I thought we’d take a little trip down the Mississippi down to New Orleans (thank you Gary US Bonds) this week and visit with Crescent City royalty in the form of the Meters. It all spun out of Art Neville’s solo career that began in the mid-’50s. In 1966 he put together a group called Art Neville & the Sounds. The lineup included Art’s brothers Aaron and Charles on vocals, as well as Leo Nocentelli on guitar, George Porter Jr. on bass, and drummer Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste.
The Sounds didn’t last too long because Allen Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn signed the band, minus the vocalists, to be the house band for their Sansu Enterprises label. After changing their name to the Meters the band played on classic New Orleans records by the likes of Earl King, Lee Dorsey, Betty Harris, and Toussaint himself.
The Meters weren’t just a house band however. They signed with Josie Records to perform under their own name and in 1969 had Top Ten R&B hits with “Sophisticated Cissy,” and “Cissy Strut”.
Nocentelli wrote “Cissy Strut” to be a new set-opening song for the Meters. In those days every band had a song that they would play while the audience was getting settled in, before launching into the rest of their set. Nocentelli was sick and tired of playing “Hold It” (an opener that a lot of bands were using at the time), so he wrote a new instrumental that didn’t even have a name.
“We started opening the set with “Cissy Strut,” but it didn’t have a name or anything. It was just that song, that opening song. That’s how that happened. We recorded the song, and it was named “Cissy Strut” long after I wrote it,” Nocentelli told Gibson.com.
The Meters stayed with Josie until 1972 and consistently hit the R&B charts in those years. They moved on to Reprise Records, keeping Toussaint as their producer and Sehorn as their manager, but didn’t have as many hits there. They continued to play on a lot of cool records however, including releases by Robert Palmer, Dr. John, LaBelle, and Paul McCartney.
The 1975 Meters album Fire On the Bayou spawned the Top 40 hit “Hey Pocky A-Way.” The band then got involved in the legendary Wild Tchoupitoulas project that was released in 1976. Despite the acclaim for the album, the Meters decided they needed to go in a new direction and split with Toussaint in Sehorn. Real problems arose when the producer and manager sued the Meters, claiming their name. The band decided to break up rather than fight.
Art and Cyril Neville (who had joined the Meters along the way) put together the Neville Brothers with Aaron and Charles. Modeliste, Nocentelli, and Porter became successful session players in New Orleans.
There was a Meters reunion in 1990, with Russell Batiste taking over the drum chair. Four years later Nocentelli left the group over a dispute with Art about payments for samples of the Meters music that had been used by hip hop groups. When Brian Stoltz took over on guitar the band renamed themselves the Funky Meters and continued to tour.
These days you can catch a gig by the Meters, the Funky Meters, the Original Meters, the Meters Experience, or the Metermen. Don’t ask. No matter which one you chose, you are guaranteed to have a funky evening.