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The Meters

The Meters are an American funk band formed in 1965 by Zigaboo Modeliste (drums), George Porter Jr. (bass), Leo Nocentelli (guitar), and Art Neville (keyboards) in New Orleans. The band performed and recorded their own music from the late 1960s until 1977 and played an influential role as backing musicians for other artists, including Lee Dorsey, Robert Palmer, Dr. John, and Allen Toussaint. Their original songs "Cissy Strut" and "Look-Ka Py Py" are considered funk classics.

While they rarely enjoyed significant mainstream success, they are considered originators of funk along with artists like James Brown, and their work is influential on many other bands, both their contemporaries and modern musicians. Their sound is defined by a combination of tight melodic grooves and syncopated New Orleans "second line" rhythms under highly charged guitar and keyboard riffing. The band has been nominated four times for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, most recently in 2017. In 2018 the band was presented the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

History

1960s–1970s

Art Neville, the group's frontman, launched a solo career around the New Orleans area in the mid-1950s while still in high school. The Meters formed in 1965 with a line-up of keyboardist and vocalist Art Neville, guitarist Leo Nocentelli, bassist George Porter Jr. and drummer Joseph "Zigaboo" Modeliste. They were later joined by percussionist-vocalist Cyril Neville. The Meters became the house band for Allen Toussaint and his record label, Sansu Enterprises.

In 1969 the Meters released "Sophisticated Cissy" and "Cissy Strut", both major R&B chart hits. "Look-Ka Py Py" and "Chicken Strut" were their hits the following year. After a label shift in 1972, the Meters had difficulty returning to the charts, but they worked with Dr. John, Paul McCartney, King Biscuit Boy, Labelle, Robert Palmer and others.

In 1975 Paul McCartney invited the Meters to play at the release party for his Venus and Mars album aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones was in attendance at the event and was greatly taken with the Meters and their sound. The Rolling Stones invited the band to open for them on their Tour of the Americas '75 and Tour of Europe '76. That same year, the Meters recorded one of their most successful albums, Fire on the Bayou. From 1976 to 77 they played in The Wild Tchoupitoulas with George and Amos Landry and The Neville Brothers.

Art and Cyril Neville left the band in early 1977, but The Meters still appeared on Saturday Night Live on March 19, 1977, during the show's second season. After the Nevilles' departure, David Batiste Sr. took over on keyboards while Willie West joined as the band's lead singer. Porter left the group later that year and by 1980 The Meters had officially broken up.

After the break-up, Neville continued his career as part of The Neville Brothers, Modeliste toured with Keith Richards and Ron Wood, while Nocentelli and Porter "became in-demand session players and formed new bands."

1980s–1990s

In 1989 Art Neville, George Porter Jr. and Leo Nocentelli reunited as The Meters, adding drummer Russell Batiste Jr. to replace Zigaboo Modeliste. Nocentelli left the group in 1994 and was replaced with guitarist Brian Stoltz, formerly of The Neville Brothers. The band was renamed The Funky Meters. They were referred to as "the Funky Meters" as early as 1989. They were billed as such when playing in a tiny venue called Benny's Bar at Valence and Camp streets.

2000s–2010s

The Funky Meters continued to play into the 2000s with Stoltz being replaced by Art Neville's son, Ian Neville, from 2007 to 2011 while he went to pursue a solo career. Stoltz returned to the band permanently in 2011.

In 2000 a big offer enticed all four original Meters to reunite for a one-night stand at the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco; by this time Modeliste wanted to make the reunion a permanent one, but the other members and their management teams objected. It wasn't until Quint Davis, producer and director of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, got them to "put aside their differences and hammer out the details" and perform at the Festival in 2005.

In June 2011 The Original Meters along with Allen Toussaint and Dr. John played the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee. The six men performed Dr. John's album Desitively Bonnaroo which was originally recorded with the Meters, to a sold-out crowd. The Original Meters also played a set at the 2011 Voodoo Experience in New Orleans. On May 5, 2012 The Meters returned to New Orleans for a performance to a sold-out crowd at the Howlin' Wolf.

