Don Was On Aaron Neville’s ‘My True Story’: ‘Karaoke Doo-Wop Would Not Be Appealing’
New Orleans legend Aaron Neville has listened to doo-wop music for his entire life, but until today (January 22), he’d never released an album paying tribute to the genre. His latest effort, My True Story, is his first for Blue Note Records, and was produced by the label’s President, Don Was, along with Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones.
Was told Radio.com that he signed Neville shortly after being hired by Blue Note. “I got the gig, and I was speaking to Mark Allen, [Aaron’s] manager, actually about (signing) Herbie Hancock. And he said, ‘What about Aaron?’ I said I’d love to do an album with Aaron, I’d love to have him on Blue Note Records. I’ve worked with him before, I’ve produced a couple of things with him. I’ve played live with him a few times.”
While Neville has one of the sweetest voices in popular music, anyone who has seen him up close knows he can be a bit scary (he had a facial tattoo years before that was en vogue): “He’s like Johnny Cash, one of the most intimidating looking guys. With the prison tattoos and the whole thing. And he’s just all goodness inside. He’s just a lovely human being. And you can hear that in his singing, I think that’s part of his appeal. There’s a goodness to him that’s infectious.” Watch our interview with Was below.
In recent years, Neville has recorded albums of gospel, soul and Christmas songs, as well as American standards. This time, he wanted to take on a different genre. “He said he’s always wanted to do an album of doo-wop songs, which is what he grew up on, that’s his roots. He was singing that as a kid. And I thought that’s a wonderful idea. The great doo-wop songs are like Hank Williams songs, you distill all this emotion down to a very concentrated simple lyric. And they’re really powerful songs.”
Was knew he didn’t want to do a rote album of covers, and thought about how to avoid an overly-obvious covers album: “The danger is doing karaoke doo-wop which is would not be appealing. And I remembered back to the first album I produced with the Rolling Stones, Voodoo Lounge in 1993, I had the hotel room right above Keith Richards. He only played one record, over and over, for six weeks: and that was a Jive Five compilation called My True Story. So I knew he loved doo-wop and I knew he loved that song. I always loved that song, ‘My True Story.'”
READ MORE: DON WAS ON WORKING WITH KEITH RICHARDS
Richards was an ideal choice as a collaborator, not just because of his high profile or his fandom, but because of his artistry: “He won’t play derivative parts, he’s gonna be himself and that set the tone for the band, which was to play from the heart don’t copy the record, stay true to the original emotional intention of the song.”
My True Story is out now, and Neville has tour dates through June. Check his website for details.
— Brian Ives, Radio.com