The Neville Brothers are constantly working as a group and as individual performers.


Aaron Neville is working hard these days. So are his brothers, Art, Charles and Cyril. Nothing new in that - the four Neville brothers have always worked hard, ever since they were poor kids in the tough Caliope housing project.

What's different is now they are doing what they love - making music.``I'm on the go all the time,' Aaron Neville says. ``Between tours and recording and working with my brothers, I never seem to have any free time. I miss home sometimes, but you'll never hear me complain about it. This is what we always hoped for.'

Aaron Neville has been cranking out hits for decades. In 1962 ``All These Things' made it up the charts. While it was becoming a best seller, Aaron was operating an elevator in a New Orleans department store. In 1966, ``Tell It Like It Is,' was big. Aaron was working as a longshoreman lugging bags of coffee and bales of cotton off ships.

``I guess I've worked at just about every job around that required hard work and a strong back,' Aaron said.

The Neville brothers started singing as kids, practicing tight harmonies and soaring tunes on the vicious project streets of New Orleans.

``We didn't have anything else to do,' Aaron said. ``There were gangs in the projects even then. But some gangs fought and some sang. We sang. We fought when we had to, that's how you stay alive in those places, but we always liked singing better.'

The Nevilles went their separate ways in the 1950s and 1960s, singing at dances around New Orleans, sometimes hitting a club.

Art Neville sang on the recording of Mardi Gras Mambo that is still played every year at Carnival time. He received no money for his effort.

``It made me a big shot around school,' Art says, laughing.

Aaron's song, ``Tell It Like It Is,' sold more than 3 million copies, he said. He got $5,000.

In 1968, Art, Aaron and Cyril joined four New Orleans musicians to form The Meters. They had 10 records make it to the top of the charts. The money they got wasn't enough to pay the bills.

``Somebody was making money,' Aaron said. ``It wasn't us.'

Charles worked with B.B. King, Bobby Blue Bland and Jimmy Reed. At one point he taught the history of black music in the United States at Goddard College in Vermont.

The biggest check Aaron ever cashed from his music during the 1960s and '70s was $2,000 for ``Tell It Like It Is.' Cyril once framed a 98-cent check he received.

In 1977, the brothers finally got together again and in 1978 they recorded their first Neville Brothers album.

Well known to other musicians and singers, their public fame spread slowly.

``We used to play Tipitina's and you could have blown it up and not hurt anyone but the Neville Brothers,' Art said. ``But we were together and enjoying it as it happened.'

Tipitina's is a popular New Orleans music hall, and was featured in the film ``The Big Easy' along with the Neville Brothers music.

Aaron credits his work with Linda Ronstadt as the turning point in his career.

``Things were starting to fall into place, but once I sang with her it seemed like all of a sudden everything took off,' he said.

And it has been going ever since.

The brothers still have separate musical interests.

Charles has a group called Diversity. Cyril is part of the Uptown Allstars. And Aaron has a new country music album, is touring and has requests to record with people as diverse as Luciano Pavarotti and George Jones, to say nothing of more work with Ronstadt.

Their mixture of jazz, Caribbean, African, Cajun, rock and funk that produce such a uniquely New Orleans sound, is still selling their albums.

And these days long lines form at Tipitina's when they play there.

``In some ways it's been a long trip,' Aaron said. ``And in others, it's flown by. All I can say is all those years of hoping have finally paid off and I think we are four really happy men these days. It was worth the trip.'

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