Singer. Poet. Percussionist. Neville Brother, Meters legend, solo star and talisman of the South’s all-conquering new supergroup, Royal Southern Brotherhood.
Music legends don’t keep CVs, but if they did, Cyril’s would land with a thump. Born in late-’40s New Orleans, Louisiana, as the youngest of the four siblings who would soon define that city’s R&B sound as The Neville Brothers, Cyril absorbed his parents’ vinyl collection and found his own voice when he turned professional at 19. His first gig was with Art Neville and the Neville Sounds (alongside elder brothers Art and Aaron), and though his subsequent splinter-group Soul Machine never quite achieved the heights it was due, Cyril was on fire, pricking up ears with 1970’s debut solo single, Gossip, then arriving in the lineup of Art’s funk outfit, The Meters.
By that point, The Meters were already flying off the back of 1969’s smash-hit Cissy Strut. Now, Cyril brought congas and vocals to timeless albums including 1972’s Cabbage Alley and 1975’s Fire On The Bayou, and when unabashed über-fan Mick Jagger invited The Meters to open up the Rolling Stones’ US stadium tour of 1974, Art’s suggestion that Cyril take lead vocals was vindicated by a series of roof-raising performances.
The Meters were too special to last, but the lineup’s dissolution in 1976 cleared the path for the bloodline to regroup as The Neville Brothers and start a four-decade hot-streak – from 1976’s Wild Tchoupitoulas, via 1989’s Grammy-winning Yellow Moon, to 2004’s Walkin’ In The Shadows Of Life – that continues to this day. Suffice to say, when punters refer to this band as New Orleans’ first family of funk, it’s not hot air or hyperbole, but a statement of fact.
Lesser artists might be content to sit back and watch the royalties roll in. Cyril, by contrast, remains creatively insatiable. He not only maintains a thrilling solo career that’s given us classics like 1994’s The Fire This Time and 2000’s New Orleans Cookin’, but has also collaborated with icons including Bob Dylan, Bono and Willie Nelson, toured the world with funk act Galactic, led his offshoot band Tribe 13, founded his own record label Endangered Species and made TV appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and HBO’s Treme.
An artist with a conscience, Cyril has also spread good karma, both through the New Orleans Musicians Organized (NOMO) project that helps fledgling bands navigate the shark-infested waters of the rock industry, and alongside Tab Benoit on the 2005 Voice of the Wetlands Allstars tour that raised the profile of the Louisiana Gulf Coast’s environmental plight.
“Oh, Cyril is quite the character,” says Mike Zito of his bandmate’s sprawling backstory. “I mean, he’s the guy. He’s got all the stories. He’s been around the world a million times, played with everybody and their brother. He’s toured with the Rolling Stones, he’s friends with Keith Richards, he’s written songs with Bono. He’s done everything anybody could ever do…”
Not quite. In August 2013, with no sign of his stride slowing down in his sixties, Cyril Neville puts yet another cherry on top of his astonishing career with Magic Honey.