When Leo Met Leo: A Conversation with Leo Nocentelli, Page McConnell and George Porter Jr.
Photo by Dino Perrucci
How specifically has Art influenced your organ style?
Page: There are certain songs where there are specific parts that I wanted to learn the organ part [for]. I think most of the stuff, Leo came up with—and Art probably too. When Leo and I did a little rehearsal the other day, we got to rehearse for about two hours. It was just Zig, Leo and I it was really fun. He showed me some of the intricacies like, “No, this is really how that little keyboard part goes in ‘Cissy Strut’ and that kind of thing.” Stuff I tried to pick up, and I was close, but I didn’t have it exactly right. It’s such an education and I’m getting so much out of it. And with the solos, I try to keep what Art did in mind and maybe use it as a launching point. Like I’ll start where he started it and then take over and play more of what I play, and it kind of goes from song to song because most of them are more open-ended jams and I like that kind of playing.
Leo: When I met you, we rehearsed with just guitar, drums and keyboard. Art played with such innocence because Art did what Art did. He did not try to be anyone else. He didn’t try to be like Jimmy Smith. It’s hard to duplicate innocence and you’re about the closest dude I’ve run into musically that came close. It’s hard to reproduce somebody’s innocence ‘cause Art is an innocent player. He just plays what he feels—he’s not copping off of anybody. And Page, you do a great job.
Page: Well, thank you! For me, [I try not] to get too excited because I’m so excited to be playing with these guys. I have to remember, the space between the notes is so important. You play a riff or a little melody and you just let it sit there for a while and let people take it in and then you play the next one. That’s what I got from him.
George, do you remember anything about The Gyptians recording session you did with Page in the late ‘90s? That was the first time you played with Page, right?
George: Yup! What was the name of that song [“Pain in My Heart”]? I remember bringing the concept into the studio. Something about the heart or something like that?
Page: I can’t remember! We wrote the whole song with lyrics and we also got a couple of guys who sang.
George: We got Nick Daniels and Earl [Smith] to come in and sing.
Page: It really came out nice. We did the whole thing in like a day and a half. It was a lot of fun and a big thrill for me then too.
George: That was a fun project! One of the things that I like to do more than anything is live right on the edge of consciousness. I think I catch a lot of grief because of it. Sometimes you just have to push the envelope. I don’t have a problem pushing the envelope. I’ll push that sucker as hard as I can. It’s hard, you know. You try not to upset the writers. So many writers of music are protective of their pieces of music but I tend to take a push on it. I want to push on the envelope. I pushed on the envelope so hard on “Cissy Strut,” when I played it with Porter Batiste Stoltz, we called it “Cissy Had the Blues.” We played it as a 12-bar blues. I just wanted to push the envelope on it. Man, I’ve played these songs for almost 45 years. I think I have the right to turn it upside down.
Leo: Mess it up a little bit. That’s all I do. With my personal gig, I do “Cissy Strut” in the 10/8, the 11/8 time signature. I add some things into “Fire on the Bayou” whenever I played it. I think everything I play is not completely different but something else. People think, “Well, you know, it’s not quite like that record.” I often make excuses before I even play it. With “Cissy Strut,” I’ll say a thing like, “Listen, we’re going to take that section and we’re going to play it in 10/8 time signature and we’re going to play it in the 11/8 time signature. When you hear it like that, I don’t want you going, “That dude don’t know what he’s doing” or “I know that song and it don’t go like that,” cause I just wanna let y’all know, we know what we’re doing but we’re just changing it up a little bit.
When it came to these four Meter Men shows with Page, can you talk a little bit about the choice in the setlist? Did you guys try to do some standards that you could play around with or did you try to incorporate songs from your various solo careers?
George: Leo originally sent out 20 songs and then, last night for instance, I wrote the setlist out. Originally, it was supposed to be one long set but we found out it was going to be two sets. So I broke it up into seven songs for each set. There was one piece of music that, in rehearsal, we thought about going into “Funkify Your Life” from that other song. Because of the length of the time that we had to play, I didn’t go there. Zig was looking at me and saying, “Oh, we’re going to do this?” I said, “No, no!” I think that almost all of our songs leave plenty of room, especially those instrumentals, which are two minutes long. Back in the ‘60s when we were playing these songs, when we first went out on the road, we had a full hour gig to play and we had an album that was 54 minutes long. We quickly learned how to stretch out every song. And there were so many albums, the two albums after the original record got written out on the gigs supporting the first record.
I mean, “Look-Ka Py Py” got written coming from somewhere up here on our way to Atlanta to do the session and we blew a piston in the vehicle. The engine was saying “pu-ka-chi-koo, pu-ka-chi-ka” and so Zig started beating along on the roof of the car and we sang for a hundred-some-odd miles, all the way till we got right to the studio. By time we got to the studio, Leo had a lick in his head and that was “Look-Ka Py Py.” So much of our music got written that way. It wasn’t until the Cabbage Alley days that we started spending time at home writing songs and bringing completed songs to the studio, acting more like songwriters, you know? Before, we just kind of jammed our way into all of our music.