THE METERS / “The Meters Mixtape”
(left to right) Leo Nocentelli, Zig Modeliste, Art Neville, George Porter Jr. I have reason to hate Zig, aka Zigaboo, i.e. Joseph Modeliste, the drummer with the Meters. He snatched the drum sticks out of my hands. Well, he wasn’t the only one, just one of the main culprits (for the record the other two percussion thugs were James Black and Smokey Johnson). What had happened was I was just out the Army. It was June 1968 and was supposed to be visiting my family for a week, maybe ten or twelve days before returning to fulfill my duties in the drum chair of our little R&B band we had in El Paso Texas. We were basically a quintet: rhythm section and two vocalists. Della had a Gladys Knight kind of vibe and Tommie was in an Aretha bag but with a deeper voice, the kind of voice that has ruined many a preacher’s reach for religious piety. As proof of the sincerity of my promise to return, I had left my beloved drum set in El Paso. So, I checking the scene and these three thugs whip my ass. Not together mind you, but at separate times, separate spots. I really wanted to be a jazz drummer. I mean I knew I wasn’t in the league of Tony Williams, Art Blakey or Max Roach but I thought I could hold my own until James Black completely demolished that hopeless vanity. Then Smokey showed me how childishly ragged my technique was. But I still had hope that I could learn, could develop, could eventually catch up… until Zig sat my black ass down and dropped some beats that let me know to even think I could be a funky drummer was a deep, deep delusion unworthy of anyone with even half a brain. Yall are listening to recordings. I sat less than three feet away and wanted to cry like a baby: cry with joy because the music was so good, cry with despair because the music was so good. I was thoroughly enjoying my misery. It may not have been that night but if it wasn’t, not too long after that I submitted to reality and gave up my quest to make the transition from semi-professional to professional musician. My main thing was, I wanted to be better than adequate. I wanted to be good. I knew I could wield my pen with a lot more authority than I could swing a drum stick. So in one sense I was making a rational decision but in another sense I was walking away from a dearly, dearly beloved, and unless you ever walked out on an exciting lover, you can’t fully understand my anguish. So this particular Mixtape is mostly because of Zig. The Meters were and remain the pre-eminent New Orleans funk band. In my book The Meters are a smidgen more funky than The Neville Brothers, and that’s mainly behind the syncopations of Zig. While these songs might not sound as innovative as P-Funk or Earth, Wind & Fire, nor as pure as James Brown but The Meters have something none of the aforementioned had—even as I admit that the aforementioned were overall more important in the development of the music. You can listen to every record ever made and you will not find a calculus of funk like The Meters mastered. This is a higher authority of rhythm. Indeed, The Meters were so funky that they made a nationally renowned outfit like Booker T & The MGs sound like a Guy Lombardo pseudo, wanna-be-funky outfit. The Meters had two serious periods: the first is often called the Josie years and the second is called the Reprise/Warner Brothers years, that’s if you want to section it by record labels. During the Josie years the band was a quartet: Art Neville – keyboards, George Porter Jr. – bass, Leo Nocentelli – guitar and Zig Modeliste – drums. During the Reprise years the quartet became a quintet with the addition of Cyril Neville – percussion. Art and Cyril were the main lead vocalists but all of the members contributed vocals. You can hear that the quintet was more sophisticated but god damn the quartet had a unparalleled ability to lock down a groove. On a harmonic level it was that complex but those four guys knew how to play in rhythmic counterpoint. Everybody was on the one but everybody wasn’t playing on the same downbeat. If you listen to the bass, you can always tell where the one, two, three, four is. Art and Leo were filling all the spaces between the prime numbers and Zig, well, Zig he was playing fractions, quadratic equations, exponentials and even some imaginary numbers. For example, try listening to his bass drum while tapping out the beat he’s doing with his left hand. For most humans it’s impossible. And imagine doing that for three or four hours a night—easy, no sweat, a drummer cool as Eskimo toenails. Some people think funk is easy to play until they realize how fiendishly difficult it is to master syncopation, which is the hallmark of all great funk. The Meters, as their name makes clear, are masters of keeping funky time. —Kalamu ya Salaam The Meters Mixtape Playlist Funkify Your Life: The Meters Anthology 01 “Cissy Strut" 02 “Sophisticated Cissy” 03 “Here Comes The Meter Man” 04 “Ease Back” 05 “Look-Ka Py Py” 06 “Same Old Thing” 07 “Chicken Strut” 08 “A Message From The Meters” Anthology The Josie Years 09 “People Get Ready” Funkify Your Life: The Meters Anthology 10 “Cabbage Alley” 11 “Fire On The Bayou” 12 “They All Ask'd For You” 13 “(Doodle Loop) The World Is A Little Bit Under The Weather” 14 “Hey Pocky A-Way” 15 “People Say” 16 “Africa” 17 “Be My Lady” Rejuvenation 18 “Just Kissed My Baby” 19 “It Ain’t No Use”
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