Ian Neville on Getting Funky

August 15, 2012

“I’m 30 for 30,” says Ian Neville, regarding his attendance at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival for each of his 30 years on the planet. As the son of Art “Papa Funk” Neville—the keyboardist who founded the Meters and the Neville Brothers—Ian was born funky. He was playing in Papa’s bands by his early teens, and Meter men Leo Nocentelli and Brian Stoltz taught him how to play funk guitar hand to hand. Nearly a decade ago, Ian and his keyboardist cousin Ivan Neville split off to form Dumpstaphunk, one of the hippest funk bands in the land. Check out the group’s nasty, downright greasy Dirty Word [Dumpstaphunk], as well as the following formulas for funkification.

“You have to listen extra hard because funk is about interlocking parts that fit together like a puzzle,” says Ian. “If you don’t truly understand where everyone else is at you’re liable to scramble the puzzle. The primary problem with most players is that they don’t hear the whole picture, so they overplay. It’s far easier to get in the way than it is to add something meaningful.

“Also, a part doesn’t have to be flashy to be integral. If you stop playing and the tune starts to fall apart, you know you’re onto something. Break the guitar down to a couple of strings at a time, and get out of the mindset of strummer. In funk music playing full chords can conflict with the other parts. Listen for the notes of a chord— or the notes in a run—that the other players aren’t playing, and play those. Freddie Stone’s rhythm part in Sly & The Family Stone’s “Stand!” is a good example of that kind of guitar work. He finds his niche well within the song’s progression.

“For another example, here’s how I play the intro to the Meters’ ‘Just Kissed My Baby.’ It’s the way Leo [Nocentelli] did on the original recording. I pluck the top half of the lick with my middle and ring fingers, the double-stop on strings three and two at the 10th and 11th frets, respectively, and then the pull-off from the 11th fret to the 8th fret. For the second half, I alternate between plucking the open G string with my middle finger, and picking the chromatic notes walking up the low E string. That song is a prime example of each member playing an essential piece of the puzzle that locks together perfectly with the others, while still leaving space for the tune to breathe.”

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