By Hap Fry
It wasn’t too long ago that Leo Nocentelli found himself traveling back to the future after he and his bandmates from The Meters Experience flew back from Japan this past fall.
“It’s like my body clock is really turned around from being over there,” Nocentelli said during a recent phone interview with The Marquee from his Burbank, Calif. home. “I mean, they’re like nine hours ahead, so when I’m usually asleep at three or four in the morning, I’m finding myself at a sound check over there. The real thing is, when I left there, I flew back into the future.”
While Nocentelli blamed his trip to the Far East as being the root of his biological clock problems — on this day he was early to rise at 8 a.m. — one can’t help but think it was his pending trip the following day to his native New Orleans that had him all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
Got to get “Back in Time” to be sure.
“When people ask me where I’m from, I always say I live in New Orleans, but I sleep in Burbank,” Nocentelli said. “New Orleans is a very special place. The longer I stay away from it the more I want to go back. I can’t believe I grew up in that place because it’s so fun. This is my utmost favorite time of the year when I get to go to New Orleans.”
Not only was Nocentelli traveling back to his roots to play multiple gigs during the 10-day New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival with his latest side project The Meter Men; along the way, he, George Porter Jr., Zigaboo Modeliste and Art Neville — founding members of The Meters — were also honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Big Easy Music Awards.
That should further compliment the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award the group picked up in 2001.
“I’m very humbled by it all,” Nocentelli said. “It’s all a blur to me because I never planned on it. I never said, ‘40 years from now I’m going to be receiving a lifetime achievement award or that The Meters are going to be one of the most sampled groups in the world.’ I was just doing my thing. It was never planned, and I’m very humbled by it. I appreciated it so much. I’m a very blessed person. I want it to continue, just being able to go out and fortify and galvanize The Meters’ place in history.”
That seems to be very much in play, thanks in large part to his latest project The Meter Men, which lacks founder Art Neville, but includes the other three original Meters and Phish keyboardist Page McConnell.
Talk to Nocentelli about the group and you get the vibe that the setup — everything from sound to infrequency of gigs to the management side —couldn’t be more perfect. “I knew the music was gonna be cool, but what I’m astounded by is the acceptance and the way people have accepted this ensemble,” Nocentelli said. “It’s phenomenal. Everyone wants to see the group. Playing gigs and performing is sort of effortless. There’s a few things that we’ve booked up in the future all the way up until September. You never know with this group how long it’s going to last. I think the rarity of it is special. It’s kind of good to keep it like that. There’s no booking agent. There’s no management. We all do our own individual contracts. There’s nobody getting any more than another person, however we all negotiate our own individual contracts. A lot of people said it couldn’t work like that, but it’s been working,” he said.
That things are working out so well speaks volumes about the relationships Nocentelli, Porter Jr. and Modeliste have with one another, especially when you consider the trio has been playing together for nearly 50 years.
“Like anything — every group out there — there’s always little issues, man, when you’re dealing with people on a constant basis,” Nocentelli said. “People that you know you see every day, play with, sleep with, eat with and drive with. People are different. There’s always going to be issues, and I’m not saying there are not issues with us. But the older you get, you understand that you’ll be able to mentally put those issues aside and go out and give the people what they want. I think it would be selfish for us as a group not to go out and let our fans see us and hear us play. It’s important for the fans to be able to come see us. So I don’t think issues are an issue anymore.”
In so many ways, Nocentelli’s return to New Orleans is a chance for him to go “back in time,” while also affording him a chance to reflect on some changes that the city has undergone, particularly in how its musicianship is now viewed. “I wish I could go back there to live,” Nocentelli said. “The only thing about New Orleans is the mentality in terms of the music industry. I think New Orleans has always been behind in terms of the industry and what the industry is doing. I think it’s almost there now. You’re getting a lot of musicians from there getting national notoriety, like Trombone Shorty and Dr. John. The list goes on and on. There were always talented musicians and artists there,” he said. “But for whatever reason, they’ve always been kept in the background.”
:: The Meter Men ::
:: Ogden Theatre :: May 10 ::