A St. Louis Blues Queen
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 4 talented and experienced musicians who have been with her for many years. Matt McCauley on keys and back ground vocals, Bud Rager on drums, Stu Massey on bass and back ground vocals and guest appearances by Howard Young on the harmonica, make up the current Melissa Neels Band.
Not only is Melissa influenced by Bonnie Raitt but also by Debbie Davies, Susan Tedeschi, Loretta Lynn, Joanna Connor, 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.
In 2013, as a side project she began performing with the all women band, “Groove Sistahs” featuring Sharon Bear, Carolyn Ittner, and Leslie Sanazaro. Also that year she started to play in a duo with singer-songwriter Jen Norman.
Melissa’s lifelong dream to become a singer, lead guitarist, songwriter, 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 years to come.
“A recent visit to Mike & Mins in Soulard introduced STLBlues.net to the 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 STLBlues her story. Please welcome Melissa as our Spotlight artist, and enjoy the interview.”
STLBlues: Thanks for spending a few minutes today with us. We really enjoyed your performance at Mike & Mins. Are you from St. Louis?
MN: Yes, I am. I grew up in South County, and attended Oakville Senior High School
STLBlues: 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
STLBlues: 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 hotel, 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”
STLBlues: When did you start wanting to perform?
MN: 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.
STLBlues: Is your music a full-time venture for you?
MN: 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 Oyster Bar.
STLBlues: How long have you been with your current band?
MN: I’ve been with this band for 2 years. I’d love to take this band on the road someday!
STLBlues: Melissa, we hope you achieve all your dreams. Thanks for taking time out to give this interview.
MN: You’re welcome!