The Aug. 3 edition of Greasy Tracks featured a tribute to Art Neville who passed away following a long illness on July 22 at the age of 81.
Nicknamed “Poppa Funk,” Neville was a founding member of The Meters and with his younger siblings Charles, Aaron, Ivan and Cyril, formed and was part of the Neville Brothers for 35 years.
The Meters, long considered one of the founders of funk music, formed in 1965 and while commercial success strangely eluded them, they proved to be heavily influential on scores of bands and artists over the years and remain highly relevant to this day.
The program also featured interviews with guitarists Leo Nocentelli and Brian Stoltz as well as drummer Russell Batiste, Jr.
Nocentelli was one of the original Meters and played with Art Neville for more than 60 years. Stoltz, who joined the Neville Brothers in 1981, took over for Nocentelli when he exited the Meters in 1994 and the band became the funky Meters with Batiste on drums.
The definitive Meters line-up also included bassist George Porter, Jr. and drummer Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste. All or some subset of them worked together backing a variety of other New Orleans musicians. It’s a role Art Neville carved out during the 1960s with his group Art Neville & the Neville Sounds, which originally featured Nocentelli, Porter, Modeliste and saxophonist Gary Brown.
As a pianist and singer, Art Neville was 16 when he recorded a hit version of “Mardi Gras Mambo” in 1954 with the Hawkettes. The song remains a classic, perfectly summing up the annual carnival celebration of New Orleans.
In 1958, his version of “Cha Dooky-Doo” gained success on the charts for Neville as a solo artist.
Largely in part of their prowess as players, especially when doing studio work, some of The Meters biggest fans were fellow musicians. In 1975, Paul McCartney invited the band, along with a contingent of New Orleans acts including Lee Dorsey, Ernie K-Doe, Professor Longhair and Chocolate Milk, to play a party to celebrate the release of Wings’ Venus and Mars on the Queen Mary in Long Beach, Calif. In attendance that night was Mick Jagger who would be instrumental in having The Meters open for the Stones’ 1975 U.S. tour and their 1976 European tour in support of their then just-released Black and Blue album.
It was at this time The Meters added Cyril Neville to the line-up
In addition to releasing their own material and gaining a following as a regional live act, The Meters were a first-call studio group, especially for artists working with Allen Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn’s Sansu Records. They backed Lee Dorsey who went up the charts with the Toussaint-penned classics “Working in the Coal Mine” and “Ride Your Pony.” They would play on some of the biggest hits recorded by Dr. John (“Right Place, Wrong Time”), Labelle (“Lady Marmalade”) and un-credited on Robert Palmer’s debut, Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley.