When we speak of legendary we can say it with truth when it comes to Johnny Neel. Born in Wilmington, Delaware and blind from birth and a recording artist by the age of 12 he has earned the moniker of Legend.
During our interview I asked Johnny what inspired him to want to play music.
Johnny – “Well, I guess it would be that as a child one day I ran my hand across the keys of a piano and when I heard that first cord, that first sound, I knew that I wanted to learn more. So I just began playing the notes. I guess the whole first year I must have played only the black keys. The black keys were the first one's I heard and the interest grabbed me, it just happened by accident. I was hooked.”
In the early days of his career Johnny released two albums “One Hot Night” and “You Shoulda' Been There” which received well deserved reviews.
Then in 1984 Johnny relocated to Nashville, TN., where he made his mark as one of the most desired and most recognized session “A” studio players. His songwriting talents were in great demand and recording artists were in line to have his songs on their albums. His songs have been recorded by some of the industries most popular artists such as Montgomery Gentry, John Mayall, and Delbert McClinton, along with Travis Tritt, Keith Whitley, Restless Heart, and the Oak Ridge Boys.
After moving to Nashville Johnny met up with another legend in the industry, Dickie Betts, one of the founding members of the Allman Brothers Band. After his huge success with Dickie Betts and the album “Pattern Disruptive” his talents were then greatly desired by none other than Gregg Allman who asked Johnny to join his road band. Johnny decided to join the reunited Allman Brothers Band and together with Gregg Allman and Dickie Betts they co-wrote “Good Clean Fun” which topped the charts and gave the band their highest rated single since “Ramblin' Man.” Johnny also co-wrote “Read Me My Rights” with Delbert McClinton.
I asked Johnny where the inspiration for his songs come from and he said, “Well, I write with so many different people. We might have a session and someone would show up with a book full of hooks and that get's the ball moving. Or maybe I would hear a line from someone in a conversation and that would take off. Mostly the words just come from within.”
Johnny also provided vocals on several songs that were included in four Walt Disney Records CD's such as “Saturday Night Fish Fry” for the Finding Nemo: Ocean Favorites in 2003 and “My Old Car” from Lightning McQueen's Fast Tracks in 2006. He also sang on the 2007 Ratatouille What's Cooking? Album where his voice will forever be associated with “One Meat Ball” and “Banana Split for My Baby.” He said it was so much fun to sing these songs with a full orchestra and he was proud to be part of it.
With such a full career of sharing his amazing natural born talent he received the “Life Time Achievement Award” for his work with the Allman Brothers at the 2012 Grammy Awards.
He received the ASCAP Country Award for “Take The Long Way Home” which was recorded by John Schneider and he has made appearances on The Tonight Show, CBS This Morning and Nashville Now as well as Fox News where he performed his song, “My Kinda People.”
I asked him how his closets friends might describe him and he said, “They would probably say I'm more layed back than people think. Most people think that I'm just plain crazy but really I enjoy the same things everyone else does,” and through the conversation we laughed a lot and I asked Johnny what he would say is his most favorite thing to do other than write songs and share his music. He said, “Oh, I love to cook. I love to make up my own recipes and reading is a favorite past time I have a large collection of audio books. If I could see I'd probably be found on top of the biggest piece of machinery I could find or riding a Harley. People might say I was a little bit of a red neck but I'd love it and I also enjoy sitting on the porch drinking a nice cold beer from time to time.”
Johnny's current album called “Every Kind of Blues” is available on his website. We talked about the latest album and he said it's more of a reflective project. He said that music is changing so much and that now that he's getting older he wanted to do something that he hoped would be inspirational. He also said that with the internet opening up so many new opportunities that he will be releasing two songs a month on his website and just have fun with it. It helps keep up the momentum and keeps the music fresh.
His name is set forever in the archives of the music industry. There is no other that can fill his shoes and he is truly one of a kind.