Aaron Neville said, “You can take the boy out of New Orleans, but you can’t take New Orleans out of the boy.”
Neville, who performs Thursday night at the Clay Center for FestivALL’s Mayor’s Concert, left his hometown of New Orleans after the storm surge of Hurricane Katrina destroyed his family’s home. Six years ago, he moved to New York, after he met his second wife, photographer Sarah Friedman.
“No, I don’t miss New Orleans,” he said.
Then again, he doesn’t stay away for very long.
In May, Neville again appeared at the New Orleans jazz festival and played a Christmas show at the New Orleans Civic Center back in December.
Also, he still has family in New Orleans and some of his brothers’ musical projects are based out of New Orleans.
He keeps in touch with them.
“Everybody is cool, doing solo stuff,” Neville said. “We did 30-some years as the Neville Brothers. Now, it’s just time to go out and do what we do.”
Neville, meanwhile, enjoys New York.
“I’m remarried, happy,” he said. “This is the place I’m supposed to be.”
While Neville is still performing songs off his doo-wop record, “My True Story,” produced by Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, the singer/songwriter said he was slowly working on a new record based on some of the poems he’s written over the years.
Neville said for the longest time, he didn’t give his poetry much thought.
“I didn’t think it was nothing,” he said. “I’d write it down and then throw it in a bag in the car.”
A friend saw the poems, told him some of them were pretty good and encouraged him to publish them.
“I Am a Song” came out in 2010, not long after Neville remarried.
“It was a limited edition,” he explained. “We sold them at the gigs.”
Turning poems into songs isn’t anything new for Neville. He said the Neville Brothers songs, “Yellow Moon” and “Voodoo” were poems he wrote and the group later turned into songs.
Writing poems and writing songs are pretty similar, Neville said.
“When I write there’s always rhythm,” he said.
His songs and poems have similar foundations and similar themes.
He laughed. “I write a lot about my wife, Sarah. A lot of love stuff and I write about stuff in the world: hurricanes and tornadoes, stuff that’s affecting man on this earth.”
Stuff he’s seen.
Neville witnessed the destruction of New Orleans caused by one hurricane and the destruction of New York caused by another.
He doesn’t know what to make of it except that something with the weather isn’t right.
Neville said, “In the 1950s, in New Orleans, we used to call hurricanes ‘September storms.’ Now they come from June to December.”
Summers are hotter, too, he remembered.
“When I was a kid in New Orleans, we didn’t have air conditioning,” Neville said. “My dad, like most people we knew, had a window fan and it would cool the whole house off.
“That don’t work no more.”
He said he thinks about things like that and sometimes writes about it, too.
As far as that next record, Neville didn’t know when he’d get around to putting it together. Maybe by next year.
“I’m working a lot right now,” he said.
Reach Bill Lynch at email@example.com or 304-348-5195.