I’m doing phenomenally wonderful," famed Meters guitarist Leo Nocentelli declares from his Los Angeles home on the eve of his return to New Orleans for Superfly Productions’ SuperJam VII on March 2 at Tipitina’s Uptown. The all-star concert will also feature pianist Henry Butler, saxophonist Karl Denson, Galactic drummer Stanton Moore and Martin, Medeski & Wood bassist Chris Wood.
"I haven’t been in New Orleans for Mardi Gras in a few years," says Nocentelli. "The earliest Mardi Gras memories I have are when I used to go out with my family. Claiborne Avenue wasn’t the Expressway like it is now–it was just a big neutral ground. Everybody would take their cars and park on the neutral ground and camp out and have picnic baskets.
"The Indians would pass down Claiborne Avenue, around Dumaine. My mother and my dad and my sisters and I used to camp out there every year."
In particular, Nocentelli remembers the "Skeletons," who used to parade wearing oversized papier-mache skulls: "I was so scared–I was a little-bitty boy. One Mardi Gras–I was about 11, I dressed up as Hopalong Cassidy. I had the whole thing–the leather wristbands, the double guns. One of my fears was to see these Skeletons with the skulls coming down the street. Every time I’d see them, I’d run and hide. They were really scary. I witnessed them–the suits were made of rubber like a deep-sea diving outfit but I don’t think they had enough money to buy that. I think they used to make the outfits out of car inner tubes and sewed ’em together and drew white bones on ’em."
As for instructors who taught young Leo the rudiments of guitar, Nocentelli explains that there were none: "I started out wanting to be a jazz player and listened to guys like Barney Kessel, Kenny Burrell, Johnny Smith, Charlie Christian and people like that. I never really had anybody physically sit in front of me and show me this was this and that was that on the guitar. I basically took it off of records and got in my little room and stretched my fingers and went through the physical pain to try to teach myself some of the fundamentals of the guitar."
Nocentelli then landed a job with balladeer Danny White and subsequently, a position with Art Neville and the Hawkettes. Out of this relationship sprung, with the addition of drummer Zigaboo Modesliste and bassist George Porter, Jr., the Funkiest Band the World Has Ever Known, better known as the Meters. The question on all funk fans’ minds is, of course, will the Meters ever reunite?
According to Nocentelli, the answer is affirmative: "Last year we had a great meeting at Art’s house. Art has a beautiful house and his wife Lorraine was gracious enough to really lay a spread out for us. It was George, Art, Zig and myself and we all had our families there. That was the first time we were all under the same roof in about ten or fifteen years. It was a great time for me.
"I was glad to see that it had come to a point where we could put our indifferences aside and maybe start thinking about the future. There’s been several offers from different people, wanting to pay us some really, really great money to get back together. I’ve even sent in documentation saying I would be available for whatever comes up. I hope that in the future all four of us could do some things together. I think we owe it to ourselves and I think we owe it to the public. The public wants to see it. I think we owe it to the public more than we owe it to ourselves.
"Each one of us is doing well so there’s no problem with the act of surviving. All of us are surviving really good."
Part of the reason for the various Meters’ well-being is sampling: "Everybody in the world–major rap artists–has been sampling the Meters’ material. I’m sitting in my living room right now looking at eight platinum or gold records I have on my wall here that these rap groups have been so gracious enough to award me. It’s the best thing–financially–that has happened to me in my career. It affords me the opportunity to sit back and pick the things I want to do."
Culinary-wise, how does a New Orleans homeboy manage to sustain himself in California? Nocentelli delivers the props: "I have a beautiful New Orleans wife and we recently celebrated our 29th anniversary and she can burn. She can get down. In terms of the food, I keep myself supplied."
Percussionist Ken "Afro" Williams (who, incidentally, does not sport an Afro coiffure) will team up with keyboardist Derrick Dabbs for a pre-Mardi Gras gig at Praline Connection on March 4. Williams, a founding member of Chocolate Milk, was a mainstay of Allen Toussaint’s Sea-Saint productions and recorded with Paul McCartney, Albert King, Lee Dorsey, the Mighty Diamonds, the Meters, the Neville Brothers and numerous others. He is currently producing his debut solo CD, The Theory of Relativity, which will be released this summer.
What, we asked, is a percussionist’s greatest joy? "I kinda feel like the bus driver," Williams laughs. "I have the opportunity to direct the flow. I have a little bit more leeway than the drummer does. The drummer has to stay in the pocket. I like to be able to a do a lot of call-and-response. Being from Treme, I’ve got the Mardi Gras Indians and brass bands in my blood."
Resa Wilson-Bazile, also known as Cinnamon, was one of the featured dancers with Bamboula 2000–at least until last year at the Jazz Festival, when she busted some vital tendons on stage. Still in the midst of recuperation, Wilson-Bazile has embarked upon a new project as executive producer of "New Orleans Live," which airs on Cox Cable’s Channel 77 every Monday at 11:30 (a.m. and p.m.) and exposes "the unusual people who live in the most exciting city in the world." These folks include poet Eluard Burt, Barbara "I Know" George and Jah Posse.
5:7 Is Number One
New Orleans gospel group Trin-I-Tee 5:7, as of mid-February, had secured the Number One spot on Billboard’s "Top Gospel Albums" chart for five consecutive weeks with its Spiritual Love disc. Trin-I-Tee’s debut album continued to hold the Number Thirty spot after spending 81 weeks on the chart. Both releases are on the B-Rite/Interscope label.
Albinas Prizgintas, director of Trinity Episcopal Church’s artist series (which once featured a sanctified Earl King performing in a "K&B purple" suit), presents this year’s "Bach Around the Clock" marathon on Friday, March 24, commencing at midnight and continuing for 24 hours of non-stop Bach until midnight, Saturday, March 25. Many local musicians will perform, admission is absolutely free and you are allowed to come and go as you please–even sleeping bags are kosher. The doors will open at 11:30 p.m. on Friday. Prizgintas is a sixth generation organist, which is almost as good as being a seventh son (as the aforementioned Mr. King can claim), and he will commence and end the festivities (celebrating Bach’s 315th birthday) with the pew-rattling "Toccata and Fugue in D."