By Martine Ehrenclou
Rock & Blues Muse is pleased to premiere Kenny Neal’s new documentary “The Making of Mount Up On The Wings Of The King” and “Mount Up On the Wings Of The King,” the new single from the Louisiana icon and multi award-winning master bluesman, featuring Grammy winner Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram. The track is from Neal’s upcoming album Straight From The Heart out May 20, 2022 via Ruf Records. The documentary is a fascinating inside view of how the song came together with Kenny Neal, Eric O. Harper, Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram and Tito Jackson.
“Mount Up On The Wings Of The King” is a brilliant uptown shuffle meant to teach the next generation of blues guitarists to soak up the legacy of the late, great BB King. Kenny Neal teams up with Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram on the cut with stinging and slinging hot licks all over the song’s sassy horns-and-backup-vocal groove. The two players trade lines head-to-head, each one throwing down his own style in a way that Mr. King would have loved.
Listen to “Mounty Up On The Wings Of The King”
Louisiana Music Hall of Famer and Grammy nominee, Kenny Neal has taken his own inimitable guitar, gale-force harp and rugged, soulful voice all over the globe. His new album, Straight From The Heart, finds him drawn by the siren call of his hometown and musical ground zero, Baton Rouge. Produced by Kenny Neal and co-produced by Gebre Waddell, the 11 tracks are steeped in swamp blues, brimming with lush horns and deep Bayo rhythms. Guests on the album also include Tito Jackson, Rockin’ Dopsie Junior & The Zydeco Twisters, and Neal’s daughter and vocalist, Syreeta Neal.
When asked about Straight From The Heart, Kenny Neal said, “This is the first time in my whole career that I had a chance to record on my own turf here in Baton Rouge and in the state of Louisiana. I always recorded other places like New York, Chicago, Memphis. When I moved back home here, I decided to build a studio at one of my old houses, the first house I ever bought–I never dreamed of buying a house. Back then for a musician, it was almost impossible to own your house. But I bought a house back in the early eighties and hung onto it. I turned it into a musician’s house studio where you can come there and record, stay there and eat and just make yourself at home.
Kenny explained that Tito Jackson asked him to help produce his last album and he admitted that he got into the groove of recording and decided he wanted to continue and do his own album as well. Having some of his father’s (Raful Neal) musicians playing on it helped him to capture the real, true roots of Louisiana music.
I asked Kenny about “Mount Up On The Wings Of A King” featuring Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram. “It’s such a great song. Obviously BB King was a big influence on you.”
“BB was a great friend,” Neal said. “He was like a second daddy, an uncle. He was just so wonderful, a nice guy. I toured with him for like over the past 30, 35 years. We would go to Japan together, all through Germany, France. And he’d just become family to me. ”
“Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram guests on the track,” I said. “How did that collaboration come about?”
Kenny shared, “We called up Kingfish, we thought he would be great to do it with me. If anybody had to do it, Kingfish would be the one. I went to Memphis, I’d arranged all the tracks and the horns, and he and his manager met me there. We into Willie Mitchell’s studio and did the track. It came out real nice. I really like the track.”
“We were really just having fun,” Neal added. “We weren’t trying to challenge each other—it’s just have fun and playing the song. That’s what I feel when I listen to it. For the vocals and the guitar track, that just happened when we got together. It was just so natural.”
I asked Kenny about his relationship with Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram.
“I’ve known Chris since he was about 12 or 13 years old,” Kenny said. “I really love what he’s doing. I think he’s a natural. I knew his mother before she passed away. I was so proud the way she protected him and looked after him. We have to do the same thing, even though she’s gone. I love him, he’s like a little brother to me. He’s one of the sweetest kids you want to meet. When he gets on that guitar, he’s so soulful, and in his own world and that’s when he’s happiest.”
“Both yours and Christone’s guitar playing is so beautiful on that song,” I said. “There’s space between the notes. Is that influenced by BB King?”
“That’s just my style of playing,” Kenny explained. “I think less is more. I made a statement one time and the rock guys and guitar players got all over me. I said that you can play a million notes, and it can mean nothing. And you can play one note and it can mean a million things.”
Watch Exclusive “The Making of Mount Up On The Wings Of The King”
About Straight From The Heart Kenny added, “Every song that I did on the album, I took my time to make sure it was right because I was in my own studio (Brookstown Recording Studios) and my own zone, having the musicians that I wanted to have play on it. And it was just a breath of fresh air to have that and not worry about time and the clock running, you know? I had a chance to really mellow out and do the record because I was back home. By me knowing all my musicians and local kids and grownups here, that’s great musicians, I was able to just call them up and tell them to come on over. And they would come over and record it with me. That’s why I called it Straight From The Heart because everybody just did it from the heart. It wasn’t about the money, and the time in the studio–it was just ‘let’s make this record.’ You can hear that on every song on the album. I wanted to capture that Louisiana style.
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