American Routes Shortcuts: Charles Neville
American Routes Shortcuts gives you a sneak peak into the upcoming American Routes episode and this week, it’s all about the saxophone. Host Nick Spitzer spoke with Charles Neville of the Neville brothers about spirituality, his neighborhood and his role models growing up in New Orleans. For more from Charles Neville and other cosmic saxophones, tune into American Routes right here on WWNO, Saturday at 7 and Sunday at 6.
NS: A lot of people refer to New Orleans as a spiritual city; they talk about Catholicism, they talk about Voodoo, they talk about all manner of saints. How would you characterize the spirit world of New Orleans in your own life?
CN: Well, for me it was a mixture of both the Christian, the Catholic, the Protestant and the Voodoo. My grandmother told me I was born with a veil over my face, which meant that I would be able to see spirits and for a long time I did. And I got to meet some of the people who were named Mother This or Doctor That, and they were practitioners of the Yoruba Voudoun, as well as members of those churches that were called the holiness churches and the practices in those churches, though they were Christian, were pretty much like what I saw when I was in Haiti and got to go to a ceremony there.
You know the thing that in the Haitian ceremony people called possession, in New Orleans when I saw that in church, they said that the person was shouting when they went into this altered state with the usher standing by with the smelling salts and the fans to take care of the people.
NS: There’s also the image that Voodoo is somehow evil or recalling a dark side. I mean what do you say when people sensationalize Voodoo that way?
CN: You know, it just feeds the misconception about it, cause of course everything has a yin and a yang, a light and a dark side. And you know, there always were stories of you know, you could go to someone if you wanted to put something on somebody or you know, we had certain kinds of candles, and you know if you needed money you burned a green candle or a gold candle and if you wanted to send out some kind of negative energy you burned a black candle. And I remember being told that well, if you take a hundred dollar bill, write the person’s name on it 9 times and tie it with to the black candle with a strand of their hair, and light the candle, when the candle burned down and burned the money that would be the offering to the spirits and they would take care of whatever you wanted done.
NS: What is it that gets you motivated enough to become a musician?
CN: For me, there was never any question about it. I knew I was gonna play music somehow from as early as I can remember. My grandmother sang all the time in the house, with whatever kind of chore that was happening there was a song to go with it. I remember being with her sitting in the kitchen, helping her shell peas and there was a song that we sang while that was happening.
You know, in the movies back then, in the 40s, there were these musical shorts that were like music videos now, and Louis Jordan was one of the main artists - he had the most of those it seems. And I saw him playing saxophone and singing and it looked like he was having so much fun, and I decided, man, that’s the instrument I want to play.
NS: Is there one really good Louis Jordan that sticks with you all these years?
CN: Run Joe. Sings Run Joe.