Festival Spotlight: The Funky Meters

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The Funky Meters are Ian Neville, George Porter, Jr., Art Neville and Russell Batiste, Jr. [Credit: Michael Weintraub]

The Funky Meters are direct descendents of a line of super-funky New Orleans players. In fact, two members helped found the original band, The Meters, who played as Allen Toussaint’s house band during the ‘70s and on legendary Dr. John recordings. To boot, The Meters also scored their own hit albums on Warner Brothers’s Reprise label, considered by many to be the primordial dust that formed Nola funk.

Since the breakup of the band in the late ‘70s, the four original members of The Meters [keyboard and organist Art Neville; bassist George Porter, Jr.; guitarist Leo Nocentelli; drummer Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste] have gone on to great things. Neville and Porter re-formed as The Funky Meters in 1989, with drummer Russell Batiste. Now the band also features Art’s son Ian Neville [of Dumpstaphunk] on guitar. The band will bring their updated funk to two big festival gigs this summer—New Orleans’s annual Jazz and Heritage Festival and Alabama’s inaugural The Hangout Beach Music and Arts Festival.

The day before I spoke with Art Neville, he had put in a full day (6am to 2am!) on the set of the HBO series Treme. Neville will appear in three scenes, alongside fellow Nola legend Allen Toussaint, in the final episode of Season 1. In the interview, we discussed the next generation of Nevilles and some of the country and bluegrass musicians that inspire Neville today.

One thing that’s interesting is the original recordings the Meters did in the ‘60s and ‘70s have been sampled a lot over time by artists, a lot in hip hop. What has been your reaction?

Well, some of it is great. Sometimes they come away with some great music. Sometimes not so great. If it’s good, then I appreciate it. Somebody’s going to do it. It’s just another generation figuring out how to copy a sound and use it as they see fit to use it. And they’re going to do it.

Have you had to ask for royalties when people sample The Meters recordings?

We had several people…I ain’t going into no names but we had to go through that with a couple people. One guy spent more money to keep from paying us than he would’ve had to [to use it legally].

What projects are you working on? Will there be a Neville Brothers album in the near future?

Yeah. I’m still just writing some stuff. Writing with Charles. I got a few good ideas and need to see if it’ll all fit on the same album. We are all working on different stuff right now. Cyril thinks that a lot of the older stuff we did didn’t get a chance. Producers [turned the older Neville Brothers records into] an Aaron Neville [solo] album. A lot of stuff got passed, got skipped over. We’re trying to prevent that from happening by doing it ourselves, by putting it together ourselves.

Tell me about the next generation of Nevilles?

Cyril has a young son who plays drums. Omari Neville. Drummer and singer. Dude is cold blooded.

Is he in a band?

They don’t got a name. They re-did one of Aaron’s songs called “Hercules.” Young people are serious. They’re coming up with ideas. He’s playing in the same room that I started playing piano in.

I bet there’s some good spirits in there.

I got a daughter that’s 13 years old. She’s playing guitar. She listens to groups like Paramore and Kings of Leon. I enjoy those [bands].

I think New Orleans needs a big pop star like Paramore to come out. Maybe the Nevilles will be involved.

I hope so. I like all types of music. I mean, they got country music I enjoy listening to. When I’m in my car, that’s all I listen to. I know you’re aware of George Jones.

Yeah, the Cadillac of country music singers.

Aaron did one of his songs, “The Grand Tour.” You listen to the lyrics and it’s like, “How can he sing that?” It’s serious stuff. It has me crying right off the bat.

In Nashville we get a lot of contemporary country music.

Oh, they got a guy there. What’s his name? I can’t remember the man’s name right now. But he’s a dancer. He can move. He can dance with the guitar and play it. And sing some incredible lyrics. He’s a young guy. 26 or 27 years old. He might be from Australia.

Keith Urban? But he’s a little older.

This little dude I’m talking about is cold blooded. I love all of it, man.

So will the Meters ever do a cover of a George Jones song?

We haven’t done one yet. I said yet.

What would your brothers say if you told them you wanted to cover George Jones?

They’d try to do it.

I could see the Neville Brothers nailing that.

Like I said, [the music] gets taken out of the situation it should be in because my brother Aaron has the type of voice that he has. A lot of producers have wanted to [turn Neville Brothers records into Aaron Neville solo albums]. We all know that’s what [the producer] is doing. It takes away from anything else we do. But it’s going to work out.

I’ll look forward to seeing what happens on the next Neville Brothers record.

I’m trying to think of the country player I really enjoy. I also listen to bluegrass. That’s cold blooded the types of harmonies that they do.

Who do you like in bluegrass?

Allison Krauss.

Do you like Gillian Welch?

I don’t know if I’ve heard that.

I think you’d like that. It’s more about the harmonies. It’s not upbeat songs.

That’s what I mean. That lilting sound. Almost like they’re crying. I’m going to have to check that out.

The Hangout Festival will be held May 14-16 in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Learn more at www.hangoutmusicfest.com.

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