On the morning of Dec. 6, a still-sleeping Baton Rouge blues artist Kenny Neal got a call from Johnny Palazzotto. The local music industry veteran was the first to congratulate Neal for the Grammy nomination he received for his 19th album, “Bloodline.”
“Before I could wake up, my phone was jumping off the hook with congratulations,” Neal said. “From New York, Chicago, California ... It kept going the whole day.”
Ahead of the 59th annual Grammy Awards ceremony, which takes place Feb. 12 in Los Angeles, Neal and the Neal family of blues musicians will play a sendoff show at 4 p.m. Sunday at Phil Brady’s in Baton Rouge.
Neal received a previous Grammy nomination for the 1998 multi-artist album “A Tribute to Howlin’ Wolf.” He didn’t go to the ceremony then, but this year he’s attending the starry event with his wife, Josi, and his brothers and band members, Darnell and Frederick.
“They’ve been standing up there beside me for so long,” Neal said of his younger brothers. “I want them to be there with me.”
On Jan. 9, Neal received more good news when the Blues Foundation in Memphis announced its Blues Music Awards nominations. “Bloodline” is nominated for best blues album and best contemporary blues album. Neal is nominated for best contemporary blues artist.
When he attends the Grammy Awards, Neal said the entire Neal family will join him in spirit. That includes his late father and blues mentor, Raful; late brother, Ronnie; and late sister, Jackie.
“I feel like I’ve carried on tradition from my dad,” Neal said. “Because my dad started from scratch, from nowhere, across the river in Erwinville. I want to feel the presence of Jackie and Ronnie as well. So it’s for all of us.”
Neal recorded “Bloodline” in Nashville, Los Angeles and Baton Rouge. He co-produced it with Buddy Guy’s Grammy-winning producer, Tom Hambridge. From the outset, Neal envisioned a Grammy nomination for “Bloodline.” He invested heart, soul and his own money into the project.
“I locked in and said, ‘OK, I’m not going to let any obstacles get in my way,’ ” Neal said. “I took it on my own and here I am.”
Neal wrote most of the “Bloodline” songs. The album reveals his versatility more than any of his previous studio work. There’s even a masterful take on Willie Nelson’s country classic, “Funny How Time Slips Away.”
Following the initial “Bloodline” sessions with Hambridge and Nashville session players, the unsatisfied Neal reentered the studio multiple times. He doctored up the rhythm tracks and, at the last moment, flew to Nashville to attend the horn-session tracking.
“I couldn’t rest,” Neal said of the latter sessions. “I told my wife, ‘I need to get to Nashville now.’ And I went to airport and caught a flight. I’d written the horn charts. I knew what I wanted. The horn players in Nashville thought they knew what I wanted, but there are all kinds of little twists that I do. I knew they couldn’t do it without me.”
Once Neal completed “Bloodline” to his satisfaction, he went extra miles to promote it. After the Los Angeles-based Cleopatra Records released the album in July, Neal hired a radio promoter and a publicist on his own dime.
Neal also attended Recording Academy seminars to learn the Grammy-nomination process. He missed the deadline for the first round of Grammy submissions, but made the second round in time.
“I took it on my own to figure out what steps to take,” he said. “Once I figured that out, I took the ball and ran with it.”
The work paid off in nominations, national radio play and high positions on the national blues charts. “Bloodline’s” Grammy nomination also yielded another significant dividend.
“It put Baton Rouge on the map,” Neal said. “Now people are asking me about other musicians in this area.”
During his 37 years as a front man, Neal has performed in Europe, the Middle East, Australia, Japan, eight African countries, the Caribbean and South America.
He'll stay busy in 2017. His growing schedule includes the Blast Furnace Blues Festival in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; Redwood Coast Music Festival in Eureka, California; the Utah Blues Festival in Salt Lake City; and the North Atlantic Blues Festival in Rockland, Maine.
“I’m going to be out a lot,” he promised.
Kenny Neal and the Neal Family
When: 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 29
Where: Phil Brady’s Bar & Grill, 4848 Government St., Baton Rouge
Cost: $10 donation