1969: The Meters start running
The Meters had been around since the mid-’60s, honing their bass-heavy sound and generally funking things up as the studio band for Allen Toussaint’s record label in New Orleans. Then, in May 1969, the homegrown foursome — Art Neville, George Porter Jr., Leo Nocentelli and Zigaboo Modeliste — released their first studio album, titled simply “The Meters.” Appropriately, the very first track on that very first album was the chart-climbing “Cissy Strut,” a syncopated instrumental jam they had long used as a warm-up when they were still known as Art Neville and the Sounds. In addition to introducing listeners outside New Orleans to their distinct style of Crescent City funk, it also made them arguably the most influential local band of the late 20th century.
The original Meters broke up in 1977 after recording eight studio albums. They still play the occasional reunion show, however — including closing out the Gentilly Stage on Sunday (May 7), the final day of the 2017 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. “We feel like it’s the year of the Meters,” festival organizer Quint Davis said of the booking. “Saying something about the Meters and what that means to the history of New Orleans is where I’ll be for a certain amount of time.”
- The Meters’ self-titled first album charted at 23 on the Billboard R&B charts and at 108 on the Billboard 200. Three singles from the album also charted: “Cissy Strut” hit No. 4 on the R&B charts and 23 on the U.S. charts; “Sophisticated Cissy” hit Nos. 7 and 34, respectively; and “Ease Back” reached Nos. 20 and 61.
- Other notable Meters songs to work their way into the New Orleans songbook include “They All Asked For You,” “Fire on the Bayou,” “Hey Pocky A-Way” and “Hand Clapping Song.”
- The Meters have twice been nominated for induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in 2013 and 2014. They have yet to earn enough votes to be inducted.
- The Meters served as the opening act for the Rolling Stones on the venerable rockers’ tours of the U.S. and Europe in 1975 and 1976. The Stones got turned on to the New Orleans band after hearing them play at an L.A. release party in 1975 for Paul McCartney’s “Venus and Mars” album.
- The song “6v6 La” on The Meters’ debut album got its spur-of-the-moment name from the nomenclature printed on the side of a radio tube.
- In a 2010 interview with Gibson.com, Nocentelli told the story of how The Meters were hired to play a party in the early 1970s for a little band called Led Zeppelin. When the Meters got to the party — held at Cosimo Matassa’s legendary New Orleans recording studio — they realized they were the only ones there. “All of a sudden, Jimmy Page and all the rest of the guys, they all came in. And they was the only ones there,” Nocentelli said. “… There wasn’t supposed to be any people. We were just playing for those guys.”
- The Meters’ 1974 album “Rejuvenation” came in at No. 139 on a 2012 Rolling Stone magazine list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Their 1969 second album, “Look-Ka Py Py,” came in at 220.
- The Funky Meters are a second iteration of The Meters that still plays regular gigs. The band presently consists of Neville and Porter, with Brian Stolz and Terrence Houston.
- The Meters were immortalized on the official 2017 Jazz Fest poster, which features an image of the band painted by Francis X. Pavy.
Nearly 50 years later, The Meters are still beloved in New Orleans. Even though they play together only on occasion, their influence can be heard across the spectrum of American music. Artists who have either covered or sampled their work range from NWA to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and from The Grateful Dead to A Tribe Called Quest. “The Meters may well be the finest performing American band,” Rolling Stone magazine wrote in 1976. “Without resorting to such modern pop trappings as smoke bombs and gyrating pianos, the Meters offer a continually challenging and sophisticated blend of classic New Orleans styles and modern funk, infusing the music with a contagious vitality.”