This year’s entertainment:
The Funky Meters
Formed during an informal jam during the 1989 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Art Neville, George Porter Jr., and Russell Batiste Jr., founded what would be the core of the funky METERS. The history of founding members Art Neville and George Porter Jr. dates back to 1967, when keyboardist, Art recruited bass player, George, drummer Joseph (Zigaboo) Modeliste and guitarist Leo Nocentelli to form The Meters. In their 31-year history, The Meters have grooved their way around the globe. They have toured with such talents as The Rolling Stones, and have been a studio band for such diverse artists as Dr. John, Paul McCartney, Robert Palmer, and Patti Labelle. The original Meters disbanded in the late 70’s. Today founding members Art Neville and George Porter Jr., are joined by New Orleans native Brian Stoltz on guitar and Russell Batiste Jr. on drums and are known officially as the funky METERS. funky METERS tap into the roots of The Meters musical heritage while taking the sound well into the future. Their trademark sound blends funk, blues, and dance grooves with a New Orleans vibe.
In 1994, Art and George were joined by guitarist Brian Stoltz and Russell Batiste and officially christened The Funky METERS. This lineup carried the funk torch until the spring of 2007 when Stoltz left to pursue his solo career and Ian Neville, the son of Meters founder Art Neville joined the line up taking over guitar duties. Growing up in the Neville house of music and touring with The Neville Brothers, as well Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, Ian was poised to step in to help bring the band into the future. In 2011, Brian Stoltz was invited to play with funky METERS when Ian was committed to his band, Dumpstaphunk, gigs. Once the band was onstage it was if they hadn’t skipped a beat, the band and audience both knew Brian was meant to be there. After four years with Ian in the band, the time came for him to focus on his own band’s success and funky METERS invited Brian to rejoin full time.
2014 saw a changing of the guardian of the groove. After an amazing 20+ year run with David Russell Batiste, Jr. holding down the drum throne, funky METERS welcomed Terrence Houston to the band as the new groove guardian. “I’m honored that I’ve been given the opportunity to share the stage with a group of legends”, says Terrence.
The collective resume between the four artists in the band speaks volumes for the level of musicianship and creativity that comes alive when they play together on any stage. After three years of solid touring including dates at Bonnaroo, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Jamcruise, The Fillmore Auditorium and countless others the funky METERS are stronger than ever. In fact, the funk is still going as strong today as it was 40 plus years ago.
John Papa Gros
New Orleans native John “Papa” Gros (pronounced grow) has spent more than a quarter-century behind the piano championing the music of the Big Easy. He turns over a new leaf with his second solo album, River’s on Fire, which is set for release August 26th. It’s a record that mixes the sounds of rock & roll, funk and rootsy Americana into a genre-bending gumbo that carries on the tradition of New Orleans, both honoring its past and helping to shape its future.
Inspired by hometown hero and longtime colleague Allen Toussaint, who passed away while Gros was recording the album on the Vermilion bayou in southwest Louisiana, River’s on Fire is John’s first release since his former band, Papa Grows Funk, disbanded in 2013. The quintet held down a weekly residency for more than a dozen years at the famous Maple Leaf Bar in Uptown New Orleans, mixing the smooth sophistication of a jazz quintet with the wild, anything-goes spirit of Mardi Gras. Papa Grows Funk released six critically-acclaimed albums along the way, including Needle in the Groove, which was co-produced by Toussaint — with Gros leading the charge as the group’s front man, songwriter and organ player.
River’s on Fire finds John shifting his songwriting focus back to the instrument that started his lifelong musical journey – the piano. The album reaches far beyond Papa Grows Funk’s groove-based sound and offers listeners a bit of everything — party songs, melancholy numbers, funk tunes and upbeat rockers. The record even finds Gros putting a new spin on “House of Love,” which was originally released on Papa Grows Funk’s Shakin’ album. This time, he revises the track’s groove and focuses more on its sharp, nuanced songwriting.
“Before River’s on Fire, it had been a long time since I had done any songwriting on the piano”, John explains. “Previously, I had done most of my songwriting on guitar. I found that it forced me to focus on simpler chord choices and arrangements. The piano allows me the luxury to create more sophisticated compositions. With the keys I can focus on a balancing act- juggling between complexity and simplicity, while keeping the priority on the lyrics and melody.”
Working with top-shelf collaborators like Grammy award winning co-producer Tracey Freeman (Harry Connick, Jr., ReBirth Brass Band), Grammy award winning mixer Trina Shoemaker (Brandi Carlile, Sheryl Crow) and guitarist Brian Stoltz (Bob Dylan, Neville Brothers), River’s On Fire finds Gros showcasing his talent on the keys and also furthering his well-deserved reputation as one of New Orleans’ most notable songwriters. Each song has its own distinct personality, with the influence of Allen Toussaint serving as the common denominator or unifying ingredient. River’s on Fire is one life-long Big Easy troubadour and composer paying tribute to another.
“Those are big shoes to fill and big shoes to follow,” John says of Toussaint. “That was the plan, though: to follow Allen’s footsteps with this record. Every song has his stamp on it, whether it’s an obvious line or a subtle trick. I was paying homage to my mentor all along the way.”
Throughout his career, Gros has been a bandleader. A sideman. A singer. An instrumentalist. With River’s on Fire, he becomes a solo artist once again. Just as New Orleans, America’s favorite river town, has had a resurgence recently so has John “Papa” Gros. His role is different, but the goal remains the same: to honor the music he’s been living his whole life, and to add his own page to the New Orleans history book. “I think this album symbolizes both my passion for my music and my love of this town”, Gros muses. “Urban Dictionary defines “Fire” as someone doing something great that is unable to be stopped. I hope Toussaint is smiling down on me from above, urging me forward.”