Re-Neal Francis/Changes Pts. 1 & 2

Subject: Hey, it’s Neal Francis


I was very surprised and honored to read your reaction to my song “Changes, Pts. 1 & 2.”  I have been aware of you for several years now. My band and I listened to your podcast on long van rides, and we were thoroughly entertained by your erudite, albeit sometimes cynical, musings on the music industry. I never imagined we’d be the type of act to come across your radar, let alone be the subject of your newsletter. We used to joke about taking your advice and “pivoting the act towards EDM.” Yet lo and behold! I’m grateful for the nod.

I’m glad you noticed I don’t really give a shit about trends, making money, or any of that…. Grateful to say that most of the time I’m concerned with creating music I’d like to throw on my own turntable (yes, I mainly listen to music that way). Opinions on his music aside, one thing that always resonated with me about Frank Zappa was his lack of concern for what others expected of him. I consider the record I’m currently working on a significant departure from the influences displayed on Changes, and I’m at peace with that. What’s the point of the struggle if I’m not going to create stuff that excites me? It would be easier to work at the UPS store, which is what I did before making records.

We don’t have deep pockets. We just decide we’re going to do things to a certain standard and make it happen…. We’ve been blessed with a lot of luck along the way, and we were prepared to make the best of those opportunities. I’m lucky to have bandmates that don’t mind loading an antique key rig in and out of the trailer every night. A Nord Electro would be more practical. They help me do it because it sounds bad ass and it’s more fun. And I’m grateful to recognize that I’ve already “made it.” My work and my passion are one and the same.

Anyway, I’ll cease rambling here. I hope you get a chance to read this and connect for a chat down the line.  I think we probably dig a lot of the same music and it would be fun to talk.  Thanks again for listening and taking the time to share your thoughts with your audience.


Neal Francis O’Hara



As an avid reader of your letter for the past twelve or thirteen years, I was pleasantly surprised to see your latest missive about Neal Francis (I’m his manager). It’s so refreshing that you get it–Neal is an original, a true artist, and absolutely someone that follows his own artistic vision without trying to chase current trends.

Neal and I grew up in the same part of the Chicago suburbs and reconnected in 2017 after he got sober. I was winding down my own rock n’ roll dreams with my band, and Neal was just starting his solo career. He told me he had some songs in the can and I asked if I could take a listen. When I heard these songs (“These Are The Days,” “This Time,” “She’s A Winner”), something clicked. I heard all the influences–Leon Russell, The Meters, Allen Toussaint–and it connected immediately for me. We met up, talked about how to put out your own record, and eventually he sighed and said something that so many DIY artists think: “Man, I just really need a manager.” My wheels started spinning and I thought, “why not me?” I’d put in my 10,000 hours managing my own band, but had never tried doing it for someone else. I’ve read your letter long enough to know the golden rules (don’t ask for help until you are ready, build it and if you deserve it they will come) but the truth is that so many artists never get over the hump or get any help from anyone besides themselves. It’s so uncommon for new artists to have BOTH business acumen and to be amazing at writing, arranging, singing, playing, etc. Sometimes you just need to be lucky and meet someone.

We’ve had luck along the way, signing with Joshua Knight from Paradigm and Phil Egenthal (now at Mint Talent Group) after Neal’s very first show; touring with the Black Pumas right before they broke big; and hit some snags. 2020 was going to be huge for Neal with festivals, multiple European and Japanese tours, and more. But there are no deep pockets here. Karma Chief (a subsidiary of Colemine Records) is a small but mighty label in Ohio, and they’ve been great to us despite limited resources. We’ve maxed out our share of credit cards and kept it skinny as much as possible. Similar to a lot of American families these days we’ve skated by from check to check, hoping that somehow we’ll be able to figure out the latest crisis without overdrawing the account. What holds it together is belief in the music and the project.

After years of slogging it out with my own music to relatively little acclaim, it has amazed me how much a good song and unique production (those horns! that vibe!) will do for you. Sure, “Changes, Pts. 1 & 2” doesn’t have a million streams–yet–but it has opened so many doors for Neal just because people respond to it, because it sounds different, and because it transports you somewhere else.

Neal is an uncompromising artist. No digital keyboards on stage–he tours with a Keith Emerson sized keyboard rig including a Hammond Organ and Leslie, Clavinet, and Yamaha CP70. He won’t track his records to a computer—analog tape only. He’s single minded in his drive and ambition. Nothing, save sobriety, is more important than the music. Sobriety and an Irish Catholic upbringing has given him both a deep sense of gratitude and a foreboding, guilty fear that the other shoe is going to drop and that everything will go away. It’s this combination of gratitude and ambition, great songwriting and an artistic vision, that has Neal on track for a long and fruitful career. He’s in the studio now working on his sophomore album, in fact.

