An Interview: George Porter Jr.
Photos by J-man
J-man: What drew you to funk music? Why funk?
George: There wasn’t anything that drew me to it, I think I was born into it. My answer to things about funk and what is funk? It has always been. Pretty much before funk it was just called “R& B”. It’s something I have been playing all of my life. The titled and name of it just changed somewhere in the seventies. It had nothing to do with us putting a label on it. It was someone else who labeled our music, you know?
J-man: Right. Looking over the long list of musicians you have played with, I see, Paul McCartney, Jimmy Buffet, David Byrne, Tori Amos, Warren Haynes to name a few. How is it that you got involved in making music with such a diverse mix of talent?
George: Well, I believe that my history in the early recording years with the Meters, opened, I would say pretty much all of those doors. People liked the band, the Meters. But, I found that they actually loved some of the individuals a lot more than they liked the band.
J-man: I see…
George: So there were a few of us, out of the band that were able to move on in to a more diverse recording industry… Recording with other artists and stuff. The band itself, started off as a band backing Allen Toussaint sessions. But I think that the music that the band did has outlived the band. The music still exists… But the band doesn’t (Laughs).
J-man: In the 70’s the Meters played with McCartney, toured with the Stones and performed on Saturday Night Live; What were your thoughts at that time about what was going on around you?
George: Let me clear something up. One, the Meters never performed with McCartney.
J-man: What was the situation then?
George: There was a recording session that was going on in New Orleans during… Well I guess I could take that back…
George: … Because… Ok, but it was a jam session, on a boat, that could go under the circumstance of performing with. It was a party that Marshall Sehorn and Allen Toussaint threw for McCartney, after they did the session “Venus & Mars” at Toussaint Studios. The Meters were sort of like the house band and all of the local New Orleans artists all came. From; Jessie Hill to Benny Spellman. Everybody was on that boat and we kind of played behind everybody.
Well, the Meters had a version that we had been playing around with, of “Come Together”. We played that song during the coarse of that little jam session on the boat that day. Paul and Linda both came up on stage and sang the song with us. So, that’s the only playing that the Meters ever did with Paul McCartney.
Also, during the McCartney Sessions he recorded a Mardi Gras song… I can’t remember the name of it. I believe it may have only been released locally in New Orleans during Mardi Gras time. Just myself… I’m thinking it was just me in the studio at the time when it happened. Myself Earl King and some of the other New Orleans artists that used to hang around Toussaint Studios on any given day. We were brought into the studio and played cowbells, tambourines and made street noises and stuff like that.
That was the only recording that I did with McCartney and the Meters only time was when McCartney was on stage with us playing or singing… Well, just singing; he wasn’t playing. It was “Come Together” on the boat. So, let’s make sure that your article gets this right.
J-man: I will set the record straight. Why do you think it is that the Meters never really achieved mainstream success?
George: We had lousy management. The management didn’t want us to be successful, he was more interested in keeping a band in house to do the work that Allen needed done. After the players of the band had their falling out with Allen, then there was no need to pursue this anymore. So at that point we were kind of left to our own devises.
J-man: Hmmm. Can you talk about how the 7 Walkers came to be, and what your thoughts are on playing “Dead music”, with Billy K and Papa Mali?
George: Well, I was on stage during Mardi Gras with Papa Mali. I think it was “Papa Mali’s Supernatural Ball” or something like that. We were playing a gig and I think someone else was taking a solo and Malcolm walked over and kind of leaned over towards me on the stage and I leaned back. He said, “Can you make a run of dates out in California with us?” I said “Well, I’ll have to check the calendar and get back to you.” A couple of days later I get an e-mail from him, pretty much saying when the dates were. My dates were open and I said “Ok, I can do this.” That’s how that came about.
J-man: What are your thoughts on playing “Dead” music, Grateful Dead music?
George: It’s music. If it’s music, I don’t have a problem with playing it. Umm… I mean, is there supposed to be like taboos? Can’t I play Dead music (Laughs)?
J-man: No, I’m not attaching a stigma to it. Rather I’m curious more so, what Dead music means to you and what your playing lends to the music. Also I’m curious as to your thoughts on the improvisation aspect of the music.
George: Well, I am very much open to playing free. I mean, as I recall; I kinda think the Meters was the first “jamband”. When we went out on the road in the sixties, we had an album out that almost every song was only two minutes long… And we got to play four hour gigs (Laughs).
George: So, every song that we played, back in those days; we had to take them and do something with them. Being freeform and jamming, I have been doing that all my life so, I don’t believe that when I got into playing Dead songs… It wasn’t until Mickey Hart, because all before that I can’t say that I ever played Dead music at all. I knew a few of the songs that had gotten to be popular in Louisiana. But other than that, I never went to a Dead show, I’ve never seen a Dead show.
All I knew about the Dead was that they were a band… In fact I didn’t know how many members was in the band. I knew that they was a band that was kind of like the kings of the hippie crowd. And all of the kids that actually were starting to become Meter fans, were Dead Heads. You know, the tie-dye kids and stuff. So, I kind of believe that, that fanbase came our way because we were some what of a “jamband” as well. Freeform, stuff getting made up on the spot, that’s one thing that we were good at. We would get into groovin’ next thing you know Zigaboo was doing something off his head. A lot of that stuff went to record, but most of it didn’t. A lot of it should have (Laughs).
