Festival brings music of family band

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 15, 2000

Rayful Neal remembers purchasing his first harmonica when he was about 14. &uot;That was the cheapest thing I (could) buy at that time,&uot; said Neal, who performed Saturday at the Natchez Bluff Blues Festival at Memorial Park.

The harmonica was popular during the 1940s and 1950s, said Neal, who grew up on a farm near Baton Rouge, La.

Now, some 45 years later, Neal is still singing and playing his harmonica before crowds of people with the Rayful Neal Band.

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&uot;I try to get the crowd to enjoy and what goes from the heart, reaches the heart,&uot; he said.

&uot;I have a great feeling when I get on the bandstand,&uot; Neal said. &uot;Blues with a feeling.&uot;

For Neal, music is a family activity.

When his band took the stage Saturday, three generations of Neals were represented.

&uot;They love music all of them,&uot; Neal said, about his 10 children &uot;Their crazy about music.&uot;

On Saturday, his band members included his son Kenny Neal and his 17-year-old grandson, Tyree Neal. &uot;All of my sons and so many others say they’ve taken after me,&uot; Neal said. &uot;I started a lot of youngsters off.&uot;

Even Neal is amazed at the legacy he created. &uot;I never thought I would be having my grandson in the band with me,&uot; Neal said.

Neal thinks he is different from some blues musicians in that he has a large family and a wife of 43 years. &uot;I’m so proud to be a bluesman that raised a big family,&uot; he said.

Although the blues have always been popular, Neal thinks the growing number of blues musicians is increasing its popularity.

And despite Chicago’s reputation, Neal thinks a lot of the great blues musicians come from the south. &uot;Louisiana and Mississippi — I think they had the blues in the world,&uot; Neal said. &uot;Chicago gets a lot of credit because they all went to Chicago. I’ve met so many great musicians in Mississippi.&uot;

Even though he knows the blues have changed over the years, he still enjoys a traditional sound with traditional instruments such as the harmonic and guitar. &uot;You got to go back to basics if you want the good blues, he said.

Blues festival promoter Eric Glatzer estimated Saturday’s crowd at the park at 2,500. The festival continues today with &uot;Blues Brunches&uot; in several locations around town.