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Big guns of funk get grooving Saturday

(ran North, South editions of Pasco Times)

Ivan Neville has always felt that as a musician he was charged with honoring the past while he continued his artistic path toward the future.

That's why fans are never surprised to see Neville hanging out with some of pop music's biggest legends, such as Bonnie Raitt, Keith Richards and Willie Nelson.

"A lot of what I do now has been inspired by the people I've played with over the years," Neville said in an interview this week. "No matter where I've gone musically, the essence goes back to those magic sounds that turned me on growing up."

The son of Grammy award-winning singer Aaron Neville, Ivan has proved a worthy heir to the family name. His own brand of New Orleans funk, R&B, soul and rock has won him legions of loyal fans. But he's quick to admit that he loves stepping into new musical territory any time the opportunity presents itself.

Such is the case with Neville's lastest collaboration with Life: The First Family of Funk, a six-member all-star band that features several founding members of Sly and the Family Stone. The group, which performs at 9:30 p.m. Saturday at the Bourbon Street Concert Club in New Port Richey, is the kind of musical vehicle that Neville says he loves to sink his teeth into.

"I was a huge fan growing up," he said. "You listen to the stuff that Sly and the Family Stone was doing back in the '60s and '70s _ way ahead of its time."

With Life, Neville gets an opportunity to stretch into the masterful funk groove that produced hits like Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin, Dance to the Music and Hot Fun in the Summertime, plus lesser-know SFS tunes such as I Cannot Make It and Somebody's Watching You.

Neville said he had wanted to work with original SFS members Jerry Martini on sax and drummer Greg Errico since meeting them in the early 1990s. Though the musicians' paths crossed fairly often, Neville's touring and recording schedule prevented the collaboration until this summer.

"We just decided to just go ahead and do and forget the rest," Neville said. "I felt honored to be invited to play with these guys."

Neville's musical skills have always been in high demand. For the past decade he has been the keyboardist for the Neville Brothers, which includes his father, and uncles Art, Cyril and Charles. In addition, he has toured with artists like Raitt and led Keith Richards' solo tour ensemble, Xpensive Winos.

Of course, there's his own crew, Dumpstaphunk, a full-tilt band made up of New Orleans veteran musicians.

New Orleans is an enthralling city to grow up in, especially if your name is Neville. By the time he was a toddler, Ivan had met just about every major recording artist of the day. But his foray into the family business was tenuous at first.

"I started learning guitar when I was 10, but I was never thrilled with my playing," he said. But by 17 he had become an accomplished keyboardist and before long was sitting in regularly with the Neville Brothers band.

Eventually, Neville headed to California, where he became a sought-after session player. But the Crescent City eventually lured him back.

"These days, everything I want to do as a musician I can do here," in New Orleans, he said. "Any musician who wants to experience the real thing learns this is the place you have to come to."

This summer Ivan, 45, his father and uncles put the finishing touches on a new Neville Brothers project, Walkin' in the Shadow of Life. Set for release this month, the CD features a number of songs written by Ivan and his father.

"I'm grateful for what (Dad) has taught me through the years," Ivan said. "Working with him and the rest of my family is big joy for me."