The Meters now join an eye-popping list of Louisiana artists—Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino, Mahalia Jackson, Jelly Roll Morton, Clifton Chenier and Buddy Guy—who have been honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Recording Academy, the folks who present the annual Grammys.
“It’s such a shock, it hasn’t sunk in yet,” said Meters drummer Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste a few days after the January 9, 2018 announcement was made by the Academy. “I was looking at the roster of some of the past recipients and it’s quite impressive. I just feel very happy that someone thought enough of the group to put us onboard. I feel happy for the rest of the guys that they were able to share in on this as well and to at least know that they were appreciated sometime in their lifetime,” he adds.
The “other guys” are, of course, the members of the Meters—spiritual leader organist/vocalist Art “Papa Funk” Neville, guitarist Leo Nocentelli and bassist George Porter—that formed the band in 1965 with Art’s brother Cyril Neville, adding his voice and percussion a bit later.
“This was totally unexpected,” says Porter, echoing Modeliste’s sentiment. “We never had a song that even came close to a Grammy-nominated song.”
While it may be true that Meters tunes like “Cissy Strut,” “Sophisticated Cissy” and “Look-Ka Py Py” never earned trophies, the band’s musical contributions remain vital on many levels. Decades after those songs were released, hip-hop artists like Queen Latifah and LL Cool J, who were wise to the Meters’ funky groove, excavated their material for sampling.
The Meters’ music also lives on in its work as the house band at Sea-Saint Studios, owned by Allen Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn. The members were there layin’ down the sound behind New Orleans artists like Dr. John, Earl King and Lee Dorsey as well as international stars such as Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones and Patti LaBelle. Naturally, the Meters’ influence continues to be heard in the music performed by New Orleans artists today.
“With the help of Allen Toussaint, we were able to accomplish a lot and we were just lucky to be at the right place, at the right time, at the right moments,” Modeliste says.
The Lifetime Achievement awards will be presented at a special ceremony to be held this summer. Other recipients include Tina Turner and a recognition given post posthumously to another pioneer, bandleader Louis Jordan.
“That’s a wonderful honor bein’ up there with Tina,” Porter exclaims. “She’s a superstar and history has proven that her musical worth is worth expressing.”
“It’s always good to be in great company,” Modeliste says. “I was really happy to hear that someone still recognizes what the group tried to accomplish and what they did accomplish. I feel like the work that we did was most deserving of an award of this prestige.”