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MUSIC : Neville Brothers Soar Despite Little Airplay : Enduringly popular band bringing its brand of New Orleans-style music to the Santa Barbara County Bowl.

July 14, 1994|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Much like the Grateful Dead and your obnoxious Uncle Ernie, neither of whom get much airplay and yet maintain enduring notoriety, the Neville Brothers, all over the radio like polka songs at a Metallica show, have a zillion fans worldwide. Few, it seems, are radio programmers.

These legendary, Grammy Award-winning performers will bring their New Orleans brand of R & B, jazz, soul, rock, reggae and whatever else is left to the Santa Barbara County Bowl for a 7 p.m. Saturday show.

Once upon a time, you could hear all kinds of music on the same radio station, from the Rolling Stones to Patsy Cline to the Temptations. Now, radio seems much more restrictive with static playlists.

The Nevilles' new album, "Live On Planet Earth," is the group's first live recording in over a decade. There are 10 of their biggest hits plus five new numbers. You probably don't have much chance of hearing any of them on the radio.

Radio play is a sore point with the brothers, but it isn't slowing them down. Art, Aaron, Cyril and Charles spend about eight months of the year on tour. Besides that, each one has side projects, some of which predate the group. Art, for example, had a hit that is still an annual party staple in New Orleans, "Mardi Gras Gumbo" from 1954.

The Nevilles have been described routinely and often as the "best live band in America." Well, they sure can sing, that's for sure--all of them--especially Aaron with that sweet falsetto.

Oldest brother Art discussed the latest by phone from New Orleans during a brief break in touring.

So what was the occasion to make another live album?

We were looking for something that would get some radio airplay. It was recorded in a lot of different countries and different venues--we had a whole roomful of tapes. I'm pretty satisfied with it; I think it's a pretty powerful thing. But our thing is the live show.

So why don't we hear more of the Neville Brothers on the radio?

Radio is totally different now. You can go to almost any city, go across the whole dial and hear the same thing. What R & B is now, sure isn't what it used to be. But even without radio, people turn out for us. We sell places out, so we must be doing something right.

So how long do you spend on road trips?

We're out there, probably two-thirds of the year on the road. We can't stay home, we gotta keep movin'. We just try to turn it into an adventure.

Why are there so many good bands from Louisiana?

This part of the country--it's part of the United States--but it's like an island, especially New Orleans. There's zydeco, Cajun and creole music, plus a lot of stuff people outside of Louisiana haven't even heard yet. We play New Orleans-sounding music. It's basically just the old R & B we used to listen to when we were younger; we just add to it. Our music has taken a lot of different turns over the years, but like I said, the main thing is when we play live.

What are Neville Brothers songs about?

We always try to be uplifting, and we sing about peace, love and the family. What we see as the main problem today is that the family is lost. With no morals, you lose everything. The young people? It's not their fault. The adults are always talking about the young people; they should try talking to the young people. They should listen to them, not talk about them. Music can change the world; I think so. Could you imagine the world without music?

What's the writing process for the band?

Everybody writes. If it's a good song, we'll do it no matter who wrote it. If we can get across to the audience, that's the main thing.

Who goes to a Neville Brothers show?

Everybody shows up. Aaron draws a different audience, but once they see the whole group, we have them. I mean, we fill that auditorium. And once we kick it off, they know what the deal is. We get little babies, old folks, people my age--it's that cross section that makes it real good. Just the other day, on the Fourth of July we played in front of the Capitol before 450,000 people.

Despite all the side projects, the group endures--what's the secret?

Well, when we started as the brothers, it was our uncle George Landry that got us together. So that's one of the things that makes it so strong, the family thing.

What advice would you give aspiring musicians?

You have to really be serious. Also you need to learn about the business side of things. It can be pretty cold blooded. Just be true to yourself. You can't fake it.

Details

* WHAT: The Neville Brothers

* WHERE: Santa Barbara County Bowl, 1122 Milpas St.

* WHEN: Saturday night, 7 p.m.

* COST: $25.50, 23.50, 20.50

* FYI: Call 568-2695

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