Ivan Neville has reach. So there’s a good chance if he calls a musician up for a gig and they’re free they’ll say, “Yea, man.” That’s what the keyboardist, vocalist and leader of the mightily greasy Dumpstaphunk is looking to take advantage during his recently established residency at Three Keys at Ace Hotel, dubbed Ivan Neville’s Nola Nites. He’ll be featured one night a month during the ongoing series at the downtown establishment, bringing in an array of artists to mix it up with him and see where the combinations take them. His next Nola Nites show is December 19—free with required reservations—though the matchup is still to be determined. “I want to make sure it’s special,” says Neville, adding that the availability of artists who, after all, are working musicians, is key. He does guarantee: “It will be very cool.”
“I don’t do a lot of stuff locally—like regularly,” Neville explains of his eagerness to be involved with the venture. “I only play in New Orleans when Dumpstaphunk is playing somewhere and normally that’s seasonally like during Jazz Fest or maybe during Mardi Gras. Every now and again I play might with [drummer] Johnny Vidacovich at the Maple Leaf if I’m around. I generally travel all the time. Most of my work is on the road. The idea of doing something different is what made me want to do the gig at the Ace.”
Neville’s series kicked off in October with guest bassist George Porter, Jr. and drummer Raymond Weber. It conveniently coincided with the re-release of the 1975 album, Uptown Rulers: The Meters Live on the Queen Mary, which was made available through Ace Hotel’s partnership with Vinyl Me, Please, a monthly membership vinyl sales club, similar in concept to that operated by Columbia House in the 1990s. The hotel chain, incidentally, was founded by a musician and noted for being both music- and musician-friendly in its accommodations and live show venues.
Neville apparently enjoys doubling up on instruments as he invited two New Orleans drummers—Stanton Moore and Alvin Ford, Jr.—for his November date. Why two drummers? “Why not?” Neville quickly replies, saying he digs “out of the norm” combinations. Considering that Neville carries two bassists in Dumpstaphunk, “out of the norm” might be the rule of the game for this ultra-talented guy.
Here’s how that came down. “Basically, when I started that band [Dumpstaphunk], I was trying to think of who I wanted to play bass. So it was I’ll either have Tony Hall or Nick Daniels. Immediately after that thought, I figured I’d get both of them. They both sing and they have played together before and also Tony can switch off on the guitar sometimes so it made sense. It made sense then and it absolutely makes sense now.”
Throughout his career, Neville, 58, has naturally mixed it up with a myriad of artists including guitarist/vocalist Bonnie Raitt and the Rolling Stones. Presently, he’s been doing some touring and recording with now–New Orleans resident, singer/songwriter Ani DiFranco. Following Katrina, the keyboardist collaborated with other noted local artists to perform and record as the New Orleans Social Club. One of its projects included 2007’s Goin’ Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino.
“I am honored to have been a part of that,” says Neville, who, with the Social Club, is heard on the cut “My Girl Josephine.” Neville’s Dumpstaphunk and B.B. King also teamed up on the title track. Neville’s appearance on the album represents the continuum of this city’s music and his place in its piano lineage.
“Fats was an influence on everybody that came after him out of New Orleans who wanted to do music,” Neville declares. “Obviously, he influenced a lot of the people I played with especially my uncle, Art Neville. He would probably say one of his biggest influences was Fats Domino. I’ve also played with other guys like Keith Richards and the Rolling Stones who were heavily influenced by Fats Domino. We were all touched in some ways by Fats—by Fats’ existence. I don’t know what we would have done without that. Fats had a thing with them triplets—I don’t even know what piano style that is. Fats put his own spin on it and it became a Fats thing.”
Neville describes his own approach, his own spin, to music as being influenced by how he actually heard what he was being exposed to in New Orleans and what was on the radio that was coming from outside of the city. Then he interpreted it.
“I was listening to the soul stations—WBOK and WYLD—and I was also listening to the music from the ’70s. That’s my favorite period, the early and mid-’70s, and that music was influenced by what came before it. It just goes on and on.”
“That’s the idea, to just keep it going and keep it fresh. Take it and make it into how you hear it. We’re all influenced by the same shit. It’s an evolution. I just want to do my part in this New Orleans thing and spread what’s been given to me around the world.”