In late 2012, Zigaboo Modeliste, Leo Nocentelli, and George Porter Jr. played concerts with Phish keyboardist Page McConnell under the name The Meter Men. During his time off from Phish, Page McConnell has continued to play with Porter Jr., Nocentelli, and Modeliste under the moniker of The Meter Men since those shows in 2012. The Meter Men had performed 16 shows together as of spring 2015, with their third annual appearance as a late night act during New Orleans' Jazz and Heritage Festival. In 2014, during The Meter Men's second appearance as a late night act during Jazzfest, the band performed at The Republic on April 26, 2014, after McConnell had headlined the NOLA Jazzfest at the New Orleans Fairgrounds with Phish earlier that day. The Meter Men had also played the previous night at The Republic. The states The Meter Men had appeared in as of spring 2015 were Massachusetts, New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Colorado, and Vermont, with one other performance in Washington, D.C.

As of 2017, The Funky Meters tour consistently performing songs by The Meters, while The Meters perform sporadically. The lineup of Neville, Porter, Nocentelli and Modeliste typically bill themselves as The Original Meters to avoid confusion with The Funky Meters. When not performing with The Original Meters, guitarist Leo Nocentelli leads his own group, The Meters Experience, which also performs the music of The Meters.

As of 2018, the most recent performance of the original Meters (with all four of the founding members) took place at the Arroyo Seco Festival in Pasadena, California on June 25, 2017. The song "They All Ask'd for You" from the 1975 album Fire on the Bayou remains popular in the New Orleans region and is the unofficial theme song of the Audubon Zoo.

Art Neville announced his retirement from music on December 18, 2018. Neville died on July 22, 2019.

Members

Current
  • George Porter Jr. – bass, background vocals (1965–1977, 1989–present)
  • Leo Nocentelli – guitar, background vocals (1965–1977, 1989–1994, 2000–present), currently only in The Original Meters
  • Zigaboo Modeliste – drums, vocals (1965–1977, 2000–present), currently only in The Original Meters
  • Brian Stoltz – guitar (1994–2007, 2011–present), currently only in The Funky Meters
  • Terrence Houston – drums (2015–present), currently only in The Funky Meters

    Former
  • Cyril Neville – percussion, vocals (1970–1977)
  • David Batiste, Sr. – keyboards (1977–1980)
  • Willie West – vocals (1977–1980)
  • Ian Neville – guitar (2007–2011), only in The Funky Meters
  • Russell Batiste Jr. – drums (1989–2015), only in The Funky Meters
  • Art Neville – keyboards, vocals (1965–1977, 1989–2018)

    Timeline

    Discography

    Original studio albums
  • The Meters (1969), Josie JOS-4010 #23 R&B
  • Look-Ka Py Py (1969), Josie JOS-4011
  • Struttin' (1970), Josie JOS-4012
  • Cabbage Alley (1972), Reprise MS-2076
  • Rejuvenation (1974), Reprise MS-2200
  • Fire on the Bayou (1975), Reprise MS-2228
  • Trick Bag (1976), Reprise MS-2252
  • New Directions (1977), Warner Bros. BS-3042

    Compilation albums
  • Cissy Strut (1974), Island ILPS-9250 [LP]
  • The Best of The Meters (1975), Virgo SV-12002 [LP]
  • Second Line Strut (1980), Charly R&B CRB-1009 [LP]
  • Here Come The Metermen (1986), Charly R&B CRB-1112 [LP]
  • Struttin' (1987), Charly R&B CD-63
  • Good Old Funky Music (1990), Rounder CD-2104
  • Funky Miracle (1991), Charly CDNEV-2 [2-CD set]
  • Meters Jam (1992), Rounder CD-2105
  • Fundamentally Funky (1994), Charly CPCD-8044
  • Funkify Your Life: The Meters Anthology (1995), Rhino R2-71869 [2-CD set]
  • The Best of The Meters (1996), Mardi Gras MG-1029
  • The Very Best of The Meters (1997), Rhino R2-72642
  • Kickback (2001), Sundazed LP-5081/SC-11081
  • Zony Mash (2003), Sundazed LP-5087/SC-6211
  • Here Comes the Meter Man (The Complete Josie Recordings 1968–1970) (2011), Charly SNAX627CD [2-CD set]
  • Original Album Series (2014), Rhino 081227961565 [5-CD set], reissues: Cabbage Alley, Rejuvenation, Fire on the Bayou, Trick Bag, New Directions
  • A Message from The Meters: The Complete Josie, Reprise & Warner Bros. Singles 1968–1977 (2016), Real Gone Music RGM-0491 [2-CD set]

