June 6, 2013

Born to funk


---- — BURLINGTON — Funk, it’s the music, the groove. But it’s also the spaces where the notes are not. That’s where the funk is for Ivan Neville, leader of Dumpstaphunk.

“Where there isn’t a note, where the smelly stuff happens,” Ivan Neville said. “You can feel it. It makes you move. You can’t help but move something even if you can’t dance. You have to move when you hear the funk. It makes you think you can dance.”

Neville and his bandmates — cousin Ian Neville (guitar), Tony Hall (bass), Nick Daniels (bass) and Nikki Glaspie (drums) — steam up the Bayou Tent with the Soul Rebels this evening at the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival.

The son of Aaron and the late Joel Neville, Ivan knew his career path as a teen. 

“I played a gig with my dad,” he said. “I was 16 or 17, at the most. I made a hundred bucks. That was cool. It was a long time ago. I went and played a few songs. He gave me a hundred bucks. I was like, ‘Damn.’ That made a good impression on me. Soon after that, I started a band, and pretty soon I started playing with the Neville Brothers. That pretty much set the path.”

At the time, he thought, “I can do this.”

“This is my job,” he said. “It’s not bad. I get to play music and get paid for it. I was always a music lover as a child, and I listened to it a lot and sang along with the great songs on the radio. People around me, my family, my uncles (Art, Charles and Cyril), were all musicians. It was like pretty close to home. I really felt pretty comfortable doing this.”

At 10, Ivan picked up a guitar briefly and learned a few songs. His mother, who studied piano at an early age and through high school, always had a piano in the house. 

“I would sit down at the piano and fool around. I would see my dad fool around and play around. He showed me a few songs. I started playing piano.”

His keys have graced the stage with Bonnie Raitt, Rolling Stones and X-Pensive Winos. He’s appeared with Don Henley, Robbie Robertson and Rufus. From 1999 to 2000, he was a member of the Spin Doctors.

Dumpstaphunk’s accolades include “New Orleans Best Funk Band” by Offbeat Magazine and Gambit Weekly. The band has appeared on the “Late Show with David Letterman” and at Bonnaroo, Voodoo Fest and JamCruise.

Ivan’s father didn’t preach to him about the music business.

“I kind of just watched what they did and watched some of the mistakes they were making and some of the cool things they were doing. They told me to make sure my business was taken care of. A lot of people got screwed over in the early days, and people get screwed over in the more recent days,” Ivan said.

The main advice was not to take for granted the talent he was blessed with and the forum he has to make music. 

“You’re never bigger than this thing. You’re a part of that, and that kind of stuck with me,” he said.

As his father’s oldest son, he’s always asked questions about the Neville mystique.

“It goes with the territory. I never really felt pressure or any kind of stuff. It all came naturally to me. People have a preconceived idea of what I may sound like or what I should sound like. There’s always some comparison or whatnot. Some of it’s very cool, and some of it’s …,” he said.

He has forged his own path and his own musical identity beyond his musical lineage.

“My uncles were part of The Meters. They were funk pioneers. My dad was gifted with one of the beautiful voices there is. I try to make my own way and establish my own music identity. That’s what is cool about the band I have now. Some of us (Hall and Daniels) grew up around the same era and listened to a lot of the same music. We’re all Neville Brothers alums. Tony played with The Meters back in the day. We’re all influenced by that stuff naturally.”

The Big Easy also stirred the pot of their musical gumbo.

“Being influenced by all things New Orleans and listening to music played on the radio — James Brown, Sly & the Family Stone and Parliament-Funkadelic, to name a few. You hear it in our music, the diversity and the influences. Dumpstaphunk is known as a funk band, but the boundaries of funk are very wide,” he said. “It’s not just a certain type of thing. Things are usually funky, but we’ve infused some rock’n’roll, blues and gospel. It’s all up in there.”

Ivan gives a shout-out to the crossover ’70s when white and black bands were getting funky with it and rocking out before neo-soulers were born.

“We heard that stuff on the radio the first time. We heard ‘Superfly,’ Curtis Mayfield, all that s---. We heard it when it was new. It’s amazing. The radio was so cool back then. Our favorite period was the early to mid-’70s. Rufus and Chaka Khan’s ‘Tell Me Something Good’ sounded like nothing else on the radio at the time.”

Sly’s ethnically and gender-mixed band was a ‘60s anomaly. 

“They were playing the funk with a rock ‘n’ roll attitude. You had a white guy on the drums and girls playing keyboards and trumpet. It was killing and crazy stuff.”

Sly’s bassist, Larry Graham, is the original master-bass thumper. He later founded Graham Central Station and still tours. On Dumpstaphunk’s upcoming July release, “Dirty Word,” the band did a remake of Graham Central Station’s “Water.”

Asked why funk endures, Ivan said it’s like cockroaches and Keith Richards; when the world ends, they will still be alive. 

“Funk will still be around,” Ivan said.

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WHAT: The Soul Rebels and Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk

WHEN: Music starts at 6 p.m. today.

WHERE: The Burlington Discover Jazz Festival, Waterfront Park Bayou Tent.

ADMISSION: $25 in advance, $30 day of show. CONTACT: Call (802) 86-FLYNN or visit