vocalist who had the good fortune to be born in Nashville, Tennessee, and
made the most of it. He grew up
in and around The Grand Ole Opry, where his dad
sang with the Crook Brothers.
Neal made his debut on the Opry Stage at
the age of thirteen, playing the mandolin with the aforementioned
band. Uncle Sam called him to
duty as a young man and he enlisted in the army and served in the Korean
War. He came back to the States
a decorated hero and returned to the Grand Ole Opry,
where he played guitar with Wally Fowler’s Oak Quartet.
integral to the movement to attract the America Federation of Musicians to
Nashville, Tennessee. It is a
footnote that is overshadowed by the fact that he was also one of The Jordanaires.
In 1953, personnel changes abounded in the ranks of the gospel
group, and Gordon Stoker recruited Neal to be their lead singer and second
tenor, a position he would occupy for decades. They backed up Elvis Presley on some
of his early hits, like “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Hound
Dog”, and appeared with him in films such as King Creole, G.I. Blues,
and Kid Galahad.
This did not
keep them from recording with other artists: They appeared with Patsy Cline on
her 12 Greatest Hits, and could
be found backing the likes of Jimmy Dean, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Don Gibson,
Merle Haggard, Ferlin Husky, Stonewall Jackson,
Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Ricky Nelson, Webb Pierce, Jim Reeves, Marty
Robbins, and Kitty Wells.
From the late
1970s through the present day they have expended much of their time and
talent honouring Elvis Presley, who died in
1977. They recorded a pair of
tribute albums, The Jordanaires Sing Elvis’ Favorite Spirituals
and The Jordanaires
Sing Elvis’ Gospel Favorites, and even appeared on the German
tribute, Will Tura Zingt Elvis Presley. In 1985, Neal penned Elvis: A Golden Tribute.
It would not
be the last of his writings, or even his most famous. He is best remembered among
arrangers as the fellow who developed The Nashville Numbering System, which
takes numbers and assigns them to chords to facilitate the sight-reading
process in the studio. In June
1988, The Nashville Number
System: An Aid to Playing by Ear, was made
available to the masses.
‘80s and ‘90s, much of The Jordanaires’
catalogue became available on CDs such as Patsy Cline’s 12 Greatest Hits and Showcase—with The Jordanaires, Hank Snow’s The Singing Ranger, Vol. 3, and America’s Song Butchers:
The Weird World of Homer & Jethro.
April 2000, Neal died of a coronary at his home in Brentwood,
Tennessee. He was buried in
Woodlawn Memorial Park in Nashville.
A year later, he was enshrined in the Country Music Hall of Fame,
along with his fellow Jordanaires.