Again, thanks for listening and writing about Neal.

Oh, the solo after the first chorus of “Changes, Pts. 1 & 2” is actually Neal playing his Clavinet modified with a whammy bar. Check it out:


Brendan O’Connell

The Byrd Agency


Great to hear Neal Francis caught your ear and you’re hooked like I am!


I was hipped to Neal in October of 2019, my friend Oliver Roman was playing guitar for him on a short tour. I saw a video Oliver’s dad posted online from a club show and was blown away, I told Oliver I wanted to connect with Neal as soon as I could for Korg Keyboards. Players like Neal, that play keys and lead a band are rare these days! He connected me the next day and we’ve been in touch ever since.


A few months later he was in LA for a show at the Moroccan Lounge downtown and I wasn’t going to miss it. I had already been in touch with his manager (Brendan O’Connell) as well and we were all going to meet up before the show to hang out & chat gear, it was exactly one year ago today actually (3/4/20), I know that date specifically because my car was broken into while I was at that show and it was the 2nd to last show I saw before lockdown!


Anyway, Neal is a real deal talent and a good person! His knowledge of music, music history, production, keyboards & synths were clear right away, and it all comes out in his playing. Plus, as I mentioned, he’s a good person (I work with a lot of artists at or below his “professional level” who think they are god’s gift to the world, Neal is isn’t like that at all). Brendan (also a great guy!), Neal and I geeked out for a long time on all the music we dig, gear, playing, etc. It’s been great to get to know these guys better, Neal’s got some of our latest and greatest and has been sharing music & videos, he even did a fun IG takeover for us from his “bunker” last April too!


From my understanding there are even bigger things coming for Neal, and I’m excited for him!


Thanks for shining a light on a great talent!!




PS – Dr John’s “Back By The River” & “Such A Night” are fucking amazing songs (among others)! Don’t sell him short!


I had Neal Francis and his band play at my house last fall in Madison, WI.  Outside on my dock.  They took the gig because they wanted to play.  And they turned a socially distanced neighborhood party into a dance party within seconds.   This band is infectious.  Most of my friends and neighbors had not heard one note of Neal and his band.   By the end of the first song the entire neighborhood was dancing.  Prior to getting sober and getting focused.  He was a part of a band in Chicago called The Heard.

Neal and his band are focused. They mean business.  In my opinion, his sobriety isn’t a marketing gimmick.  He had to hit bottom to understand what it takes to cut through the noise.  He chose sobriety, practice and the groove.


Nathan Reuter


Almost exactly 1-year to the day (3/8/20) was one of the last shows me and a lot of my SF music compatriots got to see before being locked down: Neal Francis working up a sweat and the crowd into a frenzy at Brick and Mortar in the Mission.

David Rubin


Neil Frances opened for the Black Pumas in Downtown Los Angeles a couple of months before Covid. The energy they brought to that show was infectious. A couple of months later, the night before Gov Newsom shut California down, he played in a small bar in my hometown here in Fullerton, CA. They played as hard and with as much enthusiasm in that small bar with maybe 30 people present as they did at the sold out Black Pumas concert. When we get back to normal, and can start going to shows again, you must see them live. They do not disappoint.

Troy Clem III


Bob – Great tune…it’s really got that vibe that says, “Yea, I know it’s good”.  But, it rides on the bass line.  Listen again, everything comes off the bass line. It is just terrific.
Thanks for sharing.

Jeff Douglas



Can’t say how happy I am to see you promoting Neil Francis to your audience.  I discovered his music through some sort of alchemical algorithmic magic in 2019 and was fortunate enough to catch his band live at the Park West in Chicago shortly before Covid shut everything down.  Honestly, they KILLED it live.  Every song in their set, top to bottom.  Super funky.  They were only the opener, so most people in the building had no idea who they were, but the entire room was electric for their whole set.

When I first heard Changes, I thought Apple Music had somehow inserted something from the 70s into a playlist full of contemporary music.  The retro production is so warm.  Check out the entire album, it’s pretty much funky and catchy top to bottom.

Nick Noyes


Hey Bob ~ The jam scene has already started to lift Neal up. He’s going to end up selling a lot of tickets to live music fanatics who crave that groove and an ability to stretch out. Vibes for days!

Ari Fink // SiriusXM
Phish Radio / DMB Radio / Jam On


Absolutely love Neal!

Witnessed his performance at the Moroccan Lounge a year ago to the day tomorrow (March 4, 2020) It’s was incredible!

His music has the ability to truly enhance your spirit!

