Playlist: Aaron Neville Goes 'High Natural'

Legendary soul and R&B singer Aaron Neville first grew to love music as a small boy living in New Orleans.

Sitting down with "Nightline" recently at Manhattan's Hill Country restaurant, Neville cited his brother Art as one of his earliest musical influences. "He worked at a record shop and he would bring back all of these doo-wop records," he said. "That fascinated me, you know, and I knew I wanted to sing."

Years before they banded together to record music as the Neville Brothers, Aaron Neville and his brothers listened to and learned from every doo-wop record they could -- and there were plenty to choose from. The Nevilles sang along with all of them, from Clyde McPhatter and The Drifters to Pookie Hudson and the Spaniels.

"They just had so many doo-wop groups back in the days," he said, laughing, "So we went to the, you know, to the college of "Doo-Wopology."

Neville said The Big Easy played a huge role in the music he listened to, and the musician he became. He said there's something in the music made by New Orleans natives, like Fats Domino or Professor Longhair, that can't be found anywhere else.

"It's a rhythm that everybody walks to," Neville said. "It comes from the second-line funerals, you know, with the brass bands, with what they call a drop beat, the bass drum, you're walking and all of a sudden you feel like you miss a beat. Anybody can't do that. It's gotta be from New Orleans. You gotta drink that Mississippi River water."

One of Neville's most well-known songs is the 1966 hit "Tell It Like It Is," which reached No. 2 on the Billboard charts.

"I was working on a dock somewhere, unloading cargo ships," Neville said. "The record came out and it just went up climbing the charts. I had never had a hit record before so it was exciting and scary at the same time."

Unfortunately, his record company at the time, Par-Lo, went bankrupt and Neville said he was never paid any royalties from his recording.

Neville's Hauntingly Beautiful Falsetto

"I'm still waiting to get paid for that," he said, laughing. "But, then again, I think the Lord works in mysterious ways. So maybe if I were to get paid back in those days I might not be here today, you know, so I'm not bitter about nothing. It was just part of life."

The Beatles released "Rubber Soul" around the same time and the track "Michelle" became one of Neville's favorite songs. He said he would listen to the Beatles during an uncertain time, when he didn't know what the future held.

"I was going through some changes, I guess," he said. "You know trying to find out who I was, what was my destiny? Was I gonna go down in history or was I going to be a mystery?"

One way Aaron Neville has gone down in history is for his hauntingly beautiful falsetto. He says one of the reasons he loves James Brown so much is for the "high natural" voice he could hit in many of his songs, like "Bewildered" from 1960.

"People say about James that he would scream but James had a 'high natural' and he could go high up in the sky with his natural voice," Neville said. "Everybody wanted to do the high notes. But everybody couldn't. That was one of my favorite things to do, the high note."

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