NOTE: Due to Art Neville injuring his back, this show has been cancelled.
The Meters were founded in 1967 when keyboardist Art Neville - already a veteran of the Nola music scene -
A lot of that in the air these days.
By Buddy Blue
Even if you've never heard the Meters, your ears are in debt to their innovations. The group is -- along with
James Brown and Sly Stone - among the imperial founding fathers of funk, and the singular quintessence of
modern New Orleans R&B. The Meters' influence is so pervasive, it's unlikely that pop music would have evolved
the same way without their lead.
It's a measure of this impact that the Meters - re-christened the Funky Meters several years ago, the quartet
plays the Belly Up Tavern tonight -- have recorded with Paul McCartney, Dr. John, Labelle and Robert Palmer;
toured with the Rolling Stones; been sampled by rap artists Heavy D, LL Cool J, and Queen Latifah and been
covered by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Grateful Dead and String Cheese Incident, among others.
recruited bassist George Porter, Jr., guitarist Leo Nocentelli and drummer Joseph "Zigaboo" Modeliste to form a
studio wrecking crew. Under the auspices of legendary producer/songwriter/artist Allen Toussaint, the Meters
were soon backing such local hitmakers as Earl King, Lee Dorsey, Chris Kenner and Toussaint himself.
In '69, the Meters stepped out into recording their own instrumental singles, including the R&B hits "Cissy
Strut," "Sophisticated Cissy," and "Chicken Strut." The sound was entirely unique for the time; a deep-fried,
super-syncopated, swamp-steeped Booker T. & the MGs; incorporating soul, blues, jazz and rock into a single,
"Everybody in band listened to different music," relates Porter on the genesis of the Meters' sound. "I think
that's basically what happened - everybody's different tastes came to a focus to make it happen. I don't think we
were trying to create that sound, it was just something that came from playing together. I guess the correct
terminology would be a pocket - in playing together, we developed a pocket, a groove, and it changed the way
other musicians played.
"I also think Allen Toussaint helped direct and center us in the early years. Allen is a great man, and when I'm
working with great people, I pay attention. My head is not too big, I don't try to bring all of me to the table, I try to
become part of the package."
Among the highlights of the Meters early years was playing on the "Wild Tchoupitoulas" album in 1975.
Teaming with Art's siblings Aaron, Art and Cyril - later to become famed as the Neville Brothers - and ceremonial
Mardi Gras Indian figurehead, George "Big Chief Jolly" Landry (the Neville's uncle), the wild bunch produced an
ambitious, significant set that introduced a new generation to the wonders of New Orleans R&B.
Although the album is widely considered among the essential releases to sprout from the fertile loam of the
Crescent City, Porter recalls the sessions with acrimony, feeling the Meters never got just due for their
"How can I say this delicately?" he posed. "The Meters went into the studio to help Art and his brothers put
this record together for their Uncle Jolly. Basically, the Meters made that record. It all kind of got screwed up,
because it came out as the Wild Tchoupitoulas, or a Neville Brothers side effort, and the Meters was kind of left
out in the cold. I've always had a bad taste in my mouth over that, but that's life, you know?"
Bad feelings, bad business, the formation of the Neville Brothers and escalating musical opportunities for the
principals led to the Meters' break-up in 1979. All the guys fronted bands of their own; Porter went on to work with
Robbie Robertson, David Byrne, Willy DeVille, and in more recent years, Tori Amos and Gov't Mule. Nocentelli's
subsequent resume included working with Etta James, Sarah McLachlan, Peter Gabriel and Ramsey Lewis, while
Modeliste teamed with Keith Richards in the New Barbarians and recorded with Richard Hell and Harry Connick,
Jr. The former Meters could be also be found playing together on several of the above sessions.
The group reformed after a cheery, fruitful jam session at the 1989 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, with
David Russell Batiste, Jr. replacing Modeliste on drums. In '94, Nocentelli left the fold; his shoes were filled by
superb guitarist Brian Stoltz, who'd been a member of Neville Brothers throughout the '80s.
"Zig was offered to rejoin, but his father wasn't doing well and he wanted to stay close to home," notes Porter.
