I was that weird kid in middle school who, instead of being up to date on the latest Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, had my nose (or ears, more accurately) buried in my parents’ record collection. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Earth, Wind & Fire, George Clinton. You might not know any songs by The Meters off the top of your head, but they had an immense stylistic influence on all of these groups. Now, the rock music of the sixties was great, and so is Britney, but sometimes after a really tough day (or a really great one, or even an in-between one for that matter) there’s nothing like blasting out my favorite funk tunes from my laptop’s speakers, hoping they won’t blow out.
Today, if you asked most young people, the limits of their knowledge of funk is probably Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September”. And their impression of funk is probably that it’s just a little too cheesy, with its catchy horn lines and now-cliché bass lines and falsettos. Although, to be fair, George Clinton & Parliament-Funkadelic did make a pretty big comeback with the 20-something crowd recently.
I don’t know if many people, other than those who devote their entire souls to funk, or those who were fortunate enough to have lived during the era, are very familiar with the music of The Meters. But if they haven’t, then they’re sorely missing out. The Meters have been successfully mixing New Orleans grooves with great funk music since 1967. Despite their lack of household name status, their influence was actually surprisingly far-reaching. They had immense influence on Paul McCartney while playing at his party on the Queen Mary, and recorded several songs with him thereafter as a studio band. And after hearing them at McCartney’s party, The Rolling Stones asked them to be their opening act for their upcoming tour—despite the fact that The Meters catered to a very different genre, they effortlessly and successfully captured the attention of The Rolling Stones’ fans. Their music also made the Top 10 R& B charts in 1969 with hits such as “Cissy Strut” and “Sophisticated Cissy”. Afterward, they remained on the Top 40 chart throughout the seventies. Under their original incarnation, they recorded a total of eight studio albums. They also recorded as a studio band for Dr. John, Patti Labelle and Robert Palmer. Although The Meters broke up in 1977, they have continued to tour occasionally since the nineties under the names The Funky Meters and The New Meters.
You aren’t going to find the same kind of catchy hooks and horn licks that you will with Earth, Wind & Fire, but where The Meters truly shine is in their groove— a subtle mixture of guitar, organ, and drums layered in the funkiest way possible. And their live shows are always filled with funk and positive energy. So even if you haven’t heard much of The Meters before, their shows are sure to be a good time. As the Meters’ keyboardist, vocalist and frontman Art Neville says: “It’s Mardi Gras time all the time, as far as we’re concerned.”
The Meters play San Francisco’s Independent on August 11th.
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