Art Neville, the New Orleans-based keyboardist and singer who with his brothers Aaron, Charles and Cyril formed one of the most influential groups to ever emerge from the Crescent City, died on July 22 at age 81.
Neville had struggled with health problems over the past two decades, including complications from routine back surgery in 2001 and at least one stroke. He had announced his retirement from performing in December 2018.
For decades, Neville shared the stage with his brothers in composing the Meters who often performed in their home city, on tour, and produced more than a dozen studio and live albums from 1978 through 2010. Charles Neville died last year at age 79.
The Neville siblings were an in-demand group of session players who by 1968 had become the Meters in their frequent work with producer Allen Toussaint. They served as a backing band for numerous performers, including Dr. John, Paul McCartney, Lee Dorsey, LaBelle, and Robert Palmer.
In many respects, the Meters played a similar role as that of the Wrecking Crew who performed with various record labels in Los Angeles, Booker T. & the MGs at Stax Records in Memphis, Tenn., and the Funk Brothers at Motown Records in Detroit, Mich. You can hear the Meters on LeBelle’s 1975 hit “Lady Marmalade.”
With the Meters, Neville helped spread the popularity of regional songs like “Hey Pocky Way” and “Fire on the Bayou.” The Meters toured Europe opening for the Rolling Stones in the 1970s. In 1975, Paul McCartney asked them to perform at a record release party for the Wings album “Venus and Mars.” A few years later, they performed with Professor Longhair on a live album that was reissued earlier this year.
The Meters would disband in the late 1970s and would take on the name Neville Brothers. Their greatest commercial appeal came with the 1989 album “Yellow Moon” which sold more than 500,000 copies.