The Meters are often credited with helping to originate funk music, while remaining intimately tied to the Mardi Gras sounds of their native New Orleans. Though the group’s classic lineup parted ways in the late ‘70s, band co-founders Art Neville and George Porter Jr. have toured since the late ‘80s at the funky Meters —first with original Meters guitarist Leo Nocentelli and drummer Russell Batiste, Jr and later with Batiste and guitarist Brian Stoltz. Then in March 2007, around the time the original Meters members reunited for a series of festival and club gigs, Stoltz left the funky Meters and was replaced by Art Neville’s son Ian. This past January, Stoltz reunited with the funky Meters for a show at New Orleans’ Tipitina’s and quickly rejoined the group as a permanent member. Oddly enough, around the same time Bonnaroo’s promoters reunited the Original Meters for an appearance at Bonnaroo, opening the door two distinctly different bands tied to the same legacy. Porter and Stoltz explain all this and more to Jambands.com as they prepare for a very busy 2011.
PART I: GEORGE PORTER JR.
You recently released a Christmas EP for your mother. What inspired you to record a set of holiday music at this point in your career?
The idea kind of came about when I was on tour with 7 Walkers last year, and my mom got sick again. It kind of shook my earth—it triggered the thought that this could easily be the last year that I have with my mom. And she had been asking me for years to make a Christmas record but never directly. She would say, “Everybody else is recording Christmas records why don’t you do one?” So I just thought that was something I needed to get done. I came home from tour December 5th and I woke up on the morning of the 6th and started recording. On the 15th—before I went out to do the tour with 7 Walkers—I recorded my final vocal tracks. All week between the day I started recording and that morning I had a really bad voice and couldn’t sing. I woke up that morning and it was a magical thing. It just happened.
It’s the power of modern technology, you can record an album in 10 days and get up on the Internet and out to the people before the holidays.
It was. I had other people working in the camp that were very instrumental in doing the artwork and mastering. And my daughter, she was very instrumental in making sure everything looked the way she perceived the Porter clan would like it.
You spent a good portion of 2010 touring with 7 Walkers. Do you remember the first time you met Bill Kreutzmann?
I met Bill one time a long, long, long time ago. He came in and sat in on a John Mooney gig, which none of us remember much. That was my first experience with Bill and it was very short. One song and he was gone.
But then Malcolm, or Papa Mali as most people know him, was doing a Mardi Gras gig in New Orleans last year and doing a guitar tuning or something like that. He looked at me real kind of strange so I just kind of eased over to see what was going on and when I eased over he asked me, “Are you available to play some gigs in June?” I think it was five shows or something on the West Coast. I said, “Ask me tomorrow when I’m in front of my calendar.” So the next day he called me and I was in front of the calendar and the dates were available and I said, “I’ll make the dates.” I wasn’t quite sure what exactly was going to be expected of me, but I knew who Bill was.
How familiar were you with the Grateful Dead’s music at that point in your career? Obviously the Meters and the Dead crossed paths but they also seemed to exist in parallel worlds.
I don’t have a very large history of Grateful Dead music in my repertoire. Russell Batiste played a few songs. But for the most part, if you’re listening and I have a great set of ears, so there’s not too much that gets played that gets passed me. We had sound check rehearsals at the five gigs and at the end of the first night Bill told Malcolm, “Man, I want this guy in the band.”
They wanted me to become a partner in the band but at this point in time I’m not able to take on any partners because of an ongoing lawsuit that I’m involved with. So I couldn’t become partners with the band so I’m an employee of the band at this point. But I’ve been very active as you know, in performing, as well as singing. I’ve taken on two songs that I really like, “Sugaree” and “Eyes of the World.” I really like those two songs, so I’ve been doing those.
Was it challenging tackling such a vast catalogue of music?
I didn’t find it challenging at all because I am a drummer. I’m not Zigaboo or Bill, but I can play. So I know what they’re doing and when they’re doing it. There’s things that drummers do—statements—that allow you to know what’s coming next. So I can read the signs because I play the kit. I’m very able to adjust. The thing that I do more than anything—outside of learning the songs and learning the changes—is I play with the drummer. I become a unit with the drummer. I think that’s what my job is. My job is to become part of the drums and make that whole—make the drums and bass become a single unit where everyone else on stage has somewhere to go and somewhere to come back to. I always say the drummer’s the guardian of the groove, and I’m the glue that hold all that together.