BMAs: Kenny Neal named Contemporary Blues Male Artist

Kenny Neal family

Graylon, left, Kenny, and Darnell Neal rock the Genoa Blues Festival last July. Kenny Neal was named 2017 Contemporary Blues Male Artist of the Year.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

Editor’s note: Kenny Neal was named Contemporary Blues Male Artist of the Year and his album “Bloodline” won for Contemporary Blues Album on May 11 at the Blues Foundation’s Blues Music Awards in Memphis. Bob Margolin was named Traditional Blues Male Artist.

How did Kenny Neal get to be the band leader? He was born first.

All 10 Neal siblings grew up to be professional musicians, and Kenny is the eldest. He will be backed by his brothers on Tuesday for the final Bluesdays show of the summer in the Village at Squaw Valley.

Kenny Neal plays guitar, harmonica and sings. Frederick plays keys, Graylon plays drums and Darnell is the bassist.

“It’s good to keep it in the family and also we get along and love each other,” Neal told Tahoe Onstage. “I can’t fire them and they can’t quit.

“I am always asked how do we stay together. We’ve got to answer to our mom. We never need a manager. If something’s not right, she can get it all straightened out quick.”

Kenny Neal has won every blues award there is, with the exception of a Grammy, something he aspires to acquire for his album “Bloodline,” which was released on July 22.

Kenny Neal and the Family Band is based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. This will be the Neals’ second appearance in the area this summer. The band headlined the Genoa Blues Festival in July.

In the Neal family, learning music is like learning to walk or talk. The patriarch was Raful Neal, a bluesman whose band included guitarist Buddy Guy before he moved to Chicago.

“I don’t even remember learning this stuff,” Kenny Neal said. “I got it from my dad. I remember crawling up his legs and grabbing the harmonica out of his hands or pick on his guitar. He would tell me stories of him trying to practice and me trying to grab the equipment out of his hands.

“When we got older, and the kids started joining football teams and baseball teams, we started putting bands together and making music on weekends with our dad. So we didn’t have much of a chance to do any baseball playing and football playing. We are all self-employed and play music. So my dad left behind something for all of us.”

About Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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