J-man: (Laughs) I see you have a tour coming up with John Scofield, that takes you through; Sweden, Mexico, Canada… How is the international response to your music in regards to turnout and fanbase?
George: (Laughs) Again, Scofield is another one of those kind of players who’s music has been on the edge. It’s out there, in a key… He plays a tune, and then in the middle, the middle section, the solo section is absolutely outside of any realm of what’s written.
George: So, he’s a jammer. He does that really good and people come out to see him because they know, it’s not going to be the same every night (Laughs). Every night, you know every solo is going to be different; every night. You go listen to Scofield for twenty nights in a row, you might hear the same twenty songs, But, the solo sections of the songs are going to be totally different. They are going to be outside and different, which I believe is what the Dead did. I think that’s exactly the same thing that the Meters did when we were doing what we did together… Playin’.
Music has always been a very easy thing to do, the only complicated part about music is the business. Once the musicians get involved with the business part of music, then all of a sudden they find out that “We have been buying swimming pools and Cadillac’s for people, (Laughs) and we’re just driving Fords.
J-man: Right. How did you get involved with Jam Cruise and can you talk a little bit about your experience on the boat over the years?
George: (Laughs) We’ve done four, so far. We already booked for five. My wife and I have already made plans for six. This is something that me and my wife plan on doing for as long as the boat is available and as long as we can climb up the ramp to get on it (Laughs).
George: That’s our little vacation, for us. This year it will be forty three years of marriage, and over the years we never really done something for ourselves, so… Jam Cruise has allowed us that space for ourselves. At the same time; I go there and I work a lot (Laughs). I do a lot of playing, but I mean at the same time, my wife enjoys it and all of the people; young and old just love her(Laughs). She is one of the favorite women on the boat, next to Annabelle I guess(Laughs). Maybe Annabelle might be next to her, I don’t know (Laughs). Everybody knows her… She don’t get corralled or anything, but everybody just treats her wonderful and she loves it.
J-man: That’s cool. I’ve heard time and time again from artists that, along with it being a gig, they look at it as a vacation. I think that’s pretty unique.
George: Yeah, and then you’ve got a captive audience (Laughs).
J-man: (Laughs) True. I also appreciate what the “Jam Room” allows for, in terms of musicians jamming and exploration.
George: Yeah, I have a great deal of fun in the “Jam Room”, myself.
J-man: So I’ve heard.
George: I probably spend two thirds of my time on that boat, in the “Jam Room”.
J-man: (Laughs) That speaks to who you are as a musician. I saw you down at Wanee about a month ago, what are thoughts on the Spirit of Suwanee Music Park and what it has to offer?
George: Oh, I love that little festival. I absolutely love that festival. I’m hoping that I’ll get to go back next year with Running Pardners.
J-man: Are you doing Bear Creek?
George: Yes, Running Pardners is doing Bear Creek. Now, will Bear Creek be on that same site?
J-man: Yes, the same site.
George: Yeah, I like that little stage back in the jungle, man (Laughs).
J-man: Yeah, it provides a great environment.
George: Yeah, I love that little stage… I like that little area back there. But I mean, playing on the big stage is what you reach for.
J-man: Absolutely. Is there anything you’d like to pass on to the fans/readers?
George: Well, you can mention to the world that I am pretty much rebuilding my music life, right now. I’ve just recorded sixteen of my favorite Meter songs that was never played by any of the Meter bands. As well, those sixteen songs that nobody else ever touched. So, I am really pleased with them. I put two of the songs up the second weekend of Jazz Fest, on my website georgeporterjr.com for free download. Just to let people know that I am still alive and that I am planning on going out with Running Pardners, the five piece version of the eight piece band that’s going to be on the road. The reason is just because I am not able to financially take and put and eight piece band on the road. So we’re going out, and we’re going out with five musicians.
J-man: You used the term “rebuild”, what does that refer to?
George: Well, because Running Pardners was an eight piece band and so basically, we had to take that music and this is the second time I have taken and eight piece band down to five. The first time we did it, it was a two keyboard band, and we had to restructure the music because it was a horn band. This time we decided to keep a horn player involved with the band and so we are redirecting the big horn section part down to being a single horn player. I guess that every band cuts an album and maybe six of the twelve songs on the album get played. So, I’ve taken those other six songs that have never been played and put them back in.
So it’s kind of reorganizing what I want to say musically. The rebuilding thing is just basically, since PBS disbanded it’s been like “Whoa, what am I going to do now?” And the thing that came to mind is that I should go back to playing my music, and that was pretty much what I decided to do… And also the Funky Meters are playing. Not as much as they have played, ten years ago. Because Art isn’t as mobile as he would like to be, and so that effects what we do and don’t do. And that’s understandable, he’s seventy three years old. The man should be able to pick and choose when he wants to work and when he doesn’t.
J-man: That’s a good point. Well, I appreciate your time today, George. It means a lot to me. Again, thank you.
George: Absolutely, get the McCartney thing right now (Laughs).
J-man: Will do. Thanks, George.