Enjoyed reading about your initial reaction. I highly recommend digging deeper into Colemine Record’s catalogue.

Mark Foley


Damn you Sir!
I can’t stop listening to Neal Francis. I bought the album on iTunes for the better quality and every track’s a banger, but the subject track is outstanding.

Thanks for the pointer, I sincerely hope that you’ve given his career a huge boost, because boy does he deserve it. In spades!


Peter Brentnall


Yeah! Cool song!

Tom Hedtke


thanks for the tip….great song and I love the horns….

Michael Rosenblatt


Colemine put out the first Durand Jones & The Indications record and continues to release our 45’s, even Aaron Frazer’s solo with Dan Auerbach. Terry Cole has a great ear.

Dean Raise


Hi Bob. Just listened to “Changes pts. 1 & 2” based on your recommendation. It’s… not bad! Reminds me of a watered-down Shuggie Otis groove. And to my ears, the horns sound like a simplified version of Stevie’s “Superstition” riff. Nice to see kids influenced by the classics at least.

But you’re right about the weak lead vocal. Then again, Shuggie had the same problem, no?

David Kovenetsky


Killer!  Kind of a Bill Withers meets Floyd with the Memphis Horns, but totally original.  Thanks, you save me a lot of time.

John Brodey


Great to see you’re on board with Neal – that album is incredible & he has the live chops to back it up. Had the pleasure of interviewing him about Leon, too.

You gotta dig into Karma Chief/Colemine more – you won’t be disappointed.

Mike Fordham


Excellent…Thank you

Edmund J. Kelly


Absolutely great track
Thanks Bob

Dennis van Leeuwen


Good tune

Alan Fenton


You’re right. Great great song. Refreshing.

Max Gunther


Hey, Bob,

“…from Ohio of all places,…”

The key to honing your craft and art today is the same as it ever was: open out of town.

Larry Butler


Changes Pts. 1 & 2 is so damn good! It’s electric and alive… and there’s so much analog warmth. The horns. The handclaps. He reminds me of Jim O’Rourke. And like James Gang. How is that possible?

Jason Maurer


My ONLY complaint about this song is the horrible drum sound, Bob…of course, it could be intentional too.

Marshall Block


Great recommendation!  Played it once – got it. Played it the second time – loved it.  Played it a third time – shared with all my friends.  This is too good not to be known!

– Brian Hobson


A lot of the great Allen Toussaint in there for sure (the album especially)…

Frank Caiafa


Colemine records is the newest “Daptone” records

Love, Peace and Soul

Dave Moskal


cool tune! thanks for the tip.

i dunno man, if the “music business” has no place for this, those entities are making themselves irrelevant. as i get older, i catch myself wondering why i didn’t move to an industry town 20 years ago. then i remember why: “what, so i could be a fucking sellout??!” 😉 growing closer to your non-comm description by the day, speaking of making oneself irrelevant. luckily we’re comfortable.

jerry granelli’s thoughts to a young creative music workshop classmate of mine, who was worried about grants, social media etc: “don’t let THEM dictate to YOU what YOUR practice is.”

they can’t take that awaaaaay from me.

Ryan Brown


I’m on the bus! From the first note of Changes I was hooked. Thanks for all that you do.

-Anastasia Karel


Hi Bob, great discovery, I really liked Neal Francis “changes”,  a mix of “Year of the Cat” “green Onions” and a touch of Chicago like horns.  But this is why it won’t go anywhere, I’m 76 years old .

alan segal  san diego


On your recommendation I spent the .99 on Changes Parts 1&2. I like the tune but I have to agree, a real singer would have brought it to life. Personally I think it is retro. It sounds like Billy Preston went down to Muscle Shoals in the early 70’s and did a record with Eddie Hinton. Nothing bad there but truth be told, Ray Lamontagne did something similar but way better with the tune Three More Days.

Irv Berner


Thrilled to see you recognize Neal Francis, undoubtedly one of the brightest talents in music today— someone who, as you acknowledge, has the rare opportunity to bridge generations with SONGS (what a novel concept) that pay homage to the past while bringing millennials to the party. Is it possible we could have a new Master of Space & Time?

The only thing you have wrong is that the whole Changes album is a masterstroke, worthy of repeat listens. And just wait until you hear what he’s been cooking up in the pandemic…

All best,

Jesse Lauter


Truly killer track, have been listening to it for a bit. You left out the best part (in my super specific opinion) – the absolutely killer bass line! Drives the song.

Lawrence P. Lander


so sad you didn’t get into Low Cut Connie. “Private Lives” is a great tread.
but thanks for sending Neal Francis over. also huge Blues Brothers fan over here.


