Many of us can link a certain album to pivotal moments in our lives. Whether it’s the first record you bought with your own money, the chord you first learnt to play on guitar, the song that soundtracked your first kiss, the album that got you those awkward and painful pubescent years or the one that set off light bulbs in your brain and inspired you to take a big leap of faith into the unknown – music is often the catalyst for change in our lives and can even help shape who we become.
In this series, Music Feeds asks artists to reflect on their relationship with music and share with us stories about the effect music has had on their lives.
Lance Ferguson, The Bamboos – The Meters by The Meters (1969)
The recent passing of New Orleans legend Art Neville reminded us of the lasting influence and ineradicable potency of his group The Meters – hands down one of the ultimate Funk bands and rhythm sections of all-time. Neville formed the four-piece in 1965, alongside Leo Nocentelli on Guitar, George Porter on Bass and Joseph ‘Ziggy’ Modeliste on drums. They would go on to open for The Rolling Stones, back everyone from Dr John to Paul McCartney, and become some of the most influential ‘musicians musicians’ of all time.
I unwittingly first heard The Meters music back in the early ’90s, watching a dusty VHS instructional video of the guitarist John Scofield playing their song ‘Cissy Strut’. The song had already become somewhat of a ‘standard’ for young musicians around the Fitzroy Jazz/Funk live scene in Melbourne at the time – a perfect ready-made vehicle for improvisational flights of fancy at late-night jamming spots. It wasn’t until I first heard the Meters original version of ‘Cissy Strut’ that I started to understand just how important, influential, original and jaw-droppingly cool this band really was. I still own the heavily scratched and cracked-jewel cased CD that I bought from the legendary Greville Records around 1992. It rounded up some of the groups ‘best’ stuff (it’s ALL great) from their first three albums for the Josie label. Those albums (‘The Meters’, ‘Look-Ka Py Py’ and ‘Struttin’) form a kind of monumental Funk triptych, a blueprint trilogy for syncopated, sophisticated musical interplay of the highest order.
If I have to separate out one of them, for me, it is the band’s self-titled debut from 1969. Widely regarded as THE BIBLE of New Orleans Funk. It exploded out of the Crescent City at the end of a decade that had seen instrumental music top the charts – The Shadows, Booker T. & The M.G’s, Dick Dale and hundreds of others had taken their sound to the world – but here was something altogether different and uniquely low-slung. In a Post Post-Modern musical world we take these sounds for granted but it’s hard to imagine what this music must have sounded like to a listener at the time. ‘Ziggy’ Modeliste’s drums are hard-panned and fierce – the sound of Hip Hop a decade or so before it happened. The snaking rhythmic matrix formed between Art Neville’s Organ, Nocentelli’s Guitar and Porter’s Bass creates some kind of irreducible groove singularity.
The Meter’s greatest magic trick was to make it all sound so easy and natural, but trying to get even near to their sound is like grasping at some tantalising apparition that continually disappears in your hand. ‘Cardova’, ‘Ease Back’, ‘Cissy Strut’, ‘Live Wire’, ‘Here Comes The Meter Man’: These tunes should function as an un-official Drivers License Test for any rhythm section musician.
Funk music evolved and changed as the 70s arrived. The offshoots of James Brown, P-Funk and Sly Stone mutated into Disco, Jazz Funk, Boogie, Electro and ultimately Hip Hop. The raw, direct and grittier sound of bands like The Meters would have to wait until the mid-late 90s for its renaissance – through the U.K ‘Deep Funk’ club/DJ scene, record labels like Desco and bands like The Poets Of Rhythm. As a Meters diehard, this burgeoning movement caused a perfect storm in my musical brain. Suddenly it seemed that there was a growing global audience for some of my favourite music ever – it was a very exciting time. I loved the D.I.Y/Punk-like aesthetic of bands putting out their own independent 45” vinyl singles and reading the reviews in imported music mags like Big Daddy. We felt like we could make a small contribution in the same direction.
In the year 2000 I took a new band down to The Night Cat alongside organist Ben Grayson, drummer Scott Lambie and the late-great bassist Stuart Speed. We played three sets of instrumental music for the dance floor in our suits and ties. The repertoire was all Meters material, some Blue Note and Prestige stuff and a few of our own originals. Though the sound of The Bamboos has musically evolved in its own way over the last (nearly) two decades, I can’t overstate the importance of The Meters as an influence on our genesis – I’m listening to their first record again as I write this and it still sounds so exciting, alive and vital. It’s just one small story amongst many in the world of influence that they created nearly half a century ago.
I’m looking forward to taking my guitar into town and trying to play ‘Cardova’ next week with my friends. Attempting to unravel the infinite mysteries of The Meters music is a never-ending quest and it has been one of my greatest joys in life.
The Bamboos’ have today released their much-anticipated orchestral album ‘By Special Arrangement’. Dan Sultan, Tim Rogers and Washington join long serving Bamboos vocalist Kylie Auldist on the record. Stream the full album, here. The band will launch the record with a special concert at the Melbourne Recital Centre on August 15th – ‘The Bamboos Present By Special Arrangement: Symphonic Soul’ – which will feature a ten-piece string section. Find tickets for that, here.
You can also check out Lance Ferguson’s Dug Daily Instagram page, here, where he hand picks a vinyl gem from his record collection.