The Funky Meters, March 24 at the Belly Up Tavern, 143 S. Cedros Ave. in Solana Beach, 7:30, $25, (858) 481-
PORTER'S MOST MEMORABLE RECORDING SESSIONS
1.) DR. JOHN
My absolute favorite session was the Dr. John "Desitively Bonnaroo" record. Man, I really did love that record,
and we had a great time recording it. I also loved the record before it, "In The Right Place." That one would
probably be my second favorite session.
What was so memorable about that session was the girls! It was really fun watching those ladies work!
3.) TORI AMOS
Tori is a very serious woman. Just working with her, her way of introducing things to you, she's very emotional
and that makes it sexy. She does things that are very sexy all the time, even though she may not consciously
know it. Being a male and watching a female doing something so emotional, it's just very cool.
4.) GOV'T MULE
[Drummer] Matt Abts is a mother! I loved playing with him, he had a great pocket. The whole outfit was A-1. I
was accepted really well into that organization and I had a great time working with them.
5.) LEE DORSEY
Lee was never actually in the studio with us. Allen would record us and then him and Lee would come in later to
do all the vocal work. But as far as how the sessions went, that was some of the best work that we ever did.
Musically, there were some really good moments in those tracks.
PORTER'S BIGGEST MUSICAL INFLUENCES
1.) BENJAMAIN "POPPY" FRANCIS
He was a kid that lived around the corner, and I passed his house on the way to my guitar lessons. Him and his
grandfather would always be sitting on the steps playing guitar. My teacher would pick the easiest songs for me
to learn, but when I saw Poppy and his grandfather, they was playing "St. Louis Blues" and that stuff. I said, "Oh
man, I wanna play like THAT!" Me and my teacher started bumping heads after that.
2.) HERBERT WING
He was the guitarist in a band called the Royal Knights. I started out just kind of hanging out and roadie-ing for
them. I leaned so much about music from hanging out with Herbert, it stayed with me the rest of my life.
3.) EARL KING
Oh man, he was my hero! Earl King was everything that I ever wanted to be: he was a beautiful artist, a beautiful
person and he had a guitar style that was absolutely unbelievable.
"Then, several years later, Leo left the band again. At that point, Art and myself formed a corporation and
changed the name to the Funky Meters to separate new business from old.
"The sound today probably has more of a rock edge, and the material is played a little slower than the grooves
of the original band. Personally, I always like playing the tempos slower, that's how I played Meters' songs with
my solo band."
The group's excellent 2003 live CD, "Fiyo At The Fillmore," features the funky four stretching out into jam band
territory, with sonic extrapolations akin to a prime Grateful Dead stuffed full of red beans and rice.
The Funky Meters remain a part-time project though, due largely to the activity of the Neville Brothers. Porter,
however, is enthusiastic about an upcoming release that's basically the Funky Meters sans Art.
"Because of the Neville Brothers' work schedule, it's imperative that the rest of us have other musical outlets,"
he says. "So all three of us have solo bands, and together we've formed a funk/fusion power trio called PBS -
Porter, Baptiste, Stokes. We're in the process of finishing up our first record right now. The three of us love
playing together and want to keep working when the Neville Brothers are busy."
5.) ALLEN TOUSSAINT
I attribute a lot of my growing up and becoming a professional musician to Allen. He helped mold me, he taught
me about playing with space. As a young player I was very busy, I played a lot of notes, but after doing a few
Lee Dorsey sessions I started to understand that less is best - it's what you don't play that makes the groove
By Buddy Blue
This week: four great new CDs that briefly made me less crabby than usual!
