New Orleans has a rich cultural music history whose musical traditions are a reflection of its melting pot of citizens who makeup the town. Their songs are an eclectic combination of French African American and Spanish influences. An American/R&B Funk Band called The Meters, creatively known for their clever R&B improvisation were inspired by each other and Bourbon Street. The story of this New Orleans band begins in 1967, when Art Neville sought out George Porter Jr., Joe (Zigaboo) Modeliste, & Leo Nocentelli. Neville was already part of the New Orleans music scene for fifteen years, Cyrill Neville later joined. The Meters became the house band for Allen Toussaint and his label, Sansu Enterprises.
The Meters released their self-titled debut album in May 1969 on Josie Records. The songs “Cissy Strut” & “Sophisticated Cissy” from the album were both charted well on the R&B Charts. After two more releases on the Josie label, they were signed to Warner Bros./Reprise label in 1972. Although their albums failed to chart, they found work playing with Dr. John, Paul McCartney, LaBelle and others.
In 1975, Paul McCartney invited The Meters to play for his album release party aboard the Queen Mary. Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones was impressed by their sound and style. He invited the band to open for the Rolling Stones on their Tour Of America ’75, & Tour Of Europe ’76. In 1975, The Meters recorded the album “Fire On The Bayou”, which received great reviews.
From 1972 to 1977 they recorded five albums for Warner Bros. Art & Cyrill Neville left the band in early 1977. George Porter Jr. also left that same year. By 1980, the band had officially disbanded. In 1989, original members Art Neville, George Porter Jr. & Leo Nocentelli reunited to perform again. In 1994, Nocentelli left the group and the band was renamed The Funky Meters. Brian Stoltz replaced Nocentelli in 1994 and The Funky Meters continued to tour into the 2000’s. Stoltz was replaced by Art Neville’s son, Ian Neville from 2007 to 2011. Brian Stoltz returned that same year.
In 2012, Zigaboo Modeliste, Leo Nocentelli & George Porter Jr. reunited and billed themselves as The Meter Men and toured throughout the U.S. until 2015. In 2017, all the original members reunited as The Original Meters. George Porter Jr., Zigaboo Modeliste & Leo Nocentelli are the current members of The Original Meters. Art Neville retired in 2018 and passed away July 22, 2019.
The Meters have maintained a great following from fans and recording artists of various genres who have recorded or performed live their music in their concerts. Bands such as The Grateful Dead, Rebirth Brass Band and Jaco Pastorius as well as the Red Hot Chili Peppers covered The Meters song “Africa”, renamed “Hollywood (Africa)” on their 1985 album “Freaky Styley” and Oz Noy, electric Jazz-Fusion guitarist recorded his version of “Cissy Strut” twice.
The music of The Meters has been sampled by Hip Hop artists such as Heavy D, LL Cool J, EPMD, Public Enemy, Queen Latifah, Run-DMC, Big Daddy Kane, A Tribe Called Quest & Tweet among others; and The Meters’ songs have been used in the films Two Can Play That Game, Jackie Brown, Drumline, Hitch and Best Of Enemies; and also featured in the television shows The Wire and Ballers.
The Meters have been nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame four times in 1996, 2012, 2013, & 2017. In 2011, The Meters song “Cissy Strut” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 2018, The Meters received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. The group’s music has also been collated into “Gettin’ Funkier All The Time,” a much-acclaimed 6-CD box set issued by SoulMusic Records in 2020.
The Meters continually gain more respect and importance of their music because they defined the basic characteristics of the groove. Today’s artists still look for this music form to discover a basic-down to earthly raw sound that is essentially both artistically and worldwide influence.
Perry Thompson is President and CEO of the Rhythm and Blues Preservation Society
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