit.

Their greatest commercial success came with the 1989 album “Yellow Moon,” produced by Daniel Lanois, their only album to be certified gold for sales of more than 500,000 copies. It peaked at No. 66 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. Around the same time, Art Neville briefly revived the Meters for some reunion performances.

The Neville Brothers’ final full public concert came in 2012 at the Hollywood Bowl, although they gathered three years later to play several songs at a “Nevilles Forever” tribute show in their hometown.

Art Neville struggled with his health over the last two decades, including complications from routine back surgery in 2001 and at least one stroke. He announced his retirement from performing in December.

In addition to his wife and two brothers, Neville is survived by three children, Arthel, Ian and Amelia. Funeral services are pending.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer city council gave initial approval for more mixed-use developments in Riverside Light Industrial Park. (File photo by Advocate staff)
More industrial landowners in Red Deer are pursuing mixed-use zoning

A third of Riverside Light could become a commercial/industrial district

Central Alberta man facing second-degree murder in connection with December death.
Advocate file photo
Central Alberta man facing second-degree murder in connection with December death

Maskwacis RCMP said female found dead in Ermineskin Cree Nation residence last December

Red Deer College has been working towards obtaining university status for a couple of years. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer College’s university status back in question

Red Deer College should be worried that its university dreams could be… Continue reading

The Mountain Cree Traditional Band headquarters in Mirror, Alta. has been the target of theft and vandalism. (Photo submitted)
Vandals strike: Artifacts worth $1M gone from central Alberta museum

AWNTB says not enough been done to deter crime in Mirror, Alta.

Justin Kripps of Summerland and his team have competed in Olympic action and World Cup competitions in bobsleigh. (Jason Ransom-Canadian Olympic Comittee).
QUIZ: Are you ready for some winter sports?

It’s cold outside, but there are plenty of recreation opportunities in the winter months

Montreal Canadiens down Edmonton Oilers 3-1, sweep series

Montreal Canadiens down Edmonton Oilers 3-1, sweep series

Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) loses the basketball as he tries to drive around Dallas Mavericks center Willie Cauley-Stein (33) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chris O'Meara
Lowry leads the way as Raptors down the Mavericks for their third straight win

Lowry leads the way as Raptors down the Mavericks for their third straight win

Johnny Gaudreau’s goal and assist paces Flames to 5-2 victory over Canucks

Johnny Gaudreau’s goal and assist paces Flames to 5-2 victory over Canucks

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, on Dec. 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Tory MP Sloan accuses party of hypocrisy over efforts to have him expelled

Tory MP Sloan accuses party of hypocrisy over efforts to have him expelled

FILE - In this Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019 file photo Britain's Andy Murray reacts during a press conference following his first round loss to Spain's Roberto Bautista Agut at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia. Former world number one Murray's participation at the upcoming Australian Open is in doubt after the Briton tested positive for COVID-19. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)
Australian Open arrivals hit by 3 COVID-19 positive tests

Australian Open arrivals hit by 3 COVID-19 positive tests

Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Mitchell Marner (16) scores on an empty net and takes a hit from Winnipeg Jets defenceman Neal Pionk (4) during third period of action in Toronto on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Toronto Maple Leafs ride dominant second period to down Winnipeg Jets 3-1

Toronto Maple Leafs ride dominant second period to down Winnipeg Jets 3-1

Roman Sadovsky wins the Challenge, his only event of the figure skating season

Roman Sadovsky wins the Challenge, his only event of the figure skating season

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, left, speaks with International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel during their meeting in Minsk, Belarus, Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. (Nikolai Petrov/BelTA Pool Photo via AP)
IIHF pulls hockey worlds from Belarus, seeks new host

IIHF pulls hockey worlds from Belarus, seeks new host

Most Read