IN THE MUSIC SPOTLIGHT: FUNKY METERS

SHARE IN THE MUSIC SPOTLIGHT: FUNKY METERS

Funky Meters (above) photographed at Stern Grove in San Francisco, CA July 13, 2014 | ©Jay Blakesberg

BY JEFF ELBEL | FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA

Chicago’s soul music fans can draw from the deepest well this weekend, when the music of funk legends the Meters will grace the annual Hideout Block Party.

With songs like “Hey Pocky A-Way,” the band is known for bringing syncopated “second line” rhythms from New Orleans’ traditional brass band parades into popular music. Founding members Art Neville and George Porter, Jr. credit original Meters drummer Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste with helping to define a sonic identity.

“Zig turned a lot of people onto a particular sound from New Orleans,” says organist Neville.

“He took pieces from great New Orleans drummers like Smokey Johnson, who played on Earl King and Fats Domino records, and the street stuff from the marching band players,” says bassist Porter.

Other signature Meters recordings including “Look-Ka Py Py” and “Fire on the Bayou” followed that groove. “It’s about the syncopation, and not playing on the one,” says Porter.

The Meters were in demand on studio and stage. They recorded hit sessions including “Right Place Wrong Time” with Dr. John and “Lady Marmelade” with Labelle. They also toured worldwide as opening act for the Rolling Stones. “The Stones wouldn’t let us start the show until they were all there to watch,” says Neville.

Now carrying their musical legacy as the Funky Meters, Neville and Porter are joined by original Neville Brothers guitarist Brian Stoltz and new drummer Terrence Houston.

“He came ready,” says Porter of Houston. “Me and the drummer have to be almost one person. What we do together allows the rest of the band to go wherever they need.” Despite some apprehension, the transition was smooth for Neville. “It was like slipping into comfortable shoes,” he says. “He’s good.”

Funky Meters concerts draw from classic Meters albums released between 1969 and 1977. Compact blasts of precise funk heard on tracks like “Cissy Strut” serve as launching pads for gigs.

“It’s an adventure,” says Porter. “With this only being Terrence’s fifth gig, we’ll write a set list, but it’s just a cheat sheet.” Neville laughs at the idea. “We have set lists sometimes, but after a while I just ball it up and throw it across the stage.”

Neville recalls meeting a fan after a Brooklyn Bowl performance. “He said, ‘I think you’re just playing whatever God gives you at that particular time. You play it for everybody to take a piece of it.’ And that’s what I do.”

* The Funky Meters, at the Hideout Block Party, 6:30pm, Sep. 6, 1354 W. Wabansia, (773) 227-4433. Tickets $39-$65; hideoutchicago.com.

SPOTIFY playlist: http://tinyurl.com/MetersSPOT

Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer. Email: elbel.jeff@gmail.com

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