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Published: 2017/04/28
by Matt Inman

George Porter Jr.: The Meters at 50

The Meters have been a New Orleans institution since their emergence on the scene in the ‘60s, and although the funk godfathers only released seven albums—with their final coming back in 1977—their music has more than stood the test of time, influencing countless artists in the ensuing years. The original quartet of Art Neville, George Porter Jr., Leo Nocentelli and Zigaboo Modeliste rarely play together—reconvening just a handful of times since their original reunion in 2000—but this year the band is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Plans include a special show at the Orpheum Theater in their native New Orleans on April 29 followed by a May 7 appearance on the final day of this year’s New Orleans Jazz & Heritage festival.

George Porter Jr. is probably the most visible member of the band these days, as the bassist rarely seems to stop moving, with multiple bands and frequent superjam sit-ins popping up around the country. Here, he speaks about The Meters kicking off a big year with a special two-show appearance on Jam Cruise 15, how the original members get along these days and what might be in store for 2017 and beyond.

Can you talk about the decision for The Meters to do a 50th anniversary reunion on Jam Cruise?

I guess that the truth of the matter would be that it was Annabel Lukins—she’s been trying to get The Meters on for a few years now. If I wouldn’t have missed last year because my wife was ill, this would have been our 11th trip. So it’s just been 10 for us. She contacted each one of the members of the band individually to find out if they were interested. She had been asking Zig about doing it for several years, and he just was not excited about the boat thing. I was surprised when she called me up and told me that Zig agreed to doing it. And also I remember a couple years ago when Funky Meters did [Jam Cruise], Art said he didn’t ever want to do that again; he didn’t have a good time. But when I heard that Zig and Art both said they were gonna do it, I said, “What?! Okay!” Something I always say: Never say never.

What do you think got them on the boat? Do you think it was maybe the 50th anniversary thing?

I would think that that was probably something in the back of everybody’s mind. It is 50 years, and we should try and make something special out of this year, if nothing else. We may not see 51, so it’s not a bad idea. I was happy that they all agreed to doing it, as well as agreeing to do Jazz Fest this year as well. And then we were told a few months after we agreed to doing the Jazz Festival that we were going to be the official poster for the festival this year.

Yeah, it looks great! Can you talk about some of your sit-ins and your Jam Room experience on this year’s Jam Cruise. You were all over the place.

As much as I can get to play with Steve Kimock, I try. I just love playing with Steve. It was a no-brainer—when I knew that he was doing a Jam Room, I was definitely headed there. After my first little jam with him that was, I guess, about 45 minutes or something like that, he took a little break, and they wanted him to go back and play again, but no other bass players wanted in. So I was on my way out the door and his wife Jennifer came running, grabbed my arm and said, “Steve needs you! Come on back!” So we wound up just staying in there until 5:00 in the morning! [Laughs]

And then the night that I hosted–those nights that I do the [Jam] Room, I tend to not be as anal about others from the cruise [lineup] getting to play, to come up and jam. So there was a lot of, just, cruisers that got to come in. I don’t have anybody sitting on the side saying who’s gonna play and who isn’t. It was kind of like, “Come on and let’s see what you got!” We had a few guys that came up and kind of struggled with it, but I thought it was cool.

One of those people was Jager Soss, a 15-year-old drummer from Long Island. How did you two meet?

It was something that had to happen. Once I found out he was on the boat—his uncle came to me and told me he was there, and then maybe a couple hours later that first day, I bumped into Jager. I met him—I think it was in December—at the Capitol Theater. We played together with Brandon Niederauer. It was a performance that surrounded Brandon. I met Jager for the first time that night. I just remember him being scared to death that he was playing with me, and I walked over to him and said, “Hey, man, just have some fun! It’s just music, you know? Listen to what’s going on around you and just have some fun!” He played great that night; it was fun! And in the Jam Room he did great! There wasn’t anything planned—music was just getting thrown at him, and he was paying attention. I liked the fact that he was paying attention to the basslines I was playing, and some of the parts that I was playing he adapted to his drum part. That happens when somebody’s paying attention, not somebody who’s just banging. I thought he did really well.

I also wanted to ask the surprise renewal of vows with you and your wife during The Meters’ first set. You didn’t know about that before?

It was funny—when we arrived at the port Friday morning, Captain Toast ran up to me and he said, “So what day is the renewal of the vows supposed to happen?” and I said, “What?!” and he said, “Oh that’s somebody else! I’m sorry! Hey man, how you doing Porter?! I’ll see you later!” And he ran off! So in the back of my head, the wheels start spinning; I kind of had a feeling that my daughter had made some plans, but I didn’t know when or where it was gonna happen. And then, she called us and told us that we were doing a reception for The Meters up in this room behind the stage. So then I thought that’s when they’re gonna drop the ball on us. I was all ready for the vows thing to happen—and it didn’t! I thought maybe after Captain Toast slipped and told me about it, they might have called it off. And then for her to come up in the middle of the set—Leo knew about it! It was supposed to happen after the first song, but we played six songs in a row! [Laughs] So Leo thought that it probably went away, but nobody told me that I was supposed to stop after the first song, so I just kept on doing the transition betweens songs. At some point, we had to stop and give Zig a chance to regroup for the song he had to sing, so that’s when we stopped. That’s when Katrina—she was chilling on the stairs—she said, “I see my window, I better do it now!” And that totally did catch me as a surprise; I had no idea.

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