Aaron Neville's Son Details Getting Sober, Helping Others

By David Konow 11/20/18

“Keith [Richards] hated that I was smoking crack,” Neville recalled. “He’d look at me like, ‘What’s wrong with you? Get it together.’”

Aaron Neville's son Ivan discussed sobriety and giving back at a recovery center.
Photo via YouTube

Ivan Neville, the son of singer Aaron Neville, grew up with music in his blood in New Orleans. A prolific musician, Neville has played in Keith Richards’ band the X-Pensive Winos and The Spin Doctors.

Sober for over 20 years, Neville is speaking out about his recovery as well as helping other musicians.

According to the Miami Herald, Neville recently shared his journey to sobriety at Imagine Recovery, a treatment center in New Orleans. The event was sponsored by Send Me a Friend, an organization launched by guitarist Anders Osborne to help other musicians in recovery. (Send Me a Friend is a network of sober people that watch over musicians to keep them away from temptation when they play gigs.)

Neville said he first smoked a joint when he was 11 years old. By the time he turned 18, he was regularly drinking and using drugs. Neville ended up playing on the Rolling Stones album Voodoo Lounge and even had a shot at joining the band. The Winos opened for the Stones at Giants Stadium, and if Neville played well, he could have landed a lucrative gig playing with Mick and Keith.

Instead, he passed out backstage from drinking and abusing cocaine, and missed the gig. “It was a big blunder,” he confessed. “I blew it.” At the Imagine Recovery event, Neville shared a photograph that was taken backstage before he passed out. “I look green. So out of it.”

Neville’s drug use even worried Keith Richards. “Keith hated that I was smoking crack,” Neville recalled. “He’d look at me like, ‘What’s wrong with you? Get it together.’”

It took several rehab stints before Neville finally got clean at a program in Pasadena, California. He checked in on August 14, 1998, did 28 days, and has been sober ever since.

“I’ve never had nothing stronger than a Tylenol or Advil,” he says today. “It was what they call the Big Surrender.”

Neville was afraid to re-enter the music business when he got sober. This is an issue that Send Me a Friend helps other artists with as well. Initially, Neville was scared he wouldn’t be creative without drugs and alcohol, a common fear for musicians in recovery.

“After first getting sober, I was like, ‘How am I going to play? How am I going to be able to write songs?’ Then I got a clear mind and I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s how you do it. I can think and feel (stuff). It’s all there. It’s always been there.’”

And when Neville went on the road with The Spin Doctors, he mapped out where the 12-step meetings were on the tour route. “I was prepared,” he says. “I knew the kind of situations I might be walking into.”

Neville was helped in his sobriety by Harold Owens, the senior director of MusiCares. Owens and Neville then helped guide Anders Osborne when he was ready to get sober himself.

As Osborne confessed, “In the last year or so of my use, I kept reaching out to people. When you’re coming down or you’re feeling really depressed, you isolate a lot, but you also throw out these little calls for help. Ivan was one of my calls pretty regularly… He took a couple of my calls while he was standing onstage. That shows you the dedication to helping each other that the program has.”

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.