Vernon Neilly & Friends

'A Tribute to Stevie Wonder'

(Boosweet records)

MARK: 77/100


Let's face it: the Bahamas are not popular for giving the world important musicians, as they're usually associated to a tax paradise and a land where all men try to make money with athletics. But everything changes and the new era of guitarists from that archipelago sees the advent of Vernon Neilly, so a short biography is necessary to approach his music more easily.
He was 10 when he started playing around with guitars and was just 14 when he started playing in his first real performing band. His musical career spans over 30 years and in that time he has been in the company of people who are legends in the music business, such as Jaco Pastorious, Pat Metheny, “Narada” Michael Walden, and Hiram Bullock. Vernon worked at the #1 radio station in South Florida WEDR(99Jamz) as an air personality and also started playing with a Miami based group called “Unit III” who had a regional hit single, which officially launched his professional career as a musician/artist/producer. A long cry from those humble beginnings Vernon added a new title to his resume as label owner of his own internationally distributed company, Boosweet Records, an independent label based in Los Angeles, Ca. that has been releasing products successfully since 1999 on the internet.

At this point Vernon has recorded with, toured with, produced for some of the most legendary names in the music business such as the late blues legend Johnny Guitar Watson, as well as Pee Wee Crayton, Mary Wells, Etta James, Temptations ,Ollie Woodson, Charles Wright, Leon Haywood, Charles “Merry Christmas” Brown, “The Dramatics”, Motown hit producer Norman Whitfield, rap star Warren G, Howard Hewitt, Teena Marie, Cuba Gooding Sr. (Main Ingredient), The Coasters, Drifters, George Clinton, and too many more to list.

Vernon’s diverse and captivating style of music has attracted hundreds of thousands of fans worldwide. The fact that his recognizable celebrity status has increased is evident by the who’s – who list of blue chip endorsers that include long-time supporter Seymour Duncan pick-ups, and many other major companies that look for only the best artists to represent them.

Vernon’s career went to another level with the release of his CD “G-Fire”, which garnered a prestigious Jazz award. This award was given for having a top 20 most played contemporary Jazz release at commercial radio 2003-2004. The success of that album was so substantial that it allowed him to sign a multi-year national retail deal for his label with Synergy Distribution. The following record, “G-Fire II”, also won the distinguished Jazz award making Vernon a 2 time consecutive winner, placing him aside contemporary respected genre artists such as Herbie Hancock, Gerald Albright, Mindi Abair, Everett Harp, George Benson, Lee Ritenour, etc.

Songs from his CD’s were used on programs like MTV’s Made, and BET’s “Jazz Impressions”, but this time Vernon wanted to do something different, and instead of a "G-Fire III", his new CD “A Tribute To Stevie Wonder”, under the monicker Vernon Neilly & Friends, was recorded involving musicians from Europe, South America, and North America: Greg Howe (Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, N-Sync, Enrique Iglesias), Kiko Loureiro (Angra,Tarja, guest for Carlos Lichman and countless more), Jazz guitar sensation U-Nam, Michael Paulo (Al Jarreau, Earth Wind & Fire, Peter White), Bill Hudson (Cellador, Power Quest, Circle II Circle, Coldera, Fresh Meat), Grammy Award winning bassist Juan Nelson (Vesta Williams, Ben Harper), and others paying homage to the musical world of Stevie Wonder.

He also produced and mastered the limited edition 18 artist compilation disc "United by Tone" seeing the partecipation of the most notable names in the guitar world: to mention Slash, Papa Roach's Jerry Horton, Jennifer Batten (Jeff Beck, and others), Gary Hoey, Jimmy Bruno would suffice and of course a track from himself, "Nassau Nights", dedicated to his Bahamian origins, altho he was born at Clark Air Base in the Philippines.

Extending his career to acting, Vernon can also be seen on the big screen, TV, and DVD in 3 major film company releases, Universals “Along Came Polly”, Warner Bros. “Starsky and Hutch”, and he recently participates in Columbia Pictures “Walk Hard” . Vernon has also appeared in the UPN Network’s hit television sitcom “One On One”, and “Girlfriends”, both programs that are now in syndication internationally.

Vernon is one of only a handful of musicians in the world to have both a signature guitar manufactured for him bearing his name, and a signature guitar string, called respectively called the Tagima VN-1 signature guitar, and Giannini Vernon Neilly Power String.

