A New Life for Zigaboo Modeliste
Dale: I was watching some videos of your performance at Outside Lands and I thought it was interesting that while you were having those technical difficulties when Leo Nocentelli’s amp stack cut out and you had to do an improvised jam with just you, Art and George, you really did seem to be enjoying yourself, despite the frustrating sound problems. And you three were really doing well together, still connecting musically. It seemed that The Meters’ creative energy is still there. Would you agree with that?
Zig: The show must go on. And if somebody drops off, the rest of the band needs to get together and keep it happening, because it’s not for us—it’s for the people. And you do what you can. I’ve never been what you’d call a “slacker.” I never went to a gig and tried to play only a little bit because I was angry with somebody and didn’t want to be there, or whatever. Or if the crowd wasn’t big enough, or they weren’t cheering, or nothing. All of that stuff is on the back burner. What’s most important is that you give your best performance to people any time that you can do it. So that if you lose anything, it won’t be very much.
Dale: So what was it like performing Desitively Bonnaroo with Dr. John this year at the Bonnaroo festival?
Zig: Well, it’s hard to really remember when it was that we first recorded that record with John. Because the way it was recording—you know, they had The Meters in there with Dr. John recording—but then they had horns and vocals…All those people came and overdubbed in parts. We never got a chance to play like we did at Bonnaroo. That was a first for all of us, with the horns and everything. The whole ensemble. Everything that was on the record—even Allen Toussaint. So I thought it went off pretty damn good since we hadn’t visited that music in so long. I got a kick out of doing it, I think all The Meters got a kick out of doing it as well, and I was so thankful that these guys at Bonnaroo were able to think up this whole imagery. And you know they got their name from that album? You know that?
Zig: But for them to come down and ask us to do it like that for their 10 year anniversary, that was real classy. That’s a first class organization.
*Dale: I was going to ask this before when we were talking about your reunions in general: is there any possibility of you guys writing new material, maybe recording again? I know you said you have mixed feelings about playing with The Meters, but since these reunions seem to have been going so well and since you said you hope that something will happen, I was curious if there’s any chance that you’ll write some new material. *
hopeful, but it really doesn’t look like that. I’ve really been trying to do my diligence to get these guys to see that it’s maybe something we should be thinking about doing. But again, there are just so many other different dynamics going on. I’m not a betting man, and I wouldn’t bet that that would happen. I would hope that it would happen, but I’m not gonna bet on something like that.
Dale: Yeah, that’s understandable. So this is unrelated, but I was reading that back in 1977 when The Meters originally broke up, first you toured briefly with Keith Richards and Ron Wood, but then after that you quit playing drums altogether because you were disappointed how some legal issues with Allen Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn turned out. And as a musician myself I know that it must take a lot to upset you to the point where you want to give up your passion. I’m wondering how long you kept the drums in the closet, and what you did in your time. I’m also curious if when you returned to playing it was with a newfound energy and love for the music, and whether or not you approached music in a new way.
Zig: Well there were several different things going on. I was really upset that The Meters split up on their decision to sue management. They all settled out of court, and I was the only one trying to fight for the rights to the music with the thought that we all got really shafted. But I met a gentleman that I knew for a long time. He was a—I don’t want to say a genius—but very, very intelligent, and he was the only person that I had met that had that approach to music. He was teaching me a lot about the music business, you know, and the bottom lines…and he showed me all of that, so he helped me with my case a little bit, giving me some advice here and there, and keeping it real for me. I wanted to move to California because I wasn’t really motivated by what was going on in New Orleans. There were very few outlets for you to really take off and be successful. I wanted to move to California because my friend lived in California, and I wanted to be close by him so that I could get more knowledge about the business that I thought I knew about, but didn’t really know as much as I should’ve. Which is the reason why groups like The Meters have problems…because they don’t get the proper advice, and they don’t get the people that they should, and they don’t know what they should know. You can sign their contracts, you can get into all these situations that are irreversible, and you lose your property, you lose everything, you know? And when your career’s over, you don’t have nothing to look forward to.So I looked at all of that and I was getting really frustrated because I knew that I had to make some adjustments. I had to still concentrate and all. What I was doing was the best way to be involved in the music business, and knowing what to do with my follow-up stuff, and knowing how to deal with situations where there is no school or anything for them. You don’t get that in high school or college. You know, there’s no place you could actually go. Somebody has to really take an interest in you or present some kind of a course or something you could take that’s reasonable for musicians or entertainers to be able to do. You know—how to manage your money, how to do a lot of different things. But that’s not real, so as a result of that…between an attorney—if you have one—your manager—if you have one of those —and Uncle Sam…we all have an Uncle Sam…and if you don’t know how to take care of your business right, you will sign documents that are detrimental to your career, you lose all your money…and any money you make you’re gonna lose down the line, because people are just on the take all the time. So I saw how negative that was, and it just made me want to stop playing.
Dale: Yeah, that’s really discouraging.
Zig: It just made me want to stop…Nowadays music is even more complicated, because the whole business model that I grew up trying to learn has changed. I don’t know what young musicians are gonna do. You know, there are no more record stores, the record labels are biting it hard right now, distribution is down—a lot of the distributors are closing down—you see a lot of trimming down now. It’s all about downloads. So how do you get seen? How do you get heard? The window of opportunity is closing…unless you’re owned by some big conglomerate. That’s the only way you get on TV, that’s the only way you get heard. You have to be owned by somebody else.
Dale: But there’s another interesting side to the whole internet revolution and how it’s changed music, which is that music can be shared so much more easily now. Your music, for instance, has been spread throughout the world, and there have been all these bands in Europe—the first one that comes to mind is The New Mastersounds, these guys in England—that have modeled their sound directly after The Meters, and I can’t help but think that that’s due in part to how accessible music has become because of the internet. And how it puts music—especially from new, up-and-coming bands—in full circulation. Now I remember before you mentioned that there are “a lot of imitators,” but that you’re the real deal, and I’m curious what your opinion of these guys is—not The New Mastersounds in particular—but all of these funk bands that have followed in your footsteps in an effort to continue your legacy.
Zig: Well, The Meters didn’t need to record with that in mind. We just thought we would record an album and that would be it. You know, get a few more gigs, or whatever. But the music stood the test of time. It stayed around, it was perpetuated by whatever—radio, whatever you want—before the internet, The Meters had a history. That’s like all the other groups: Led Zeppelin, Paul McCartney, anybody. If you had a lot of history and a lot of people have heard your music—if they knew who you were or not…Like I said, music does things that are so incredible. As far as the bands go, you know there’s another band called The Killer Meters?
Dale: Oh really? [laughs]
Zig: Yeah. There’s a band that records from England that call themselves The Killer Meters. They have an album out now, and they play The Meters’ music—all The Meters’ songs—just like they go. I don’t promote them but…I got the album. So that’s how I know. They call themselves The Killer Meters. I think they might be a little bit better than The [New] Mastersounds, who I’ve heard, but I can’t hear the similarity between The Meters and The [New] Mastersounds.
Dale: Well they’re writing originals and they have contributed their own thing to it, but…
Zig: But I wish them all the luck in the world, and hopefully they’ll still have their chance to do their thing. But I remain nothing but flattered to know that other young groups—although bad enough for the group that I play in—to wanna be like The Meters, to wanna sound like The Meters, or do anything that would have any reference to The Meters’ music. That’s quite an achievement to look back at it and see other people wanting to do what you do because they admire what you do. So I remain very flattered about that, and I wish’em well. I wish they could keep on going. You know—like that.