Art Neville remembers it as if it were yesterday.
Neville and his brothers – Cyril, Charles and Aaron – had just finished a gig opening up for the Rolling Stones more than 20 years ago. They were all piled into Keith Richards’ apartment in New York, hanging loose and absorbing each other’s company.
“I was sitting on the floor with Aaron’s son, Ivan, who was real young at the time, and as plain as day, I remember telling him, ‘Do you have any idea what’s going on?’ And he’s like, ‘I don’t know,’ ” the eldest Neville said during a recent stop on their U.S. tour. “I wanted to tell him, ‘Look. Look who we’re sitting with. That’s Keith Richards over there and Mick Jagger over there.’ He had no idea.”
The occasion didn’t dawn on Ivan until many years later when his talent on the bass guitar became part of Bonnie Raitt’s sound, then on the Stones’ “Dirty Work” album and on their upcoming Virgin debut, “Voodoo Lounge” (due July 12).
It was a case of what goes around, comes around, Art said.
“Good things like that happen if you keep yourself proper, keep yourself right and be prepared, never expecting anything. I always say, be prepared for the unexpected.”
The Neville Brothers are no strangers to the unexpected. Art never assumed their gumbo combination of soul, rock, reggae and jazz would catch on and continue to flourish some 20 years later. It’s all come around again on their latest A&M album, “Live On Planet Earth,” taken from shows in the United States, Canada, Japan, Europe, Australia and Israel.
“We have about eight new songs on this one,” Art said. “We had so many tapes to go through and edit and figure out what we wanted to use. My brother, Cyril, did most of the hard work on that.”
After two decades of breaking down barriers, what motivates the quartet to carry on? That’s easy, Art said. “It’s love and family and our extended family, the people we perform with and to. We try to pass on a little happiness. Some of our songs are happy songs and others are about things we should be paying attention to, without being preachy.”
Like any family affair, the Nevilles have had their struggles – from money and problems with labels to indifference. Art said it was all part of the grand plan.
“Those things had to happen for us to get to this point,” he said, “and we’re still growing. We’re not expecting anything, we’re just enjoying what we’re doing. This is a blessing and a gift to us.
“It’s not about the money, because if that were the case, we would’ve quit a long time ago. It’s about sharing our gifts.”
The Nevilles often talk about passing along the torch to another generation. Art says it’s a heavy burden for anyone to undertake, but if there’s any group out there that can do it, it’s one close to his heart: Def Generation.
“It’s a mixture of some of our family and friends and nephews out of New Orleans. Cyril’s been producing and working with them for a long time. You’ll be hearing from them.”
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