To say that Ivan Neville grew up surrounded by music would be a huge understatement. His father, Aaron, scored a national Top 10 hit with the soulful ballad “Tell It Like It Is” when Ivan was just a young boy, and by the time Ivan was in his teens his dad and uncles—Art, Charles and Cyril—had formed the world-famous Neville Brothers, New Orleans’ First Family of Funk.
Once Ivan dove in and made the commitment to pursue music, there was no stopping him. Today, with more than 35 years of experience behind him, Ivan Neville is one of the most celebrated Crescent City artists in his own right – a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who leads the acclaimed band Dumpstaphunk, has performed and recorded under his own name and has loaned his talents to the likes of the Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt and of course, the Neville Brothers. But Ivan knew that his own growth as an artist lay outside of his family’s band. He formed his own bands and served as a sideman to some of the most important artists in rock, R&B and pop, including Bonnie Raitt. Neville continued to contribute to music by an impressive roster of artists, collaborating with everyone from Robbie Robertson, the former songwriter and leas guitarist of The Band, to Rufus, the group formerly fronted by Chaka Khan.
And the Stones. The British superstars had befriended the Neville Brothers during a shared tour in the early ’80s, and when the Stones began work on their Dirty Work album in 1986, Ivan got the call to help out on keyboards, bass and vocals. The following year, when Keith Richards began recording his solo album Talk Is Cheap, Ivan, with whom he’d struck up a relationship, was his keyboardist of choice. Neville also became a member of Richards’ side band the X-Pensive Winos, not only playing with them on their 1988 tour but opening the shows with his own band as well. In 1988, he released his own debut solo album, If My Ancestors Could See Me Now, and although sales were disappointing it did produce a Top 30 single, “Not Just Another Girl.” He did some touring on his own and then, in 1992, Richards called him back to contribute to his Main Offender album.
Ivan Neville was still in his early thirties and having the time of his life. “I had a lot on my plate, and it was cool,” he says. But that was about to change. “Things started getting dicey,” Neville says. “I was starting to do a lot of drugs and the music was taking a back seat.” It wasn’t until 1998, four years after he released his second solo album, Thanks, which failed to make much of an impact, that Neville was able to get sober—he’s now been clean for more than 20 years. Neville made his third solo album, Scrape, in the early 2000s, but the most important development in his career at that time was the formation of a new band that would take the unlikely name Dumpstaphunk. “In 2003 I got an offer to play the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage, and I decided instead of making it an Ivan Neville gig, I’m going to put together a band and we’re gonna call that band Dumpstaphunk,” he says. The name came about, he says with a laugh, because he was trying to describe the music, “the nastiest, funkiest thing there was.” The answer, he surmised, was a dumpster.
Ivan was also back playing with the Neville Brothers at the time, but gradually, he says, “Dumpsta became more of a full-time project.” The band’s sound, he explains, “is kind of a mixture of all the shit that we were influenced by, a combination of the Meters, Sly and the Family Stone, the Neville Brothers, Parliament-Funkadelic, James Brown. Plus, all being from New Orleans, it’s going to have a New Orleans kind of twist but a little bit different from traditional-sounding New Orleans stuff.” Still going strong, Dumpstaphunk has played dozens of major festivals and has released three albums to date. Ivan has also been performing solo piano gigs and has worked again recently with Bonnie Raitt, as well as with singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco.
Since he made that fateful decision so many years ago to follow in the footsteps of his relatives and become a musician, Ivan Neville has continually carved his own path. From his contributions to the music of the Stones, Bonnie Raitt and the Neville Brothers themselves, to his own solo recordings and bands to the still-evolving Dumpstaphunk, he’s created a legacy on par with those who’ve inspired him along the way. Now, as he approaches his 60th birthday, he can both look back at a rich body of work and plan ahead. “I’m just trying to carry the message,” Ivan Neville says of New Orleans music, even while he’s taking that message into the future.