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In the Spotlight: The Meters

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In the Spotlight: The Meters

The Meters in the '70s

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Formed:

1966, New Orleans, LA

Styles:

Claims to fame:

  • Invented New Orleans funk, and helped invent funk in general
  • The house band for Allen Toussaint's legendary New Orleans Soul classics of the '60s
  • Helped bring New Orleans music to national attention in the '70s
  • Responsible for incorporating "second line" parade rhythms into funk
  • Later split into the Neville Brothers and several popular New Orleans bands
  • "Ziggy" Modeliste is considered by many the greatest funk drummer of all time
  • A major influence on the "jam-band" genre

Principal Members:

Art Neville (born Arthur Lanon Neville, December 17, 1937, New Orleans, LA): lead and backing vocals, organ, keyboards
Leo Nocentelli (born June 15, 1946, New Orleans, LA: lead and rhythm guitar, backing vocals
George Porter, Jr. (born December 26, 1947, New Orleans, LA): bass, backing vocals
Zigaboo "Ziggy" Modeliste (born Joseph Modeliste, December 28, 1948, New Orleans, LA): drums

Early years:

The Meters were formed from a core of New Orleans' best R&B musicians of the early 1960s; leader Art Neville, later of the Neville Brothers, had already had regional hits with the Hawkettes' "Mardi Gras Mambo" and his own solo ballad "All These Things." When Neville was given a chance to put together a house band for the NOLA club The Nightcap, he recruited Nocentelli, Porter, Modeliste, and his two brothers Aaron and Charles, and formed Art Neville and the Sounds. Soon they'd developed enough of a following to bring them into the lucrative French Quarter scene, where they became the house band at The Ivanhoe. It was here that local producer Allen Toussaint, who'd already taken a few hits national such as Ernie K-Doe's "Mother In Law," hired them as his new session band.

Success:

Now known as the Meters, and without the vocalists, the four-piece backed Toussaint on several of his mid-'60s productions at the famous Jazz City studio, most notably on Lee Dorsey hits like "Working in the Coal Mine," "Holy Cow," and "Ride Your Pony." New Orleans' answer to Booker T. and the MGs, they were soon recording instrumentals on their own for the Josie label, the first of which, "Cissy Strut," became an instant smash, helping to bring funk into the '70s with its slower, more syncopated beat and jazz-organ stylings. The band's reputation only grew after that, and by the mid-70s they'd left Josie for Reprise, adding vocals to the mix and attracting the attention of big names like Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones.

Later years:

Unfortunately, just as the band was starting to become household names nationally, two things happened: the advent of disco, which the group tried but failed to connect with, and a break with Toussaint, who had legal rights to the group's name. Art (and percussionist Cyril, who had also joined the group by this time) brought his other two siblings back and formed the Neville Brothers, while Porter, Nocentelli, and Modeliste continued as in-demand session musicians, also forming their own local bands here and there. Art Neville formed a new group as the "funky Meters" and became quite a hit on the jam-band circuit; the other three members grouped occasionally to perform as the Metermen. In the past few years, the four original members have started to reunite for one-off concerts under the Meters name.

Meters awards and honors:

  • GRAMMY Hall of Fame (2011)

Meters facts and trivia:

  • The Meters and the other Neville Brothers also made two critically acclaimed albums together as the Wild Tchoupitoulas, a Mardi Gras Indian-themed group with chants by their "Indian" uncles
  • The Red Hot Chili Peppers covered the Meters' "Africa" and renamed it "Hollywood"
  • One of the most sampled artists in hip-hop history
  • Opened for the Rolling Stones on their 1975 American and 1976 European tours

Notable Meters recordings:

"Cissy Strut," "Hey Pocky A-Way," "They All Ask'd for You," "Sophisticated Cissy," "Look-Ka Py Py," "Here Comes the Meter Man," "Africa," "Chicken Strut," "Joog," "Handclapping Song," "Darling Darling Darling," "Tippi-Toes," "Rigor Mortis," "Pungee," "Yeah, You're Right," "Oh, Calcutta!" "9 'Til 5," "Chug Chug Chug-A-Lug (Push and Shove)," "Cabbage Alley," "Do the Dirt," "People Say," "Just Kissed My Baby," "Jungle Man," "Fire on the Bayou," "Running Fast," "(Doodle Loop) The World Is a Little Bit Under the Weather," "No More Okey Doke," "Funkify Your Life"

Appear on: "Working in a Coal Mine," Lee Dorsey; "Right Place Wrong Time," Dr. John; Sneaking Sally Through the Alley," Robert Palmer; "Street Parade," Earl King; "Lady Marmalade," Labelle

Movie and TV appearances (movies in italics): "Saturday Night Live" (1977)

Covered by: The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Neville Brothers, Jack Johnson, Buckwheat Zydeco, The Radiators, The Grateful Dead, Herbie Mann, Widespread Panic, Rebirth Brass Band, Galactic, String Cheese Incident, Irma Thomas, Jaco Pastorius, John Scofield, Donald Harrison, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Bernard Purdie, Rod Piazza, Van Broussard, Jo-El Sonnier, Rockin' Dopsie, The Derek Trucks Band

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