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Interview Johnny Neel
May 2008 by Y. Philippot-Degand

Shortly after his new album's release, J. Neel & The Criminal Element Volume 1
(see RTJ reviews, May 2008), Johnny Neel agreed to answer some of our questions.

RTJ: Thanks Johnny for answering some questions about your news. You recently released a CD with a brand new band. Can you talk about this new band and how it put together ?
J. Neel: Yes, the Criminal Element is a unique project in the sense that we got together by accident. They had a band called Mile 8 which disbanded and I invited them over to my studio here in Nashville; "Straight-Up Sound"; and we come up with the concept of writing songs on stage at the gig then go back to the studio and put it together. "Play the grooves and then the lyrics and put out the CD, "it's the way I like to do things right off the cuff which makes it unique and from the soul".  Russell Wright on Bass who is a spirited young player who brings a lot of ideas to the table and puts a lot of ideas in my head; Curt Redding Drummer who is bouncy, frisky, and I love the way he moves around the tempo when the feeling hits him which is not a bad thing; Randy Boen Guitarist, he's a different kind of player and I never can figure out what style he's going to play in and that is good.  He's a great singer and a great lyricist that brings outside concepts to the table... 

RTJ: The members of  The Criminal Element are all different from the members of The Last Word. How can you explain this complete turnaround to our readers ?
J. Neel: First of all when you talk about The Last Word, which hasn't been together for over 5 years that is a long time span between the two bands. This band is much younger ranging from ages 28 to 33 years old that allows me a fresh outlook on what currently is happening and I give them a educated outlook on what's happening which allows me to evolve and keep it energetic...
RTJ: You worked with The Last Word, with W.I.N.D. and with The Criminal Element, and each time, the band's formula was the same: four members, a bass/drums rhythm section and a guitar player in addition of yourself on keyboards and sometimes harmonica. Do you think that you found the right band's composition to formulate at best your musical ideas ?
J. Neel: I feel real good about the current band as it stands now . The four piece section "Bass, Drums, Guitar, Keyboards", I really didn't think about that very much, although I like the formula because everybody has a spot in their musical place. It's not a complicated situation and things happen the way there suppose to and that's what I flow with. 
RTJ: Do you want to come in Europe with The Criminal Element, and when ?
J. Neel: Yes sir I sure do and if you or anyone in your area is interested in putting on a concert to bring myself and Criminal Element we would be ready to work our way across the big waters and put on a hell of a show...
RTJ: This last CD is called Volume 1. Are you expecting a long way and many other volumes with this band ?
J. Neel: Yes we started with Volume 1 and have Volume 2 ready to release in June, followed by Volume 3 & 4 ;  Volume 4 will be a total jam with much experimentation both musically and mentally with help from mother nature, "ha ha ha".
RTJ: Volume 1 contains very various titles, it's a kind of patchwork of the music you addressed since the beginning of your recording career except the typical blues. Will the next albums contain such a diversity, or will they be more thematic, and do you think you'll play some blues again ?
J. Neel: Ah, the blues, the blues, the blues, yeah I done that and I'm looking for something new. I think there's always blues and elements of the blues in whatever I do but there's funk, jazz, and rock& roll. When I was with the Allman Brothers I felt a little boxed in from time to time but enjoyed my moments with them for sure. I will play the blues again but probably not for a while...
RTJ: I may be wrong, but I didn't hear your harmonica in Volume 1, and the keyboards were essentially restricted to your organ. Is it a question of personnal taste, is it because the songs demanded that kind of arrangement, or is this because of the band's new dynamics ?
J. Neel: It's personal taste and what happens on stage for the concept of the tunes as we improve, so if I played organ on stage as we wrote the groove I want to maintain that same sound in the studio when we go in to record. Now on Volume 2 there's more piano so it's really how the tune was created spontaneously that guides the instrumentation unless I feel it needs some strings, or other keyboards. The reason I'm not playing much harmonica is because basically "I only got two hands ha, ha, ha", "and I could of put it on as an overdub but it really doesn't fit this genre of music"... 
RTJ: The four members of the band sing on this album. Does your new band challenged you on the vocals' point of view, and can you talk about the difference to manage now four likely singers ?
J. Neel: Back when I was doing the Last Word, I was the main singer and now it's a logical thing to do when you got 3 singers besides me they are going to be in there. Randy Boen guitarist sings the other half of the stuff I don't sing and the other two members sing back up "Russell Wright Bassist & Curt Redding Drums". It's not really a challenge, "you got to go what's in your gut and go what your hearing from the people". 
 "I hope your readers enjoy it and there will be elements of the old Johnny Neel throughout the rest of the music I do and of course all the rest of my life".....
RTJ: All the RTJ interviews finish with that kind of question: if you had to finish your life on a desert island, what could be the five CDs that you would take with you ?
J. Neel: "First of all if I was on a desert island how would I play the CDs, ha, ha, ha, ha, unless I had a solar powered I Pod?!" (A desert island doesn't mean that it has to be without energy, it means only that there's no one here, Editor's Note)
1 "Live at the Filmore " Allman Brothers
2 Taj Mahal "Box Set"
3 Beatles "Box Set"
4 Aretha Franklin "Box Set"
5 Ray Charles "Box Set"
and everything I ever recorded!!!!!!!!
Visit Johnny Neel & Criminal Element at:

RTJ: Thanks a lot, Johnny, and for the concert to bring yourself and Criminal Element in Europe, I think it's better for me to give the message to Philippe Archambeau!