This introduction was necessary to those who usually log on to this website, as Jazz is not a genre we frequently deal with and some of the musicians present here had to prostitute themselves by playing as sessionmen for the worst Pop musicians or singers real music lovers can't but despise. Yet, when the musical quality and the skills are so high - and I'm saying this with a totally unbiassed view without being influenced by the importance of the guitarist's career - it is rightful to make an exception, all the more reason when there are guest musicians involved with Rock and Metal. Yes, you'll definitely get more than one surprise and grounds for interest in some of the songs contained in this third full-length if you like Rock and not only extreme styles.
"Boogie on Reggae Woman Instrumental" is not a tight track like several openers of a great deal of albums, but it's on the right direction thanks to a nice guitar solo by axe guest Greg Howe, wha wha parts and a slapped bass in good shape. Decidedly a smart start.
"I Wish" has more punch and feeling of Rock environments; read the notes and you'll guess why: a Mr. Loureiro does an awesome work on this instrumental composition along with the fat bass and the smooth classy jazzy drum patterns. To make this song a masterpiece, a 70s-like keyboards solo has been added to the central portion of the track. Awesome stuff, dudes!
I really don't understand the bad reviews about "Superstition", the highlight of the record with no doubts; Bill Dudson alternates moving and groovy riffs while the drums are fucken granitic. It's impossible to imagine that this Judas Priest-influenced song was a Stevie Wonder's song in origin! The guitar solos are perfect and even made me think of Marty Friedman or Yngwie Malmsteen. No more words needed.
Things change completely with "Sir Duke", a danceable Funky rock with horns protagonists. This is an eclectic enough song, suitable for background while working, driving on a free motorway or making love; the licks and the solo by Brazilian guitar wizard Miguel Mega add a plus to the strength of the piece.
The most faithful cover version of the 10 composing this platter, "Isn't She Lovely", is listenable and has good vocals, but at the same time it is the least interesting one for this reason. I mean, not only has it been covered a good number of times before, but it's also the only one that goes against the spirit of the record, which is to render the originals different and customized.
Absolutely adorable, the performances of the guitar and the bass in "I Was Made to Love You", as well as the keyboards interventions, go beyond what many average acclaimed musicians are able to create. Unfortunately the drums were mixed a tad low to allow the romantic vocals to stand out, nevertheless it's so lively that you forget this tiny flaw soon. This time it's U-Nam to rule with his magic jazzy guitar plot. Another remarkable Pop/Jazz song leaving place to some short vocals in the end.
Kiko Loureiro appears again in "Don't You Worry Bout A Thing" and his styleis immediately distinguishable; excellent is the drumwork, not invading but fairly powerful to satisfy a rocker's ears! The interlacement between the two musicians is perfectly symbiotical from the first to the last second.
The mouth-organ characterizes the beginning of "For Once in My Life", whereas the rest is based on the energetic vocals of Christopher Clark; a demerit goes to the female backing vocals, boring and foreseeable; they ruin the song, along with the ending drum parts, so easy not to be able to fill the song enough.
"Boogie on Reggae Woman" is proposed again in a longer version, this time with vocals effected by a talk box. Strange but effective song after all.
On the other hand, the closer "Isn't She Lovely", this time instrumental, is preferred to the previous sung version and is also the only composition without guest musicians.

9 tracks out of 10 showing songs by Stevie Wonder so diverse from the original ones like you never heard before. If you love that artist or some of the guests or Vernon's old records, go buy this record without hesitation. It'll make you spend 42 minutes in a funny way in the company of a hell of legendary musicians. Life is tough these days, so why not relax once in a while from harder bands? You'll surely love them more after listening to this record, because our days are full of contrasts and emotions differ day by day and during the day. So my advice is to use this CD in all comfy situations, while when you're angry, depressed or about to accomplish a tough session of fitness training at a gym or a park, then Heavy metal is what suits best. I'm sure it works the same for almost everybody, so making your discography more various with "A Tribute to Stevie Wonder" seems a smart move to me.

MARKUS GANZHERRLICH - August 20th, 2009

Line-up on this record:
Vernon Neilly - vocals, guitars
Carlos Zema, Christopher Clark, Fabyan Irving - guest vocalists
Greg Howe, Kiko Loureiro, U'nam, Michael Paulo
, Bill Hudson, Miguel Mega - guest guitarists

Official sites:

-G-Fire (CD - 2004)
-G-Fire II (CD - 2006)
-A Tribute to Stevie Wonder (CD - 2009)