Art Neville, George Porter Jr. Leo Nocentelli and Joseph Zigaboo Modeliste are each legends in their own right for their individual contributions to music, collectively they are The Meters considered by many to be the founding fathers of funk. For forty five plus years The Meters have grooved their way around the globe. They have toured with such talents as The Rolling Stones, and have been the rhythm section for such diverse artists as Dr. John, Robert Palmer, Patti Labelle, Earl King, Allen Toussaint, and Lee Dorsey just to name a few. The Meters created a unique sound that has remained contemporary. Their trademark sound of syncopated layered percussion intertwined with gritty grooves on guitar, bass and organ blends funk, blues, and dance grooves with a New Orleans vibe.
Art Neville had been a prominent musician in New Orleans for almost 15 years before the band was formed. He was still in high school when, leading the Hawketts, he cut the 1954 Chess single “Mardi Gras Mambo”. He had put out a handful of regional hits as a soloist —”Cha Dooky Doo” and “Ooh-Whee Baby” on Specialty in the late ’50s, and “All These Things” on Instant in 1962 —Around 1966 Art formed the band The Neville Sound, he recruited guitarist Leo Nocentelli, bassist George Porter Jr, Gary Brown and eventually drummer Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste to play at the New Orleans night club The Nightcap. After the stint at the Nightcap the band moved to the French Quarter club The Ivanhoe where the band was playing in 1968 when they were asked by producer Allen Toussaint, and Marshall Sehorn to be the house rhythm section for Sansu Enterprises where they played on records by Earl King, Lee Dorsey, and Betty Harris to name just a few.
They continued to perform and at Sehorn’s suggestion began recording on their own, releasing danceable instrumental singles on Josie Records. “Sophisticated Cissy” and “Cissy Strut” became Top Ten R&B hits in the spring of 1969, followed by “Look-Ka Py Py” and “Chicken Strut” which both reached number 11 a year later. The Meters stayed at Josie until 1972 and during that time they reached the R&B Top 50 consistently, usually placing within the Top 40.
In 1972, the group moved to Reprise Records, yet they didn’t sever their ties with Sansu, electing to keep Toussaint as their producer and Sehorn as their manager. Ironically, the Meters didn’t have nearly as many hit singles at Reprise, yet their profile remained remarkably high. If anything, the group gained popularity, performing on records by Robert Palmer, Dr. John, LaBelle, and King Biscuit Boy. A few of them also appeared on a Paul McCartney Mardi Gras recording.
The Meters had a Top 40 hit with Rejuvenation’s “Hey Pocky A-Way” (1974), and they had gained a significant following among rock audiences and critics. Fire on the Bayou in 1975 received significant praise. While playing on the Queen Mary for a “Venus and Mars ” party hosted by Linda & Paul McCartney the band came to the attention of Ron Woods who was soon to join the Rolling Stones. The Rolling Stones requested that The Meters join them as an opening act on their (1975) American Tour and (1976) European tours-over 75 + dates were played between both tours. Cyril Neville joined the Meters in 1975 when the group went on tour with the Stones.
Allen Toussaint told Audio’s Ted Fox, “The Meters were mostly a percussion group—not percussion instruments, but they played percussively. Everything they played was heavily syncopated…. Their songs were a conglomeration of firecrackers going off here, and pops there, explosions here. It was just fire.” The Meters backed Dr. John on “In the Right Place ” and LaBelle on “Nightbirds”—both major hits that served to renew interest in the New Orleans sound.
During 1975, the Meters also participated on the Wild Tchoupitoulas project with Art’s uncle George “Big Chief Jolly” Landry, the Big Chief of the Mardi Gras ceremonial black Indian tribe, the Wild Tchoupitoulas. The Meters, and the Neville brothers — Aaron, Charles, Art, and Cyril — were all involved in the recording of the album, which received enthusiastic reviews upon its release in 1976. The following year, they separated from Toussaint and Sehorn, claiming they needed to take control of their artistic direction, they released New Directions in 1977. They appeared on Saturday Night Live on March 19, 1977, during the show’s second season.
After eleven years and eight studio albums, The Meters disbanded later in 1977 citing business problems. Two additional albums of previously unreleased material were later released on the Sundaze label in the early 2000’s.
Musically, the next decades took the band members in different directions. Art Neville pioneered the internationally successful Neville Brothers. “Poppa Funk” still brings his soulful sound and mastery of the keys to audiences around the world.
Zigaboo Modeliste drummed for Keith Richards and Ron Wood on the New Barbarian Tours. Zigaboo Modeliste went on to produce his own record label JZM Records. New Life,” (2011) “I’m on the Right Track,” (2004), “Zigaboo.com” (2000), “Funk Me Hard Live” recorded in 1980 (2009). His publishing company Jomod Music has numerous placements in film and television. In 2011/2012- He worked with Grammy Award winning producer Mark Ronson on the film Regeneration Music Project. They wrote and perform the original song “A La Modeliste” with Erykah Badu, Mos Def, Trombone Shorty, Dap Kings. In 2013 Zigaboo with Don Lombardi’s Drum Channel produced a DVD Zigaboo Modeliste “the Originator of New Orleans Funk -a history/biography of Zigaboo’s Drum style. He is consistently touring overseas in Scandinavia and Europe.
Zigaboo and George recorded with Robbie Robertson , and they both also played on Harry Connick Jr. ‘s first funk/soul CD “She”.
George Porter, Jr. founded his first band, Joy Ride in 1980 and in 1990 recorded his first solo CD, Runnin’ Pardners, for Rounder Records. George worked in the studio and toured with David Byrne and performed on three back-to-back Platinum CD’s with Tori Amos. He continues to work in the studio and tour relentlessly with a myriad of different artists that have included John Scofield, Mickey Hart, Billy Kreutzmann and the Tedeschi Trucks Band. He also tours with and has released five more CD’s with his own band Runnin’ Pardners and is working on material for his next one.
Leo Nocentelli recorded his own CD “Live in San Francisco” and he has played on recordings by Etta James The Manhattan Transfer, the Temptations, Stevie Wonder, the Supremes, Bonnie Raitt, Sting, and the Winans. Leo also tours with his own band and is often touring not only in the USA but also in Asia where he is extremely well regarded.
They have had several well-received reunions over the years the first being a show at the Saenger Theater that was filmed for release but the recording has been lost. It took another 20 years for the next reunion which was a gig at the Warfield in San Francisco in 2000. Quint Davis, producer and director of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, invited them to play the Festival in 2005. They toured cross country in 2007 and continue to perform at various one-off concerts.
In June 2011 The Original Meters along with Allen Touissant and Dr. John played the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee. The six men reprised Dr. John’s album “Desitively Bonnaroo” which was originally recorded with the Meters. They played the 2011 Voodoo Experience in October and on May 5, 2012 The Meters returned to New Orleans for a performance at the Howlin’ Wolf. Tickets went on sale and sold out in one and a half hours
The Meters have maintained an avid following of fans and other artists, and musicians around the world, including rap artists Heavy D, LL Cool J and Queen Latifah who have sampled their music. The Red Hot Chili Peppers pay homage to them in one of their hit songs, and bands such as the Dead, KVHW, Steve Kimock Band, Widespread Panic, Galactic and String Cheese Incident play their music regularly in their rotations.
Witnessing a Meters show instantly proves to audiences that they are the super group that put New Orleans funk on the map and that continues to exert an unparalleled influence on American roots and popular music. The Meters’ unique place as a touchstone for countless jam bands and as one of the most sampled groups in all of hip hop and pop music have kept them relevant to contemporary audiences in a way that few, if any other 70’s groups can claim.