Interview with Melissa, 2001 --
recent visit to Mike & Mins in Soulard
introduced STLBlues.net to the sizzling sounds of the Melissa
Neels band. As talented a vocalist and songwriter as she is at lead
guitar, Melissa was kind enough to spend some time telling the Bluesnet
her story. Please welcome Melissa as our Spotlight artist, and enjoy the
Melissa Neels was born in St. Louis, Mo. She grew up listening to records on her mom and dad's 1970's stereo console. In junior high school she started to take guitar lessons after listening to a Chuck Berry tape on the way to The Lake of the Ozarks in her family's old green van. Not knowing that a childhood dream would come true of meeting and opening up for the legendary Chuck Berry at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room in 2003.
Another event that would change Melissa's path was meeting Bonnie Raitt with her mom in 1990 and also in 1991. Bonnie told Melissa "to keep playing the blues" and gave her an autograph picture. After that she worked real hard to learn how to play lead guitar.
After graduating high school, Melissa played in many bands including Cool Water with her friend Bud (who would be her drummer throughout the years), The Skillet Sisters, and Delilah. She realized the other bands weren't going to allow her to express herself and play the kind of music she wanted to play. So in 2000 she set out to form her own group, The Melissa Neels Band.
Throughout the bands history, Melissa has had many talented musicians in her band. For instance Bob Keller, who was her bass player and performed on her cd "Shine". Bob was a founding member of The Allman Joys with Greg and Duane Allman. That band later became The Allman Brothers.
Melissa is backed by three talented and experienced musicians who have been with her for many years. Matt Mc Cauley on keys and background vocals, Bud Rager on drums, and Buck Buckler on bass and background vocals make up the current Melissa Neels Band.
Not only is Melissa influenced by Bonnie Raitt but also by Debbie Davies, Susan Tedeschi, Loretta Lynn, Freddie King, Albert King, and The Allman Brothers. Melissa can appreciate all music to some extent but blues with a hint of rock really describes her sound. The cd "Shine" is made up of all original songs that span the genre of blues and rock and also features an acoustic song. She hopes to get back in the recording studio soon to work on their second original cd.
Melissa enjoys performing with The Melissa Neels Band.
It's her priority and her baby. In 2013 as a side project she began performing with singer-songwriter Jen Norman and the" all women" blues/rock band The Pie Tarts featuring Sharon Bear, Carolyn Ittner, and Irene Allen.
Melissa's lifelong dream to become a singer, a lead guitarist, a songwriter, a performer and to entertain people has all come true thru hard work and determination. Music is Melissa's passion and she hopes to perform and turn people on to her music for a long time to come.
Thanks for spending a few minutes today with the Bluesnet. We really
enjoyed your perfomance at Mike & Mins. Are you from St. Loui
MN: Yes, I am. I grew up in South County, and attended Oakville
Senior High School
When did you discover you had a love of music?
MN: I always loved music! My mom always listened to Cream, Janis
Joplin. I started taking guitar in the second grade, but that only lasted
a month or so. Then I was re-introduced to the guitar in the 7th grade
Are there any musicians that really had an influence on you?
MN: When I was 15, my mom took me to see Bonnie Raitt at the Muny.
She had wrote a note to Bonnie, and she had one of the security guards
deliver it to Bonnie. At the end of the show, there was a woman in the
crowd calling my name. She said Bonnie wanted to meet me! It was great!
Bonnie was a really nice, down to earth person, and she told me "keep
playing those Blues". A year later Bonnie was playing at Riverport,
and we went to see her again. My mom wrote a note, and we were asked
backstage once again. So meeting Bonnie was a big moment, she's a big
influence to me! Stevie Ray Vaughn, Susan Tedeschi, and Joanna Connor
were also influences. I went to see Joanna Connor when she was playing
at Generations. When I got
to the show, it turned out to be cancelled. The guy at the door mentioned
that Joanna was staying there at the hote, and offered to call her room
for me. It ended up that she invited me to her room, and I was able
to meet her, and she even gave me a slide guitar lesson! Locally, Patti
Thomas of Patti and the Hitmen is one of my mentors. I also really like
Lisa Campbell! I had a high school teacher who taught me some Blues
scales, and I would play along with songs I liked from Cream, SRV and
others...I really liked playing "Crossroads"
When did you start wanting to perform?
I'd been in a basement band in high school, but hadn't really played
out much. Some bands just wanted me to play guitar and sit in the corner,
and I didn't want to. Now, with my band, we do the kind of music I want,
and I have a lot of musical freedom. As a songwriter, I want to get
better and better, to keep writing & performing more originals.My family
is very supportive of my music. My Mom Judy goes to all my gigs, she's
my biggest fan. Both my mom and dad really support me. My aunt Joan
comes out often...I'm getting a nice little following! My Grandma Norma
was a big influence on me. She loved to dance, I remember her doing
the Jitterbug and the Imperial. She used to listen to Fats Domino and
Elvis, and she even let Ed Putney (of Eddies guitars) and his band practice
in her basement.
Is your music a full-time venture for you?
No, I work nights at Chrysler on the assembly line. I've been doing
that for 6 years, building minivans. I plan on playing out more, really
love playing down in Soulard. I
want to give Blues more exposure, so I'm playing at places like Mike
& Mins, Hammerstones, BB's,
Generations, and The Broadway
How long have you been with your current band?
I've been with this band for 2 years. I'd love to take this band on
the road someday!
Melissa, we hope you achieve all your dreams. Thanks for taking time
out to give this interview.