photo: Dean Budnick
When Jam Cruise commenced on Feb. 6, George Porter Jr. & Runnin’ Pardners were on stage grooving as the vessel fled its Miami, Fla. port. Prior to cutting into their first number, “Happy Song,” Annabel Lukins (Director of Artist Relations for Cloud 9 Adventures) addressed the audience and told the story of Porter’s first-time excursion aboard. The tale, which will be told by the man himself in the following interview, launched a long history between the legendary bassist and the floating festival.
In addition to stories of his seaward excursions, Porter remarks on his latest work in the studio: three different recording projects, including the instrumental tracking for the upcoming documentary, George Matters, a set of Runnin’ Pardners tunes, and finally, a collection of R&B favorites plucked from his famous Monday Night Maple Leaf gigs.
You’re a Jam Cruise staple. It’s hard to start out this interview and not acknowledge the fact that you’ve been here for all but one iteration of the event.
I was originally invited as an Artist At Large. I brought my wife because it was right after our anniversary and they got us a room with a balcony and we just kept coming. At the end of the first trip, they’d get you to come and put a deposit down for the next year. So, I went and put a deposit down. They all just started busting out laughing and a couple of months later, I got the deposit back, and they said I was invited back again. I’ve been comin’ back ever since.
That’s the story that was told on stage last night! Since we’re here, there’s a certain significance to being the first act to perform at the 2023 edition of Jam Cruise, how did that come to be?
I would hardly ever choose to be the first to go on. [Laughs.] They just called me up and said this is your schedule. In fact, with the delays, our first song was our sound check. With this band, we’ve been playing together for quite some time–and every Monday night for the last six years at The Maple Leaf–so it was just another Monday night.
What’s kept you coming back all these years?
Well, I really have the most fun playing in the Jam Room because there’s definitely no setlist. Once there were just two of us and I think Oteil [Burbridge] came in, and then there were three bass players and we were just all playing before getting rammed over by guitar players. That’s one of my fondest memories of this place.
When they first started doing the Jam Room, I kind of set the tone for playing for three hours. We played for three hours one night and I had enough, I sat my bass on the floor and told Tony Hall, “Here brother, bring home my bass tomorrow.” And Tony Hall played for another hour or so before he realized I really wasn’t coming back. [Laughs.]
That particular night the Jam Room went for more than four and a half hours and finally the production guys were like, “Man, we gotta start cutting this thing off.” I think that’s why the Jam Room is now a shorter experience. ‘Cause some of those folks would’ve sat there till daybreak.
After you hop off the boat, what’s your trajectory going into the spring?
If it’s Mardi Gras, I’ll be goin’ home for Mardi Gras. Then we go out to do the Take Me to The River tour, then Jazz Fest.
That’s right. The soundtrack, Take Me to the River, just received top honors for Best American Roots Performance at The Grammys. Congratulations.
Yes, we just won a Grammy. We were actually in our hotel room when we got the call. [Laughs.]
Apart from performing live, have you spent time in the studio lately?
Yes. In fact, just before we came out here, Runnin’ Pardners and I were in the studio for 10 days in a row recording three records in New Orleans. One is the instrumental music for the documentary that’s being done on me and my life. It’s gonna be called George Matters. And then there’s a Runnin’ Pardners project, with that group’s songs. For the third project, we recorded music that I played during my Monday night sets [at The Maple Leaf]. We use some of my favorite R&B songs for that.
Since you mentioned the documentary, what can you tell me about that?
It’s a year of my life. We’ve been reaching back and grabbing stuff from the past and lookin’ at that. I have to rent or buy a really high-end scanner to capture some of the photographs that are around my house that they want. So there are other parts of my life included too.
What’s the timeline look like in terms of the film?
The documentary is supposed to come sometime before the end of the year. I know that they’ll be putting the finishing touches on the documentary during Jazz Fest this year.