First family of the blues: Kenny Neal and the Family Band headline Genoa Blues Festival

Daryl Weisser
Kenny Neal’s “Bloodline” was released July 22.
Daryl Weisser / Blind Pig Records

For members of the Neal family, learning how to play instruments is similar to learning to walk and talk. Kenny Neal and each of his nine younger brothers and sisters grew up to become musicians.

“I don’t remember learning how to play,” Neal said. “I’ve been around it all my life, born into it. It’s just something that’s always been there. You know how guys will say when I was 12 or 13 I picked up guitar and learned to play? We’ll I don’t remember that because when I was 6 years old I was performing.”

Kenny Neal and the Family Band headline the first Genoa Blues Festival on Saturday, July 30. (To purchase tickets, click HERE.)

“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,” released today, July 22.

It was in the early 1990s when Neal had accumulated more awards than he had instruments. In 1991, Neal played in a musical production, “Mule Bone.” As a performer since he was a young child, Neal was a natural to star in the lead role.

“On the opening night, all of the actors were really nervous,” Neal said. “I was the coolest one out of the bunch. They asked, ‘Why are you so calm?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. I’m just ready to hit the stage.’ I don’t have that stage fright. The more people the better. And it doesn’t matter if it’s for 5,000 or five people, I still perform the same.”

Neal left his hometown Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for Palo Alto, California, where he lived for 13 years. He moved back about two years ago and he lives on a spacious ranch with his family and best friend, a trained mule named Hollywood “Arky” Arkansas.

“I can get him to get up on a boulder and stand still until I can take a picture,” Neal said. “He just made the cover on the Big City Blues magazine in Michigan. (Arky) talks about moving to Louisiana and getting red beans and rice instead of that California stuff.”

“I’m on 17 acres out here. I have my own music room and garage with my antique cars and it’s full of all my pictures over the years. Me and Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Big Mama Thornton, Lowell Fulson, Ray Charles, Ike Turner. The trophy room is in my office.

My house is part history museum as well. I look at the wall and 99 percent of the guys I performed with back in the day are all gone. They are looking over me now. Those guys are what made me, so I feel responsible to carry their legacy on. Haven’t won a Grammy yet, but I’m working on that. ‘Bloodline’ is about me passing it on to the young ones.”

Mississippi’s Grady Champion and the Buddy Emmer Blues Band from Reno open the Genoa Blues Festival.

“(Champion’s) a Missisippi boy,” Neal said. “He’s right next door to us. We’ve been friends for years. It’s going to be one, big blues jam with him joining us. I know Buddy. I’m looking forward to seeing him as well.”

Gates for the Genoa Blues Festival open at Saturday, July 30, at 2 p.m. and the music will last until about 7. General Admission tickets are $32.50. VIP tickets, which include food and special seats, are $48.50. All tickets are available at Eventbrite.com.

The Genoa Blues Festival is a “boutique blues event,” meaning there are a limited number of tickets. This will be an intimate setting between musicians and audience. VIP tickets get special seating and other benefits, while General Admission can spread out on blankets and folding chairs on the 3½-acre Mormon Station State Historic Park, 2295 Main St, Genoa, Nevada 89411.

Related story: Kenny Neal speaks out about the violence in Baton Rouge. LINK

ABOUT Tim Parsons

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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