“I’m playing to the same age crowd I played to 40 years ago,” enthused the Big Easy’s most famous bassist.
Few sounds are as infectiously timeless as New Orleans funk. Credit George Porter, Jr., for helping create that unstoppable sonic template while playing super bad bass for the Meters in the mid-1960s. He has since maintained the smoldering grooves as a side man for the likes of David Byrne (Talking Heads), Tori Amos and with various other bands of his own including Porter Batiste Stoltz.
Sampled in the 1980s and ’90s by rappers — who often didn’t pay proper royalties — those fabulously funky rhythms are now being recreated by contemporary jam bands. And a whole new generation of fans have been directed to the original purveyors.
“I’m thankful for several things: the jam community, the Meters, and the young players who followed in our footsteps,” Porter said from his country home about 50 miles outside New Orleans, where he also maintains a residence. “They have always acknowledged where they’re coming from — unlike the hip-hop community.”
The Meters disbanded in 1977 and then the Funky Meters emerged in 1994. In addition to founding Meter Art Neville on keyboards/vocals and Porter on bass, the Funky Meters featured drummer Russell Batiste Jr. (Harry Connick Jr., Robbie Robertson, Maceo Parker) and guitarist Brian Stoltz (Bob Dylan, Paul Simon). After Art returned to the Neville Brothers in the early 2000s, Porter Batiste Stoltz, known commonly as PBS, materialized. Their debut disc Expanding the Funkin’ Universe dropped in 2005. The trio’s latest album, the live document MOODOO, is culled from a Nov. 2, 2007 show featuring one-time Phish member Page McConnell on keyboards. It’s vintage Meters-style funk spiced with space rock and more vocals courtesy of all three PBS members.
“I do think it has more of a rock edge — absolutely,” Porter said. “We jam out a little more because it’s just a trio and it allows for getting away from chord formulas.”
Although people now recognize Porter as one of the most important bassists of all time, he first attempted to make it in the booming NOLA music biz as a guitarist.
That’s when Art Neville first called. Porter could play rhythm — but that was it.
On stage, Neville turned to him for a solo and, well, nothing. The already famous bandleader said to him after the show, “You’re a lousy guitar player!”
Two years later, though, Porter had mastered the bass. Neville walked into a small Crescent City club and caught his act.
“Now, that’s the instrument you should be playing,” the 61-year-old bassist recalled with a laugh. “You want a gig?” Neville asked.