Eliza Neals- Up close and Ready to Rock Long Branch

JimHartzell ElizaNeals

Eliza, tell us about your musical background. 

I started out singing and performing with my sisters and eventually was told by my dad, “you have to get a degree to live under this roof.” So, I chose Opera studies and graduated from downtown Detroit’s Wayne State University (WSU) with a Bachelor of Arts degree, minor in piano. Touring with WSU concert chorale performing in Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Belgium, England, and UK’s Glastonbury Festival as a Mezzo Soprano Opera singer was thrilling but not enough for me, eventually “the blues chose Eliza.”

Back in Detroit sitting in and performing at clubs like: Floods, Old Detroit, Burt’s Warehouse, The Rhinoceros, Soup Kitchen, Bakers Keyboard Lounge and more, I honed my voice, signature style and piano chops. A chance meeting with the Motown Legend Barrett Strong Jr. led to me signing to his record label, learning to produce and arrange (vocals to strings) in his multi-million-dollar studio. Barrett and I became good friends; he showed me the many hidden secrets of a Motown trained singer, songwriter, and performer. The previous artist’s Barrett Strong produced were Marvin Gaye and Gladys Night, making me the last Motown trained R&B vocalist from Detroit. I have credits as co-songwriter and co-producer on “Stronghold II” Barrett Strong’s last album.

What inspired you to pursue a career in music?

I started out singing at a young age with my sisters, playing piano and spinning records. My Dad would play the guitar to us kids, it was cute, my father’s friends had a ‘jug band’ and would watch them party. Later I went to Armenian church dances and became inspired by my indigenous heritage via genocide. I performed in many bands, some my own some others toured a bit, did the wedding thing, and played all kinds of music. Later, I learned from Barrett Strong after college, that there was a path as a songwriter, and you did not have to be “on the road 24/7” to make it.

How would you describe your musical style of genre?

I’m in Blues-rock, a genre under ‘American roots, Blues music’ that incorporates elements of early blues, modern blues, classic rock, punk rock and soul. People that love “The Rolling Stones,” “Bad Company,” “Aerosmith,” and “Led Zeppelin” will relate to my strong vocal Detroit power Blues-rock piano based electrified sound.

Tell us about any memorable or defining moments in your musical journey so far? 

I was invited to perform on the island of Mustique by Blues HOF legend Mr. Joe Louis Walker (thanks Joe). Little did I know it is literally ‘Fantasy Island’ from 80’s TV show of the rich and famous. So, one night I’m onstage performing my set, singing my heart out and I come off stage. Standing in the crowd is Mick Jagger. He says “It was a great set you have a voice I soon won’t forget,” I nearly blacked out only to find out he was also doing his famous dance. He’s such a gentleman along with everyone there, its surreal. https://www.instagram.com/p/B7yPzY-njyF/ 

What challenges have you faced as a professional musician, and how did you overcome them?

Let’s start with I’m a naturally curvy blonde fit woman who plays blues-rock-n-roll-soul and imagine what could happen. I have been discriminated via sexism plus bigotry, you name it, it has happened. I have had a hard time getting booked as people don’t believe I truly can be what I am and draw a crowd. My twitter handles say “what you did not believe could exist…” I learned to go where I would be loved so I went and kept going, eventually everyone will find out but until then, it’s their loss not mine. I’m on my own label “E-H Records LLC” since 2015 and have had sixteen songs on SiriusXM, every day is a blessing. I know to build on your success, stay humble, be kind to people because they had a hard time just like you.

Are there any artists or musicians in particular who have influenced your work? 

Yes, I have been influenced by Detroit music first from the ‘Queen of Soul’ Aretha Franklin (piano player), Marvin Gaye, Barrett Strong (piano player), The Temptations, Four Tops, Edwin Star, Undisputed Truth to start. Then of course classic rock Fleetwood Mac, Journey, Jackson Browne (piano player), Doobie Brothers, Heart, Pat Benatar, Elton John (piano player), Bad Company, Tina Turner, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Foreigner plus more. In traditional Blues B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix, Howling Wolf, Skip James, Big Mama Thornton, Ruth Brown (piano player), Muddy Waters, Koto Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, Marion Harris, Janis Joplin, Etta James and more. Turn on the radio I’m influenced even today by my contemporaries.

How do you approach the process of creating and composing music?

Some songs take a day, an hour or 10 minutes to write vocal and piano. Others three or four years, almost all of them performed live before being recorded. Getting audience feedback helps craft a song often into a new better one. Music for me now arrives almost every day, I can write and complete a song or part of a song and put it together with others. A grand piano has all the notes, so I compose each part, guitar, drums, bass, strings etc. to the song. Sometimes I’m dreaming, wake up and write it down, other times I’m rehearsing and literally ‘strike a chord’ on piano that reflects a new song. I have many songs with special guests from guitar greats to piano masters, each song is its own universe. If I write them at the same time, they have a theme that gets released as an album, latest 2022 is “Badder to the Bone.” For “Candy Store” my 2023 single it is following my previous 2021 single “Sugar Daddy.” I only create my final recorded product on vintage equipment and rare microphones to craft my signature analog Blues-rock sound. I have also written, arranged, and produced in every genre including opera, hip hop, country, soul, R&B, Motown, rock and blues, so knowing where to start plus end is very important.

Can you tell us about any upcoming projects or collaborations that you’re excited about? 

I always have upcoming projects but at this time I can’t talk about them.

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians who are just starting their journey?

Advice that’s always a hard one. Take criticism well and use it but try not to get advice from people like your mom, brother, and friends. It can be biased. Criticism will mold you either higher or lower depending on your personality, so stay positive. Most of the time it will be you having to deal with many issues so get ready to be tough with yourself. Treat the music business like two separate entities, they are not a unit, be smart in each. Success is not a gold award, it’s literally up to you to keep a roof over your head and food on the table. Stick with it, create often, put it out, take the good with the bad, then quit your day job when you can, but don’t quit your dreams. Join JSJBF, find a mentor, make friends, learn, and grow every day.

How do you balance your personal life with the demands of a music career?

Stay healthy, focus on your day to day, have a schedule, look ahead, plan it out, it’s not a mystery. Yeah, I party cause its Friday or Saturday night, then I treat myself right the rest of the time. Gotta workout early and often, being a musician, a power vocalist is something that requires time, so everyone has the same 24 hours, I use it wisely. Touring can be nine to sixteen hours in airports, buses, vans along with load-in, perform, load-out, you will remember your workout. I’m an independent artist, label owner in the 21st century creating what lies ahead so the demands I put on myself, I fulfill.