New Orleans has a musical tradition like no other American city, from the birth of jazz through the seminal rock n’ roll hits of Fats Domino and Little Richard to the old-meets-new approach of current acts like Trombone Shorty and the Rebirth Brass Band. One of the most important names in that century-old lineage are the Meters, who definitely belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Formed in the Crescent City in 1965 by Art Neville (keyboards), Leo Nocentelli (guitar), George Porter Jr. (bass) and Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste (drums), they were hired within a few years to be the house band at Allen Toussaint’s Sansu Enterprises label, where they played on hits by Lee Dorsey, Betty Harris and Earl King. In 1969, they struck out on their own with their self-titled debut and released seven more albums under their name while simultaneously serving as in-demand studio musicians.
Only three other acts were as important to the development of '70s funk as the Meters, and they distinguished themselves by being more muscular than Sly & the Family Stone, less frantic than James Brown and less trippy than Parliament-Funkadelic. All those acts are already in the Hall (although the J.B.'s, who created those grooves for Brown, are not, and should be).
Disagreements with Toussaint and his business partner, Marshall Sehorn, helped the group’s breakup in 1977. Many reunions with two or three members, usually billed as the Funky Meters, followed, and all four have occasionally performed together as the Original Meters in recent years.
Read more to find out why the Meters belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Allen Toussaint Is Already a Member
Allen Toussaint was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. Given that many of his definitive recordings, either as a producer or a recording artist, over a 10-year period feature the Meters, to have one in without the other, frankly, doesn’t make a ton of sense.
As Booker T. & the MGs had done in the '60s at Stax, the Meters pulled double duty by serving as a backup band as they were putting out hits on their own. This includes four songs on Robert Palmer’s debut, Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley, and two albums by fellow New Orleanian Dr. John, In a Right Place and Desitively Bonnaroo, the latter of which gave one of rock’s biggest annual festivals its name. Three of them (Modeliste was absent) cut the deep groove on LaBelle’s No. 1 smash, the Toussaint-produced “Lady Marmalade.”
They Funkified Your Life With Feel Good Music
The Meters arrived just as African American music was changing and getting heavier. They quickly distinguished themselves and they brought New Orleans music out of trad jazz and R&B and into the funk era. Of the major funk bands of the day, only James Brown and the J.B.'s, Sly & the Family Stone and everything George Clinton was doing with Parliament and Funkadelic proved to be as influential on future generations. According to WhoSampled, their songs have been sampled more than 450 times.
And their grooves were arguably the most danceable of the four. Check out their 1995 two-disc compilation Funkify Your Life and try to sit down while it plays. You can't.
One listen to the Meters' debut single, "Cissy Strut," proves that Ziggy Modeliste was no secret weapon. Neville, Nocentelli and Porter are off to the side with a sparse melody while their drummer is front-and-center, filling in the gaps with his hi-hat and garbage-can-lid snare sound. They would ride that formula to great fame, but it would never sound tired because Modeliste was coming up with such amazing patterns that it was almost as if he was the soloist. Inventive and flashy, but never losing sight of the groove, he's an entire second line's worth of drummers condensed into four limbs.
The Meters also provided the music for The Wild Tchopitoulas, a 1976 album that combined their funk with Mardi Gras Indian-style chanting. On that record, Art and Cyril Neville, who by this point had joined as a percussionist, got together with their siblings Aaron and Charles to provide the response to the calling of their uncle, George “Big Chief Jolly” Landry. When the Meters broke up a year later, the four men decided to work together, and the Neville Brothers was born.