About Bob Neel
Despite once having been a member of a hit combo, this artist's profile in the jazz scene is so low he could easily be mistaken for one of the commands at a church service. That's the whole point, though. His old boss, singer and trumpeter Chet Baker, chose to work with mostly unknown sidemen, rehearsing often and steadily to build a unique group sound that inevitably might have been a house of sticks. This judgment could go either way, depending on the appraisal of Baker and his contributions to jazz. One critic reviewing a volume in a posthumous series by Baker's early quartet points out this difference between Baker and his main competitor on trumpet, Miles Davis, a bit like the fellows measuring the height of the black and white horses in order to tell them apart. Davis roamed the countryside in the company of one legendary sideman after another. This critic defied readers to have heard of the greenhorns who accompanied Baker on his journeys from one sold-out club to the next. "Ever heard of Carson Smith, Peter Littman, Leon Cohen, or Bob Neel? I didn't think so," the critic writes. Then, the debate continues. Are these instrumental combinations nonetheless the stuff of genius, another example of the absolute best jazz being played by unknowns? It is not an outlandish thought, as just about every jazz lover, including all the musicians, have their own stories about hearing some of the best music in this genre played by someone no one has ever heard of. By the mid-'50s, Baker's quartet with these players had developed incredible tightness via rehearsing and gigging, and had a sound that was considered the living end in some circles. If musicians can be allowed to be their own critics, these players do a good job of passing judgment in this excerpt from a Baker biography entitled Deep in a Dream: The Long Night of Chet Baker by James Gavin. The occasion was a double bill with Miles Davis. "We were scared to death," said bassist Carson Smith. "It was like the boys coming to play next to the men." The text continues, "After hearing Kenny Clarke, drummer Bob Neel started to feel inadequate back there. I began to think that maybe we weren't the greatest jazz band in the world."
Was the same Bob Neel responsible for co-writing one of the greatest songs in the history of music, "Daddy Was a Preacher, but Mama Was a Go Go Girl"? This ditty was recorded a few years after the Baker combo's zenith by one Joanne Neel, also listed as co-writer along with her...husband, brother, father? Despite the great interest in solving this problem on the part of modern historians, no further information has been uncovered about this song. ~ Eugene Chadbourne