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Funkified: George Porter Jr.

Interview by Tony Doolin. Go see George Porter Jr. at Cox Capitol Theatre Friday, Sept. 23

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George Porter, Jr. is best known as the bassist of The Meters, along with Art Neville, Leo Nocentelli and Joseph Zigaboo Modeliste. The group was formed in the mid 60’s and came to be recognized as one of the progenitors of funk then called R&B. The Meters disbanded in 1977, but reformed in 1989. Today the original group still plays the occasional reunions but the Funky Meters, of which Porter and Neville are still members, most prominently keeps the spirit alive.  Porter is also the band leader of his own unique long term project the Runnin’ Pardners, well respected not only as a quintessential New Orleans band, the touring band continues to receive accolades on the jam band and festival scene. He has assembled some seasoned and talented musicians to join him on this project. Familiar Pardners – Brint Anderson (guitar) and, Michael Lemmler (keyboards) and rising stars on the New Orleans music scene Khris Royal (saxophone) and Terrence Houston (drums). George Porter Jr. plans to keep a smile on his face.”   Tony Doolin caught up with George this week to talk about his upcoming show in Macon at the Cox Capitol Theatre this Friday.

When you were a teenager, playing with Zigaboo Modelistse in New Orleans, you didn’t start out on bass.  Tell me about your first guitar.
Well, on my guitar.  I was about 14 or 15 years old.  But I had an old silver tone guitar that my mom had given me. We used to go over on Coliseum street.  Zig was living over there.  I used to go over to his house, with my guitar, and a few of us neighborhood guys. We’d just hang out in Zig’s back yard, and play.  I’d play guitar and they’d be beating on box tops and stuff. And we did that until the neighbors got mad and called the cops and the cops actually broke up my guitar and all the box tops. But the bass didn’t come in until I was 17 years old or so.  I was almost a professional level guitar player by then.

The Meters at Jazz Fest '73
The Meters at Jazz Fest ’73

Want to talk about the tour with the Rolling Stones in 1975. The Meters were on the bill with The Stones, and you talk about this being a seminal moment in your career.  You had a bad reception from the crowd. Tell me this story.
That was in Paris.  They were ready for the Stones to come on. When we went out it was an ugly scene.  People were throwing stuff at us.  And we were pretty young, so we left the stage. But Richards and Jagger walked us back out there, and talked to the crowd and stayed out there until we launched into “Fire on the Bayou.”  They sang some of the song with us.  The audience calmed down and the next two nights we were well received.

The Meters reunited for a show in 2006, the first Jazz Fest after Katrina. What did that mean to you to be able to do that.
Well it meant more to New Orleans. We wanted to say that New Orleans was back.  It meant a lot to the whole city.  We wanted to do something for the City.  It was basically a shout out the world that New Orleans was back up and running.  That was the story that should have come away from that.

What is the thing that still drives you musically?
My new band drives me. They push me. I’m still discovering me still. I’m a member of the jam member community.  My motto is “Have Bass will travel” I play with someone every weekend. I don’t have many weekends off.  I’m always playing somewhere with someone.  And I enjoy it.  Zig and I have a group called Foundation of Funk.  Every now and then the original Meters get together.  I just enjoy it.

What can we expect from your show Friday?
You can certainly expect to dance.  For a four-piece band, we are a full band.  You are going to hear a lot of music coming at you.  It’s music you can understand. Good pockets, nice solos, and I’m a halfway decent singer.

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