Neil Dover: "I have a business that happens to be music"
Neil Dover is a living legend here on the Gulf Coast. He plays most bars and private parties and when you hear him you wonder why he hasn't make it big. Neil reflects on that question has the answer which applies to the thousands of struggling musicians throughout the country. But here on the coast Neil is loved by everyone an in our eye he is GOLD.
I’m from the extreme north east corner of Georgia. (Think Banjos and canoes and Saturday firewood crews.)
I sang before I talked according to my mama. Started playing guitar at about 12 and got a year of lessons when I was 15. Didn’t grow up with a television so I didn’t play video games, I banged on the guitar. My mama, God Bless Her, never tried to shut me up and I now know what a gift that was. She was super patient, cause I didn’t learn fast. I tried to play the banjo, piano, drums, electric guitar, really anything anybody left lying around. I used to record myself singing country songs on this double decker tape machine where you put tape over the holes? Remember when you would sit and record the Casey Kassum Top Forty countdown and play it all week? The first playlists. I’ve still got one of those countdown tapes with Salt N Peppa on it. Tapes so stretched it sounds like putting your finger on a vinyl record and slowing it down. Fun though. I sound like a little kid trying to sing, which I was. Pretty awful it is.
Anyway, I got double dog dared to join the chorus in the eighth grade and it turned out I could hold a pitch. Could’ve been embarrassing for a country boy to be in the chorus in rural Georgia but I apparently didn’t know better.
So I stayed in choirs til I graduated college with a BA in voice performance. Got my college paid for and there are not enough words to say thank you to Kathy Frakes, Bobby Ivey, David Volk, Wallace Hinson, and Barbara Jordan.
(Also, the soprano section is a great source of girls impressed with “your sensitive side.”)
Unfortunately there’s not a lot you can do with a BA in voice unless you want to move to New York which I didn’t. So I got a job driving a semi and there I’ll leave my story alone til 2011. Wound up in a different circumstance in life and needed to pay the bills and didn’t have any job skills really. So I visited my brother living in Fairhope Alabama and saw a band playing on the street for tips. They were having fun, which I’d had a dirth of, so I made friends with one of them, Jude Mansur, and she introduced me to a couple friends and they introduced me to a couple friends and bam, one afternoon somebody paid me to play for four hours for $75. I don’t remember if I was great or not but I do remember I showed up early and played my heart out and got hired again. It takes about ten of those a month to pay the rent on a little Fairhope apartment.
I’d been given a second chance at making happiness and I knew a second chance when it was knocking on my door. A line from one of my early songs goes, “you can’t get that mad unless you’ve had it that bad.” And the reverse was true for me, I’d had it rough and knew good when it showed up.
Fast forward. The years go by here and a few CDs got made, I meet thousands of awesome people who come to the Alabama Gulf Coast on vacation, about two thousand shows and gigs of various sizes later and I’ve made friends I can’t imagine not having had before. Between the Florabama, and people buying my CDs and T-shirt’s, and my wife Katie running Facebook and starting an Instagram page for me, I’m still in business.
Have you “been” to Nashville?
Musicians get asked this and it’s always a compliment .People are saying they like you and your music and think you should be trying to join the larger community of the music industry.
My response is always Thank You.
But to actually answer this question:
the music industry works on a matrix of money to spend and social media numbers. I started making music kind of late in life so my matrix numbers aren’t as high as a record label would need to be interested in me. And I’m not rich. So the answer to that question is,
Yes, I’ve been to Nashville. No, I’ve never “been” to Nashville. Nashville musicians work for free or even pay to play. I’m running a business so I can’t afford to play for free. The question is meant to spark a discourse on why I’m not played on the radio and why not. I actually am played on the smaller radio stations some. The Indys.
As I see it, The music industry is a well tuned machine, I have great respect for it, but being an industry it has to keep the big river of hits flowing. My music is less mainstream and more oxbow Lake I think.
Second most frequently asked question is, When’s your next cd coming out?
Even if it’s asked the very instant they just bought my latest cd it’s a compliment. They want more and I thank you for that! As an Indy musician it takes a lot to put a cd together.
My first cd, which is pretty raw recording wise, I wrote all of and played everything because I didn’t have any money to spend on it. It took six months. The next one I wrote almost all of and played everything and it took a year working a couple days a week because I still didn’t have any money to spend on it even though by the time I had a few songs written and I knew what they should kind of sound like I was lucky enough to be playing more. But not really making more.
The third cd kept dragging itself through my shows as possibles, like “hey guys see if you like this one” and popping it’s head up and giving me the raspberry tongue mostly. I spent three months working on the same couple of songs. Head meet wall, BanG!
Partly because there were different ways it could go, partly out of desperation at where the other songs where even coming from emotionally.
I’ve never been a part of a team doing a cd with a major label, so I don’t know what their process is. I don’t know if somebody knows what everything is supposed to sound like or if they just start playing and keep whatever happens. I would think it’s sometimes one, sometimes the other, and sometimes a bit of both. I got so clogged being every party of the equation
I finally moved the recording of my third cd “Atmosphere” to a studio in Hendersonville Tennessee. Mark Dreyer’s House where it finally was born. It’s got enough of my homegrown feel that it’s still my unique Gulf Coast country but with some real polish. We’ve done two in that studio now. They’re on iTunes and Spotify.
I’ll probably do some more stuff like the first two CDs at home because it gives a very tactile and intimate experience with each track. For instance, The harmonicas get sweaty and the reeds bend i
f you play them for hours on end. I have to soak them in a bowl of water to clean them and then shake them out and try to keep water out of the mics.
But it’s worth it to spend days working on the same part and weeks working on one song if it comes out with soul and turns into somebody’s favorite song that day because it says what they feel at that moment.
And there’s the answer to the last big question I get asked
What are you trying to do with music? Are you trying to “make it?” What’s “making it?” I just want to matter. I love seeing one of my T-shirt’s on somebody in the grocery store.
And thats not just about me, it’s about them buying a shirt from an independent musician with no record contract and no marketing firm. Somebody went out and bucked the system and bought something nobody spent marketing dollars to promote. I’m thankful to anybody who buys a cd or goes out looking for live music in any longitude. You’re an angel.
I sound like a rebel and I’m not.
I’m just one of the thousands of American small businesses and I make music.