Alex Kuppi


I couldn’t get through it once. Dullsville, not Funky Town.

Kevin Kiley


I found Neal Francis right after tripping over Colemine artist Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio a few months ago. Fantastic. Colemine Records is putting out some really great stuff. Check out Pearl Charles on Kanine Records. Her new album “Magic Mirror” is retro-magic.

Rob Warden


Oh, yeah — this was in my DW some time ago, and I listened to the whole album and liked it. But then mostly you forget to listen to it later, and it recedes to oblivion…

John Hughes


You hit the nail on the head with Neal Francis. Francis is a tremendous keyboard player and the band is stellar. In fact his band also backs up David Shaw from the Revivalist. There are lots of these types of bands in NOLA right now. You typically can’t get a local gig without horns. Like you said, tremendous songs, but the voice is eh. Sadly, this type of artist only has a home in the jam band community these days. I can picture a young Robert Palmer circa 1974 (Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley) giving his songs the gusto they need.

R. Teitel


I like Neal Francis “Changes Pts 1 & 2” as well.  Although I sort of hear the Pink Floyd Another Brick In The Wall Pt 2  guitar comparison you cited primarily in the lead guitar, do you know who he really borrows from arrangement/production wise on this one?  Harry Wayne Casey & Richard Finch.  He absolutely borrowed from them beyond mere chance.  RIght down to the organ pads (think George McRae “Rock Your Baby,” which they produced).  The drum part is reminiscent of that old track as well.  The descending horn arrangement line cops from the descending horn line in “Let It Go Pt. 1” by KC & The Sunshine Band.  There’s also maybe a little influence production wise from Commodores “Machine Gun” as well.  The point is: he borrows heavily, production wise, from classic Disco for this cool track, but mellows it out for an otherwise soulful approach to the song, vibe wise.

Greg Debonne


I loved “Changes, Pts. 1 & 2” as well, from my first listen, but to me it seems more derivative of the Bee Gees. The rhythm guitar drives the riff. As for the Dr, John influence, I don’t hear it. There is a bit of Crescent City syncopation on the piano, but that’s all. I have had the pleasure of looking over Mac’s shoulder while he shredded the piano. As a New Orleans guy, I hate to agree with you that he is a better player than his material. But the real influence here seems to be the late, great Allen Toussaint, especially the horn arrangements. Allen was a dear friend and would let me play duets with him, experiences I will always treasure. Whether or not he was a better piano player than Mac is an old argument, but his horn arrangements are near perfection. Allen would have liked this song. I only wish I could have shared it with him.

Thank you!
Dr Bill Coleman


Longtime reader, first time responder. Thank you very much for discovering & sharing Neal Francis.

I was almost one year ahead of you on the Francis adoption curve, as he was the final pre-Covid concert that I saw. Some buddies had seen him before and raved about his talent, but it was a Sunday night (March 8 to be exact). Even with our limited Covid knowledge at the time, it felt a little dicey standing in a crowd. By the end of the night, I was so glad that I had.

Francis and his band brought energy, talent and orchestration unlike anything in the current scene. It was seemingly lifted from the 1970s, combining Chicago type rock, funk, jazz and storytelling.

The venue was pretty small, several levels below The Fillmore on the SF scene, but the crowd was really into the vibe and you could tell Francis did not want to stop. At one point, late in the show he said there was no reason to stop because “tomorrow is work from home.” For many of us, that was actually true. Monday, March 9 was the first day of work from home and just two days before the Covid dominos fell on March 11 — Trump press conference shutting down European travel, Tom Hanks testing positive, Rudy Gobert of Utah Jazz testing positive, NBA season shutting down with citywide shelter in place following days later.

It always struck me that a touring musician made the “work from home” observation, but he was right. I am not sure, but I suspect that was also the end of Francis’ 2020 tour.

A few months ago, I pulled up Francis on Spotify and saw the “Artist Fundraising” make a contribution button. I immediately sent $25 to Francis. Like the entire music and broader entertainment industry, 2020 was not as planned — no tours, no encores, no loyal fans rewarded, no new fans courted. Still, the gift of that March 8 show was priceless. I am forever a Neal Francis fan, and so glad he crossed your radar.

I have joked with my friends that we never should have been at that show on March 8. There certainly had to be Covid in the venue. That was nearly one year ago, we are still working from home, there are still no shows, and I am so very glad that I discovered Neal Francis that night.

Keep doing what you do, all the best,

David Toner


Check out Neal song “how have l lived” demo , came up on my discovery weekly as well. I had similar reaction to that song. Called his agent Josh Knight instantly to offer all my help

Don Strasburg

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