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The Neal Deal

Joseph Rosen

Kenny Play the Blues? Mrs. Neal's son ignites Moe's on Friday.

This Bayou blaster nursed at the bosom of the blues

By Nicky Baxter

If you were fortunate enough to catch the Kenny Neal Band's blistering BRAVO channel performance recently, you know that this young man may well be the Great Black Hope for whom blues preservationists have been praying. The Baton Rouge native's winning combination of Bayou hoodoo and Chicago-style stomp makes Neal a certifiable candidate for a blues crown.

Neal's BRAVO show emphasized his triple-threat talent. He played guitar (a slightly less frenzied Buddy Guy with a touch of Otis Rush) and harmonica (Slim Harpo, who, it happens, gave Neal his first harp) and sang with the assurance of a guy who not only understands his craft but also has absorbed its essence.

GQ-handsome, Neal has the look of a matinee idol. As it turns out, he's already put in some time on Broadway. Five years ago, Neal landed the lead role in a revival of Mule Bone, a collaborative effort between writers Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston during the Harlem Renaissance.

Neal's father, Raful, once led a band featuring Buddy Guy on guitar, and pop's first recording came out a year after Kenny was born. Thus, it was nothing to see Guy, Slim Harpo and Little Walter in the Neals' living room, working on tunes and talking trash. "I got a chance to see and hear some of the greatest musicians ever and listen to their stories. All of those guys were my heroes," Neal says.

With some half-dozen superlative recordings under his slender belt, Neal, still in his mid-30s, may one day become a hero himself.

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From the June 20-26, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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