Neal was born in the Belgian Congo to American missionary parents.
In 1942, he joined WMPS, a Memphis radio station. Although he did not originally play country music, he achieved greater success once he specialized in that style in the early 1950s. In 1954, Sam Phillips gave Bob Neal an acetate of Elvis Presley's first record and Bob Neal promoted it on WMPS along with Dewey Phillips' promotion of Elvis' first record on WHBQ. Bob Neal organized live music events and was also an emcee. So, upon Sam Phillips' request, he set up Elvis Presley for his first live performance at Overton Park in Memphis, Tennessee on July 30, 1954.
According to Hames Ware, ''The first time I ever heard of Elvis was around 1954. My uncles took me to see Red Sovine and Webb Pierce. Elvis was the last act on the program bill behind Wanda Jackson. Of course it was just Elvis, Bill Black, and Scotty Moore, but they made more noise than anyone else. It was pure rock and roll, rockabilly, or whatever you wished to call it, but the crowd went wild.''
August 4,1955 ─ The Camden news report:
ELVIS PRESLEY, Young and handsome Elvis Presley will be among the top country stars coming to Camden Thursday for two shows at the Municipal Auditorium. The All-Star Jamboree of country entertainers, featuring two of the top names in the rural rhythm department, is coming to Camden for two shows at the Municipal Auditorium tomorrow night at 7 and 9:30 p.m.
Webb Pierce, consistently, voted the nation's number one star of country music, will highlight the big attraction. Pierce, who once appeared on the Louisiana Hayride and later of the Grand Ole Opry, had a great string on consecutive record hits with ''In The Jailhouse Now'' and ''I Don't Care,'' his latest top hits. Pierce, and the Wondering boys are coming in from a TV appearance in New York.
Elvis Presley voted the year's number one star by Cash Box magazine will feature his Western Bop type of singing, including his new record release ''Mystery Train.''
Other stars marked for the appearance include Red Sovine, a Decca Record artist, formerly of KWKH in Shreveport, Bud Decklelan, MGM recording star, Charlie Feathers, and Miss Wanda Jackson, Oklahoma City's contribution to Folk Music. Advance sale tickets are now at South Arkansas Music Company.
AUGUST 5, 1955 FRIDAY
At 8:00 p.m., Elvis Presley played his third and final gig at the Overton Park Shell in Memphis. He performed second on the bill of Bob Neal's "Eighth Anniversary Jamboree" at the open-air show. Headlined the extravaganza was Webb Pierce, which included guest appearances by newcomer Johnny Cash, Wanda Jackson, Gene Simmons, the Miller Sisters and Red Sovine.
Also appearing was the same cast from Camden, along with Carl Perkins, Sonny James, Bud Deckelman, Jim Wilson, and Bob Neal's band, the Neal Boys. Texas Bill Strength, a Memphis disc jockey, also made an unadvertised appearance.
This three-hour extravaganza appearance was reported at the time to be the largest country jamboree ever held in Memphis, pulling in an "overflow audience" of 4,000 fans despite the threat of rain.
According to the Memphis Press-Scimitar, "several hundred" music lovers had to be turned away at the box office. Advance tickets were $1.00 until 4:00 p.m. on the day of the show. When the Overton Shell box office opened at 6:30 p.m., seats were $1.25 reserved, with general admission $1.00 and children 50-cents.
Bob Neal also booked rockabilly singer Charlie Feathers. While waiting to go on stage, Elvis Presley and Charlie Feathers talked about the show. Feathers pointed out that Billboard had sent a reporter, a prospect that excited Elvis Presley because Sam Phillips was preparing to debut Presley's latest record. Bob Neal, personal manager to Elvis Presley, reports that the Louisiana Hayride youngster and his show play a series of Mid-South dates next week, opening Monday with a big outdoor jamboree at Forrest City, Arkansas.
Overton Shell Park. Elvis with Texas Bill Strength, August 5, 1955.
Managing Elvis Presley
Bob Neal officially became Elvis Presley's second manager on January 1, 1955, preceded by the band's guitarist Scotty Moore.
In February 1955, Bob Neal started Elvis Presley Enterprises to promote the product “Elvis Presley”, with an office at 160 Union Avenue, across from the famous Peabody Hotel, in Memphis, Tennessee.
On March 15, 1955, Neal signed an amended one-year contract agreement with Elvis, giving him a 15 percent commission.
On November 21, 1955 Elvis’ contract with Sun was purchased by RCA. At that time, Colonel Tom Parker and Bob Neal agreed to split their combined 40 percent commission on Elvis' earnings. Moreover, Bob Neal was growing weary of life on the road, he still had his job as a DJ and, by March 1956, he had opened a record store in Memphis. So, when his contract with Elvis expired on March 15, 1956, he decided not to pursue renewal and Colonel Tom Parker became Elvis’ manager. Neal would later say "I always felt that Elvis was going to be a big artist, but I never would have believed how big, so I just preferred to drop out of the scene."
A few months later, Neal opened a talent agency called Stars, Inc. for representation and booking of artists that would include Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Sonny James, Warren Smith, Jerry Lee Lewis, etc.
In 1958 he freed the others from their contracts and focused solely on Johnny Cash, moving his family along with Johnny's to California.
The following year he arranged a tour out of the country to Australia for Johnny, something the Colonel should have done, but would never do for Elvis. However, the Hollywood scene was not as entirely fruitful for them as it was for Elvis and, late in 1960, when their contract expired, they did not renew. They split amicably, with a generous settlement on royalties. Neal returned to Tennessee and set up in Nashville. Through the 1960s he was back in the talent agencies.
In 1964, Neal started Country Music News Service, a company that offered taped reports and weekly interviews with top country performers to subscribing radio stations, featuring news items about the country music field and interviews with top country music performers.
By the 1970s he would also serve as a director of the Country Music Association. Never critical, he would later praise what the Colonel did with Elvis, though suggest that he himself would probably not have kept him away from performing for a live audience for so long, something that Elvis always enjoyed. The same year that Elvis died, in 1977, Neal received the Man of The Year Award from the Nashville Association of Talent Directors for his great contribution in the field of country music.
Neal died on May 9, 1983 at the Park View Hospital in Nashville. The following year, on October 12, 1984 Bob Neal was elected into the Country Music Disc Jockey Hall Of Fame.