George Porter Jr. and Brian Stoltz, funky Meters – photo by Rob Chapman
Brian Stoltz has recorded with Bob Dylan, toured with The Neville Brothers, shared the stage with Jerry Garcia on a number of occasions and that’s only scratching the surface. The guitarist has been a part of various top notch projects and his current band, the funky Meters, is no exception. With Art Neville on the keys, George Porter Jr. on bass, Russell Batiste Jr. on the drums and Stoltz rounding out the group on guitar, the funky Meters lay down a blend of blues-infused funk grooves that can only come from a place like New Orleans.
The funky Meters will be joining their friends—and family—Dumpstaphunk at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY on New Year’s Eve. We spoke with Stoltz about the upcoming gig, his future plans, his past collaborations, his ongoing lawsuit with an old management company and more in this interview.
The funky Meters are going to be playing a show with Dumpstaphunk at the recently reopened Capitol Theater in Port Chester on New Year’s Eve. How did two New Orleans funk bands end up ringing in the New Year in New York?
Well it started out as funky Meters on the bill with Steve Miller, who’s now playing on the 30th. For some reason or another they decided to split it up and Steve Miller took the night on the 30th and funky Meters got the night on New Years Eve. Next thing we know, we heard Dumpstaphunk was added to the bill. We don’t really know how it happened but we know it happened and we’re glad it did. It’s going to be a really special night having Ian and Ivan and all those guys there.
The funky Meters will be playing Jam Cruise in a few weeks as well. Can you talk about your past experience with that event?
I’ve only played it once before. I believe it was in 2009. Oh man, it was a blast. Six days out with a whole lot of friends. Lots of musicians that we don’t normally get to see. It’s a chance for everybody in the community to come together. It was just six days of non-stop fun. Between the shows, the jam room and all the stuff that goes on. It’s a really great thing.
You rejoined the funky Meters in 2011 after a few years of playing solo. How do the differences in you and Ian Neville’s styles affect the band’s sound?
I think Ian’s really locked into, and has mastered, that early Leo Nocentelli style. Ian’s rhythm playing is a lot like the early stuff. They took it back to the 60s, early 70s. It’s just different. He’s really got it when it comes to that early catalogue. When I heard the shows with someone who recorded them, they were really great. He took it back to that old 60s style.
What I bring to the table with the funky Meters is a little bit more of an edge. My rhythm playing is not only based on that earlier style but all these other players I grew up with. Jimmy Nolen from James Brown’s band, early Sly and Hendrix stuff, and even guitar players like John Lennon and George Harrison. I have the tendency to bring all of it to the table. When I joined funky Meters, Art Neville said the band wasn’t just going to be playing old Meters songs. He wasn’t interested in just copying old Meters stuff or having a Meters tribute band. This was a live band. He wanted me to bring to the table whatever it was I had to bring. That included all of my styles. I just have a harder edge. That’s all. It’s different with a harder edge, that’s all I can say. It’s a hard thing to explain because it’s something you just do.
You talk about the funky Meters not being just a Meters tribute band. There are a lot of configurations of the Meters playing now. Does having all these groups—the Original Meters, the Metermen, Leo Nocentelli’s Meters Experience—playing concurrently affect the sound of the funky Meters or not really?
No, that has nothing to do with it. I played a show this Saturday night with George Porter and Zigaboo from The Original Meters. Not that we’re a band that’s looking to tour or anything. But none of these bands affect funky Meters. All of these bands, they all have their own chemistry. You take one person out and the chemistry completely changes. And the Funky Meters, it is what it is. It’s the four of us just making this music. The music is never affected by any of the outside stuff going on. The funky Meters don’t affect those other bands either. I don’t see that. One person coming out and one person coming in continues the whole thing. When funky Meters went on hiatus and PBS [Porter, Batiste, Stoltz] started working, it was really hard for that band to catch up because a lot of people just looked at it as the funky Meters without Art. It appeared to have lacked something. It was a completely separate entity. It didn’t sound anything like the funky Meters. Taking Art Neville out of that mix made it something completely different. Putting Art Neville back into that mix, he’s got such a strong personality; it totally changes it into the funky Meters. Nothing’s really affected but that outside stuff.
Speaking of PBS, you guys have been in a pretty long legal battle with your old management. Can you talk about that?
Trials over. We spent a few weeks in court in June and went back for almost three weeks in September. We’re just waiting now. We have till the middle of January to file briefs and hopefully the judge will rule sometime in February. I’m hoping this is all resolved by February so I can get back to my regular life and start getting the career back. The last three years have been pretty consumed by this thing. When George left the band, we had a management thing with this company and the agreement ran out and Porter had notified the company that he was not going to be re-signing. He was also leaving PBS. It wasn’t really going anywhere. Our management sued us for money that they claimed we owe them. We’ve been in court for three years now. It’s been a nightmare. Hopefully, it’ll be coming to an end soon. In the meantime, it’s been three years of trying to figure out what’s going on, what happened all those years. It’s hard to explain, but I can tell you it’s been a nightmare. There was a fund that was put together. It’s a website called savepbs.org. Money was trying to be raised to help us fight the case. It just died because we weren’t really free to talk about it. At the time, we were advised to stay quiet about it. We didn’t want any outside influence on the case or anything. We were just under advice to not get out in the public and talk about it. Because we weren’t able to answer questions and do interviews about it, people got suspicious about it. Very few people donated to the site. So now, we’re stuck with a huge legal bill and we don’t know how the case is going to turn out but we still have that legal bill. Again, it’s been somewhat of a nightmare.