Gemma La Mana
Big easy: With a new lineup and fresh material., the Funky Meters bring New Orleans Funk to the world.
Meters change names, but the funk remains the same
By Zack Stentz
SEEING A VETERAN music group perform with an altered lineup can often be a depressing experience. It conjures up images of a bunch of graying ponytails creaking onstage at the Konocti Harbor Inn, huddling wraithlike around the sputtering embers of their former glory.
Not so with the Funky Meters. Formed in 1967 under the name The Meters, the group earned a legendary status as Founding Fathers of New Orleans Funk, playing an infectious blend of blues, funk, and dance grooves to audiences worldwide, finally disbanding in 1979. After pursuing solo projects, the group reformed in the late 1980s around original members Art Neville (yes, one of those Nevilles) on keyboard and bass player George Porter Jr., and has been together ever since.
“We changed the name to Funky Meters to distinguish ourselves from the original band, because we have two new members,” says Porter, speaking by phone from his New Orleans home. “We don’t want people to come in expecting to see Zigaboo [Modeliste, the Meters’ original drummer] or [original guitarist] Leo Nocentelli, when they’re not with the group anymore,” explains Porter.
These days, Russell Batiste plays drums and Brian Stoltz handles guitar and vocal duties for the Funky Meters. And as far as the quality of their music goes, “though much is taken, much abides,” as that original funkmaster Lord Alfred Tennyson put it.
Porter shrugs. “We’re older, we play differently. But if the music is played correctly, it’s good forever.”
Audiences evidently agree, judging by the rapturous welcome the Funky Meters have received in gigs across the country. And in the proverbial sincerest form of flattery, a whole slew of rap and hip-hop artists have pillaged the group’s back catalog of recordings, looking for beats and grooves to build new songs from. “There’s been something like 78 samples of our work used by hip-hop artists over the years,” Porter says, “not counting the people selling tapes from the trunks of their cars, and we’ve finally been paid for most of them.”
Though Porter relishes the heightened exposure sampling has given the group’s music among a younger generation of music listeners, he still bristles at the acts that have appropriated grooves and beats without acknowledging (or paying) the source. “That’s just outright thievery,” he says, his anger tinged with a little fatalism. “But that’s the way this business works.”
But Porter isn’t content to rest on his laurels and let the whippersnappers plunder his old bass lines. While not touring or recording with the Funky Meters, he keeps busy playing with his solo group, Runnin’ Pardners, and doing session work for the likes of Harry Connick Jr., Tori Amos, and a variety of blues acts on the Blacktop label. “I’m sort of a gunslinger with a bass,” he says, with a deep, rumbling chuckle. “I always say: ‘He who pays, I will play.'”
Not that Porter never enjoys working as a hired musician for big-name acts. “Working with Tori was a lot of fun,” he recalls. “It was different, though. I’m used to being in on the creative process from the beginning, while she comes into the studio knowing what she wants everyone to do. It works for her, though.”
But don’t expect tinkling pianos and airy-fairy vocal stylings when the Funky Meters come to town. They lay down grooves specifically built for serious booty-shaking, a fact acknowledged by the Luther Burbank Center when managers there temporarily lifted the venue’s infamous no-dancing policy for the group’s appearance. “They made a great decision,” Porter laughs. “But I think they’d have had a hard time keeping people in their seats anyway. We don’t play sit-down concert music. Funk is made for dancing.”
Shake your bad self when the Funky Meters play the Luther Burbank Center on Saturday, June 29, at 8 p.m. 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa. $21.50. 546-3600.
From the June 21-27, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent
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© 1996 Metro Publishing and Virtual Valley, Inc.