    Live albums
  • Uptown Rulers: The Meters live on the Queen Mary (1975 [rel. 1992]), Rhino R2-70376
  • Live at the Moonwalker (1993), Lakeside Music LAKE-2022 – as 'The Legendary Meters'
  • Second Helping (Live at the Moonwalker) (1994), Lakeside Music LAKE-2026 – as 'The Legendary Meters'
  • Fiyo at the Fillmore, Volume 1 (2001 [rel. 2003]), Too Funky/Fuel 2000/Varese 030206127522 – as 'The Funky Meters'

    Original Josie (45-rpm) releases
  • 1001 Sophisticated Cissy // Sehorn's Farm (1968) US # 34
  • 1005 Cissy Strut // Here Comes The Meter Man (1969) US # 23
  • 1008 Ease Back // Ann (1969) US # 61
  • 1013 Dry Spell // Little Old Money Maker (1969) US # 114*
  • 1015 Look-Ka Py Py // This Is My Last Affair (1970) US # 56
  • 1018 Chicken Strut // Hey! Last Minute (1970) US # 50
  • 1021 Hand Clapping Song // Joog (1970) US # 89
  • 1024 A Message From The Meters // Zony Mash (1970) [45rpm release only, not on LP] US # 123**
  • 1026 Stretch Your Rubber Band // Groovy Lady (1971) [45rpm release only, not on LP]
  • 1029 Doodle-Oop (The World Is A Little Bit Under The Weather) // I Need More Time (1971) [45rpm release only, not on LP] US # 124*
  • 1031 Good Old Funky Music // Sassy Lady (1971) [45rpm release only, not on LP]

    Original Reprise/Warner Bros. (45-rpm) releases
  • REP 1086 Do The Dirt // Smiling (1972)
  • REP 1106 Cabbage Alley // The Flower Song (1972)
  • REP 1135 Chug Chug Chug-A-Log (Push N' Shove), Part 1 // Chug Chug Chug-A-Lug (Push N' Shove), Part 2 (1972) [45rpm release only, not on LP]
  • RPS 1307 Hey Pocky A-Way // Africa (1974)
  • RPS 1314 People Say // Loving You Is On My Mind (1974)
  • RPS 1338 They All Ask'd For You // Running Fast (Long Version) (1975) US # 101*
  • RPS 1357 Disco Is The Thing Today // Mister Moon (1976)
  • RPS 1372 Trick Bag // Find Yourself (1976)
  • WBS 8434 Be My Lady // No More Okey Doke (1977) US # 78 US chart is Billboard unless otherwise noted. * Cash Box singles chart. ** Record World singles chart.

    Influence

    According to Brian Knight of The Vermont Review, "In a sense, the Meters defined the basic characteristics of the groove. While Funkadelic, Cameo, James Brown and Sly Stone are synonymous with funk, these artists look to the Meters for the basic-down to earthy and raw sound." Music critique Robert Christgau called the band "totally original" and placed the compilation album Funkify Your Life: The Meters Anthology on his list of top six New Orleans classics.

    The Meters' music has been sampled by musicians around the world, including rap artists Heavy D, LL Cool J and Queen Latifah, Musiq, Big Daddy Kane, Run-DMC, N.W.A, Ice Cube, Scarface, Cypress Hill, EPMD, Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, Beastie Boys, Naughty by Nature, and Tweet.

    Red Hot Chili Peppers covered the Meters' song "Africa", renamed "Hollywood (Africa)", on their 1985 album Freaky Styley. The eclectic jazz-fusion guitarist Oz Noy has recorded his version of "Cissy Strut" twice. Bands such as the Grateful Dead, KVHW, Steve Kimock Band, Widespread Panic, Rebirth Brass Band, Galactic, Jaco Pastorius and The String Cheese Incident have performed songs by The Meters in their concert rotations.

    The Meters' songs have been used in the movies Two Can Play That Game, Jackie Brown, Drumline, Hancock, Calendar Girls, Hitch, Red, and Beerfest. The band's songs were also featured in the television show The Wire and the video game Grand Theft Auto IV.

    Awards and honors

  • In 1970, The Meters were named Best Rhythm and Blues Instrumental Group by both Billboard and Record World magazines.
  • The Meters have been nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame four times since becoming eligible in 1994: 1996, 2012, 2013 and 2017.
  • George Porter Jr. and The Meters were recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the second annual Jammy Awards in 2001.
  • In 2011, the iconic Meters' song "Cissy Strut" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
  • In 2013, The Meters received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Big Easy Music Awards.
  • The band was featured on the 2017 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival's commemorative poster.
  • In January 2018, The Meters were honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

    Further reading