Cyril Neville recalls vividly the first time he met the Allman Brothers Band.
Before he joined his siblings in legendary New Orleans bands The Meters and later the Neville Brothers, the singer and percussionist pursued a solo career. In 1970, he was in the Allmans' home base of Macon, Ga., cutting his debut single, "Gossip" b/w "Tell Me What's On Your Mind." During a break in the recording, the musicians went to a local park where soul singer Arthur Conley was receiving the key to the city.
"I thought I was going to see a bunch of these older black guys that are going to be teaching me how it's done because the music I was hearing was the blues," says Neville, who credits seeing Allman's drummer Jai Johanson that day with inspiring him to get his ear pierced. "When I turned the corner, the first thing I see is blond hair flying everywhere and Gregg Allman just beating the Hammond B3 up."
That encounter, before either the Allmans or the Nevilles were household names, was the beginning of a mutual admiration society between two of music's most celebrated dynasties. Over the decades, the families would cross paths periodically. In 1989, Gregg Allman even shared the stage at an all-star Neville Brothers concert at New Orleans' Storyville (captured on the DVD "Nighttime In the Big Easy: The Neville Brothers Tell It Like It Is"). But there has never been a full-on collaboration between a Neville and an Allman. Until now.
"Me and Gregg struck up a friendship that first day that has lasted all these years," Neville says. "And now I'm real excited about being in a band with his son."
True to its name, the new supergroup Royal Southern Brotherhood, which makes its Memphis debut Thursday at the Young Avenue Deli, is a marriage of two of Southern music's great houses, teaming the 63-year-old Neville with Gregg Allman's 39-year-old son Devon. Also in the band are award-winning St. Louis blues guitarist Mike Zito, Derek Trucks Band drummer Yonrico Scott, and Louisiana-bred bassist Charlie Wooton.
As inspired as it is, the idea of teaming Neville with Allman was not either performer's idea. Credit for that goes to Louisiana manager Reuben Williams, whose roster of artists includes Tab Benoit and Zito. When Zito's friend Devon Allman joined Williams last year, the manager naturally put the two together. Then Zito brought in Neville, with whom he had won a Blues Music Award the year before for writing the title track to his album Pearl River.
"It was quite a surprise when Reuben came to me and said we were going to put this band together," says Neville of the Royal Southern Brotherhood, which made its live debut last September at New Orleans' Rock 'n' Bowl. "The chemistry on stage was just magical. It was just one of those things that was meant to be."
Apparently. listeners agree. In December, the band went into the studio with producer Jim Gaines, a former Memphian who helmed many Allman Brothers projects. The resulting self-titled record was released last month, debuting at No. 5 on the Billboard blues chart and at No. 1 on the iTunes blues chart.
The members of Royal Southern Brotherhood still have their side projects. Zito released his sixth album, Greyhound, last year, and Devon Allman plays with his band Honeytribe. Neville, meanwhile, is working with his wife and son on separate band projects. But he says that Royal Southern Brotherhood is the new priority for all the players involved.
"I'm just trying to keep the family legacy alive," Neville says of his slate of projects. "If the family that prays together stays together, then the family that prays and plays together definitely stays together. My family has gotten a little bit bigger is all."
Royal Southern Brotherhood