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American Routes Shortcuts: Kenny Neal

Kenny Neal
Kenny Neal

Baton Rouge guitarist, harp player and singer Kenny Neal is a second-generation leader in the city’s blues scene, born into a family of ten children. Kenny’s father Raful Neal was a noted harmonica player, influenced by Little Walter and played in a local band with Buddy Guy. Raful Neal’s friend Slim Harpo gave son Kenny Neal his first harmonica at age three. Kenny started playing bass for his father at thirteen and went on to Buddy Guy’s band. Later, he recruited his siblings to form the Neal Brothers Blues Band. In 1989, Kenny recorded a breakout swamp blues LP Big News from Baton Rouge for Alligator Records. His fine guitar work and harmonica, as well as authoritative voice, carried him forward making sixteen more records. Kenny carries on the Baton Rouge blues tradition. Let’s go to to the Juke Joint stage at West Baton Rouge Parish Museum with Kenny Neal.



Nick Spitzer: Yeah.

Kenny Neal: Yeah. I did that many years ago thinking about Rafael and Slim Harpo.

NS: That’s just so fine. Let me ask you this: how do you think things are going for the blues in Baton Rouge these days?

KN: Well, I think, you know, I moved back here in ’14, ’15, and I put a studio together, and this morning I had a session this morning with an 87-year-old lady came over, and she kind of scared me into this session. She said, “You know, you say you're gonna do a record on me. I'm getting on up there. I think you need to get busy if you’re gonna do it.” So, just last night I went to her house, and I met with her and I brought over this morning, and now I have the record, and it was beautiful. I had a chance to record some stuff. 80 years old, man, but she learned from a kid.

NS: That’s great.

KN: But far as the blues in Baton Rouge, I think we need to come together more with our blues festival here in Baton Rouge, because it's all about our roots from Baton Rouge, and I'm for all of the musicians all across the country. But when it comes down to your hometown, I think you should have our homegrown, because people need to see what we have to offer.

NS: No, I agree.


KN: And I enjoy passing it on. I mean, even at this place here, I've given away guitars to the kids. They come here, I give away ten, twelve guitars and, you know, and I do it all across the country, trying to, you know, promote, you know, the love that we have for the music and carry the tradition on.

NS: Right.

Kenny Neal: The hospitality from Baton Rouge, you know. So when we have a festival, we should show our homegrown, you know.


NS: So what would be a homegrown Baton Rouge tune? Do you have any that actually mention the city or just something you really associate with growing up here?

KN: For Baton Rouge? Yeah I got one.

NS: Somehow I thought you would.


To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 5 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at americanroutes.org.