SOLOMON BURKE, "Make Do With What You Got" (Shout)
Burke - among the few soul music giants of the '60s still active today - took many old-time fans aback with his
2002 comeback album, "Don't Give Up On Me" - a surprisingly laid-back, oddly country/folk-tinged album with an
easy, front porch sensibility. The CD received enough ink that Burke has re-graduated to the big leagues with a
Sony release, featuring Don Was handling production chores, and much as I enjoyed his prior effort, "Make Due"
leaves it choking in the dust. This is the Solomon Burke we know and love: histrionic, theatrical, testifying like a
demented street corner evangelist, and in far better voice than a 71-year-old fat guy has any right to be. Solly
interprets several familiar tunes and makes them all his own in the process, from a take on the Stones' "I Got
The Blues" that must have Mick Jagger cowering in humiliation somewhere, to a chicken-scratch funk re-working
of Dylan's "What Good Am I," to a fire-breathing account of the Band's "It Makes No Difference" that finally
realizes the tune's potential as a classic spiritual to sit alongside "The Weight," to, finally, the album-closing
adaptation of Hank Williams' "Wealth Won't Save You" that forever fuses the common sensibility of black and
white gospel music. The word has become a cliché, but no other adjective does this sucker justice: "Make Due"
HACIENDA BROTHERS, "Hacienda Brothers" (Koch)
Take a group featuring criminally neglected country singer/songwriter Chris Gaffney and Paladins guitar monster
Dave Gonzalez, then toss them into the studio with super-soul songwriter/producer Dan Penn at the helm (he's
written "Do Right Man," "I'm Your Puppet," "Dark End Of The Street" and "The Letter," to name a few), and you
naturally assume momentous music will result, but the Bros debut CD actually exceeds even the loftiest
expectations. Wisely, Gaff assumes center stage with his best-ever-recorded vocal performances; an expansive,
vibrato-rich, wounded baritone that can take your heart and crush it under the mud-caked heel of his cowboy
boot. Gonzo's guitar playing - heretofore a hot flash of blues lightning with a PHD from the SRV Academy - is
surprisingly, tastefully subdued in service of the songs, but his twanging baritone axe-work is a revelation, like an
Ennio Morricone soundtrack played under a desert moon while chugging mescal. The wealth of original songs by
Gaff, Gonz and Penn, alone or as a team, are uniformly gorgeous and moving (as are the harmony vocals),
presented nicely with well-chosen covers (Fred Neil, Mel Tillis, etc). Although there are R&B and Tex Mex
influences afoot, this is very much a trad country album, and if a better one comes along this year, I'll eat my
4.) ART NEVILLE
Art is the guy. He was the voice in the dark that was always saying, "Let's make this right." It wasn't so much
what Art played, it was what Art didn't play that counted. There are keyboardists that can play rings around him,
but they couldn't play that simple (stuff) like Art. Everything he played made perfect sense.
TINY MOORE & JETHRO BURNS, "Back To Back" (Acoustic Disc)
This is a re-release of a 1979 album that sounds just as fresh now as it did some quarter-century ago. Moore and
Burns, both since deceased, were famed hillbilly mandolin pickers, of decidedly different bents on the surface.
Where Moore was long renowned for his virtuoso musicianship in Bob Wills' Texas Playboys and later Merle
Haggard's Strangers, Burns was (in)famous for being half of Homer & Jethro, the hayseed humor act whose
cornball shtick made many a city-slicker wince like they were driving past a pasture of flatulent cattle. What few
realized was the this guy ranked among the most amazing musicians on the planet himself. The duo is joined by
a heavy backing crew including eternal Wills guitarist Eldon Shamblin, drummer Shelly Manne and bassist Ray
Brown - both dyed-in the-wool jazzbos -- plus producer/current Acoustic Disc maven David Grisman, today the
world's pre-eminent mandolinist, whose "music-with-no-boundaries" philosophy doubtless went a long way
towards making this album coalesce so seamlessly. Red-hot instrumental cowjazz is the name of the game here,
as flying fingers assault such standards as Dizzy Gillespie's "Groovin' High," Duke Ellington's "In A Mellotone"
and Lester Young's "Tickle Toe," as well as brace of similarly superb originals. The musicianship is nothing short
THE GRANDSONS, "Party With The Rich" (Wringing House)
The pop-rock title track sounds like the Smithereens with a horn section and They Might Be Giants sitting in;
"Trouble On The Turnpike" is thumping rockabilly fused with classic, rollicking New Orleans R&B; "Hip
Replacement" is tongue-in-cheek swamp-rock to make Tony Joe White smile with pride; the instrumental "Theme
From Saguaro" sounds like music from a 1966 Roger Corman flick....this veteran roots rock group I'd never even
heard of before opening this CD is fearlessly eclectic, laugh-out-loud funny and valiantly quirky in ways that we
don't often encounter in the too-often piously self-serious, cookie cutter world of what today is termed
"Americana." If the vocals are, well, inexpert at times, the bemused tone aptly compliments the unconventional
wit that is perhaps ultimately the Grandson's most notable stock-in-trade.
of inspirational throughout; this re-release features a second disc of newly-discovered alternate takes.