George Porter, Jr. is best known as the bassist for The Meters, a legendary New Orleans band and R&B rhythm section (also including Art Neville, Leo Nocentelli, and Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste). Despite their lack of popular recognition during the early years, The Meters were immeasurably influential in introducing New Orleans music into mainstream R&B. The Meters recordings from the late 1960s and early ’70s are now revered as historically significant, due to their foundational role in the development of a new genre – funk music.
Besides being one of the progenitors of funk, George Porter, Jr. currently tours with his long-standing solo band, The Runnin’ Pardners.
I interviewed him over the phone for KWUR 90.3 FM in Clayton, MO, to promote a Runnin’ Pardners gig in St. Louis. “I’m in a cheesy motel and the internet service and the phone lines here are terrible,” he warned. The following is a partial transcript of the interview.
– Jared Skoff
When did you start playing bass?
I started playing bass around 12 or 13. I mean, I studied classical guitar ages 8 to 10, and when you’re playing classical guitar you also play bass parts, so I guess I started playing bass when I was 8.
When did you start playing with the other members of the Meters?
I played with Art, Zig, and Leo, and a saxophone player named Gary Brown at a club called the Nightcap. That was like ’65 and ’66. Then in the middle of ’66 we moved to the French Quarter and started playing down there, and then we started going on the road. We first recorded “Sophisticated Cissy” and “Cissy Strut” in the middle of ’67. I was 20 years old.
When you were laying down “Sophisticated Cissy” and “Cissy Strut” did you see yourself as breaking new ground?
No I don’t think we saw ourselves as breaking new ground, not at all.
Was there a moment that you realized you were creating a new genre of music?
No, I think that moment passed us by. Frankly, I don’t believe the band knew what we did or what we were doing. We just wanted to be more competitive in the age of music, with the Commodores and folks like that. So we abandoned the syncopated instrumental part of our repertoire, to try and make us more of a Top 40 kind of band. That may not be a great answer, but that’s what happened.
Do you ever get tired of playing Cissy Strut?
Yes, I do. But it’s just something you can’t get away from. In my solo band, Runnin’ Pardners, we don’t play Cissy Strut anymore.
What was the most exciting recording session you’ve worked on?
That would have to be my last Runnin’ Pardners record, Can’t Beat The Funk, where we re-recorded 16 of the original Meters songs that were never performed live by The Meters. I had the most energy and excitement and felt absolutely overwhelmed that I got this project recorded, because it was wonderful Meter music that had been totally ignored, and we had some great songs. I mean I played so many sessions that I loved over the past forty years, some of them I don’t even remember.
Tell us about The Meter Men, your newest incarnation of the original band.
That band consists of Leo Nocentelli, original Meters guitarist, Ziggy Modeliste, original drummer from the Meters, and Page McConnell [from Phish]. Page McConnell has done more shows than any other keyboard players but we’ve also used John Gros from Papa Grows Funk, and Rich Vogel from Galactic. That band is going to be performing more in the coming years, I’m hoping, but we know that Page is not available all the time so we also use other keyboard players.
George Duke was on the table for being one the keyboard players in The Meter Men, and we were going to use him, but then he passed away. That was on my wishlist to get George Duke on the gig. That would have been KILLER. I’m interested in getting a jazz keyboard player, everyone else is leaning towards the young jamband community of keyboard players. My next step is to go for Herbie Hancock. Aim high!
Does your music have a message?
It may have a message of feeling good. I always play happy music. Some of the grooves are kind of laid back but it’s still great grooves. On Can’t Beat The Funk we were going for some of the songs that The Meters never touched again because the songs may have been too laid back for the band. I’m not afraid of that slow funk stuff. There are some Meters songs that I like to play really slow. I’ve slowed down “People Say” in my band. When we did our first reunion with the original band, I started playing “Just Kissed My Baby” and Zigaboo said, “Whoa, that’s way too slow, man, this is the tempo.” I like it slinky and slow, slow and slinky, I like that. And greasy.