Kenny Neal preps for blues festival, remembers B.B. King _lowres

Photo provided -- Kenny Neal

For the fourth consecutive year, Baton Rouge blues artist Kenny Neal is staging a music festival in Port Allen.

Neal shortened the festival’s name this year, trimming it from Kenny Neal’s Family and Friends Blues and Southern Soul Festival to the simpler Southern Soul Blues Festival.

The 2015 lineup includes Kenny Neal and the Neal Family, Tyree Neal, Chris LeBlanc, Vince Hutchinson and Lil’ Nathan and the Zydeco Big Timers. Other performers will appear on the event’s Discovery Stage.

In addition to the annual music festival, Neal, a Grammy-nominated singer-guitarist who travels the world and has released more than a dozen albums, wants to build a music museum in Port Allen. To that end, he’s established the non-profit Louisiana Blues and Southern Soul Society Foundation.

Meanwhile, Neal’s music festival continues to evolve. He added zydeco music to the lineup this year and expects to add gospel next year.

The 2015 edition of the Southern Soul Blues Festival will also include a tribute to Raful Neal, the late patriarch of the Neal family of musicians. This year’s festival falls on his birthday, June 6.

“We’re going to celebrate Raful and play his music,” Kenny Neal said.

In other Kenny Neal news, he recently completed a new album, “Bloodlines.” Neal recorded the album in Nashville with Tom Hambridge, a Grammy-winning producer whose credits include Buddy Guy, Delbert McClinton, ZZ Top and many more.

“He and I have been wanting to team up,” Neal said. “We finally got together and the record is great.”

Hambridge’s production clients also include B.B. King, the blues star and friend of the Neal family who died May 14 at 89. Neal attended King’s funeral in Indianola, Mississippi, last weekend.

“He was so well loved,” Neal said. “All the way from Memphis to Indianola, people were all along the highways and the streets, out there with purple ribbons. The viewing was Friday and it was just hundreds and hundreds of people, coming in all day.”

Neal met King in the mid-1970s in Chicago. They toured together in the 1980s in Japan, Germany and France. Neal also performed for grand openings for B.B. King Blues Club locations in New York City and Memphis.

In April, a few weeks before King entered hospice care, Neal posted a musical tribute to the ailing blues man on YouTube.

“I wrote the song for him,” Neal said. “It was my thank-you tribute to him. I’m so happy I got it to him before he passed.”

“Well, September 16, 1925, that’s when the greatest blues man came alive,” Neal sings in the upbeat, King-style tribute. “I just want to thank you B., for paving the way for me. The thrill ain’t gone and your blues go’ live on.”

“He used to always tell me,” Neal recalled, “ ‘Kenny, we need you. We need you out here now. You take care of yourself.’ ”

King was a positive force, Neal said.

“He played blues but it went beyond that,” he said. “He always respected everybody. You couldn’t work for him if you had a negative attitude or were rude to fans. He didn’t play that.”

And King was generous with his fans.

“He’d go to a show and the contract would say one hour, but then he’d spend three or four hours behind the stage saying hello to his fans and signing autographs. He brought people together like that. When you left him you felt good, and you felt like you should do something good.”

And King stayed on the road constantly, outpacing much younger performers, including Neal.

“He really never enjoyed his life,” Neal said. “He enjoyed playing, don’t get me wrong, but he never took the time to go fishing, he never took the time to chill out. He didn’t know about that. Even toward the end, he was still playing like he was still trying to make it.”