Pamela McNeill Bio
Minneapolis singer and songwriter Pamela McNeill has been called one of the music industry’s best-kept secrets. But with her new CD, “Hurtsville, USA,” and a growing reputation in Nashville, it looks like Minnesota is going to have to get used to sharing her.
Pamela puts a new twang in the 12 original songs on “Hurtsville, USA,” her fifth CD, thanks to her work in the country music capital with songwriters like Bobby E. Boyd, who won a Grammy in 2004 for Rascal Flatts’ “Bless the Broken Road” and has written hits for artists like Alabama, Aaron Tippin and Martina McBride.
Now major stars like Reba McEntire are interested in her songs, Buffy Lawson of Bombshell fame has already recorded one of “Hurtsville’s” tracks, and an ever-widening circle of fans is wrapping its arms around Pamela’s songwriting and performing.
Nashville is discovering what artists like Yanni, Survivor guitarist Jim Peterik and her devoted Midwestern fans have known for years: Pamela brings a unique sound, special warmth and gut-level sincerity to every song she writes and every show she plays.
Pamela spent the time between the September 2014 release of “Hurtsville” and her 2010 album “Heartaches and Miracles” performing the wildly popular “Rumours and Dreams” Fleetwood Mac tribute and “Love is a Rose” Linda Ronstadt show and singing everything from classic rock to disco to soul with the Fabulous Armadillos.
In between, she hopped many a plane to Nashville, where she worked with Boyd and other songwriters writing for other artists and injecting some of that signature sound into her own unique style.
“I always say about Pamela that she’s a rocker chick but she’s got Carole King in her, she’s got Stevie Nicks, she’s got Carly Simon, she’s got Ricky Lee Jones,” Boyd says.
Add a little Loretta Lynn and you’ve got “Hurtsville, USA,” with its mix of wrenching ballads, classic country melodies and let-it-rip rockers. Pamela sings with an emotional intensity that one reviewer calls “the voice of a fiery angel.” Whether she’s delicately crooning a broken-hearted ballad or belting out a he-done-me-wrong song, Pamela connects with the lyrics and her audience.
“She just caresses the notes,” Boyd says. “She’s one of the best singers that I’ve ever heard, and I’ve worked with a lot of them coming through Nashville.”
Boyd, who is championing a genre of music he calls New ’70s, discovered Pamela on MySpace around 2010 and was blown away by her talent, authenticity and gift with melody. They have since co-written many songs, including “Hurtsville’s” tongue-in-cheek “Great Big Truck,” the only song on the album Pamela didn’t write by herself.
Nashville is just one of many influences in the melting pot of Pamela’s music. Pamela is a classically trained musician who grew up listening to the diverse formats of 1970s radio in her hometown of Winona, Minnesota. She joined her first band when she was 16 and spent her late teens hanging around the Twin Cities music scene, landing a spot singing backup for legendary Midwest blues band Lamont Cranston the summer she was 20.
“All of a sudden I was working with the best, and I would just sit and watch them from the stage and say ‘Wow.’”
She transitioned from blues to straight-up pop, moving to England and becoming a backup singer for Rick Astley, famous for his No. 1 song “Never Gonna Give You Up.” She toured with him, appeared on television and in videos and had her moment on stage at Royal Albert Hall.
The Minnesota girl couldn’t stay away for long, so she came back home, hooked up with the United Way and became its national musical spokeswoman, resulting in her 1999 album “2 Sides to Every Sky.”
As she continued performing and writing music for herself, she made new connections, like her husband Dugan McNeill’s former Chameleon band mate and iconic new age artist Yanni. She wrote songs for his “Tribute” (1997) and “Ethnicity” (2003) albums, both of which charted in the 20s on the Billboard 200 and topped the new age chart.
“The tone of my lyrics changed, and all of a sudden I was writing for a worldwide audience. It was just a huge challenge to write in a different direction, so that was a really good experience,” she says.
Pamela has worked with songwriting heavyweights like Jim Peterik of Survivor, who wrote the No. 1 hit “Eye of the Tiger,” and won compliments from the likes of Michael Johnson (“Bluer Than Blue”), who saw her play and said, “Pamela McNeill stole my ear every time she sang. Very hot.”
If one element connects all of her different styles and songs, it’s her ability to resonate with her listeners.
“I think the thing about both her voice and her songs is she has a way of really touching your heart,” says her best friend and musical soul mate Mary Jane Alm. “She writes from such a personal place.”
Pamela regularly plays the Midwest region and Nashville. She lives in the Twin Cities with her husband, musician and producer Dugan McNeill.