George Porter, Jr. and His Runnin' Pardners

Howlin' Wolf

October 07, 2006

I remember interviewing George Porter for LSU's newspaper six years ago, as a preview for a Funky Meters show at The Varsity. Even after all my research and after talking to the man, I didn't understand his significance to music in general. I knew he was famous and that he had written some great New Orleans songs with The Meters, but I think I took him for granted, just like every other New Orleanian around that time. Since The Meters reunion two years ago there's been a lot of hubbub surrounding George. This wasn't so in 2000. He wasn't being put into context very often because there was no reason to. People figured he'd ride into the sunset on the wings of fading memories and never get to relive his old glory. The reunion brightened the memories. The history came back to the initiated and landed on virgin ears for the first time. People, including me, were reminded of how special George and the rest of the band were.

So, that's why I sorta felt like his bodyguard as he slept backstage at The Howlin' Wolf Saturday night. Howlin' Wolf owner Howie Kaplan was having his wedding reception, and since there were no places to eat in the main room, I went to the green room, where I found George. I figured I'd tell him how The Meters performance at The Jazzfest in 2005 reached a whole new level when they played "He Bite Me," for some reason. It's not a well known song, probably because the recorded version is lackluster, but when the band kicked into it, wow! It was a euphoric moment, and I don't think I've been moved so hard by a groove. I suddenly understood the press talk of the mysterious and enigmatic connection between the members, that something clicks between them that can't between others. I didn't say that to George, though, because like I said, he was asleep.

For some reason I forgot that he'd play Meters material. I woulda been happy hearing Pardners material, so when he started off the set with "Hey Pocky A-Way," I was really happy. The band, which included Brint Anderson, Russell Batiste, John Gros, Jeff Albert, and a trumpeter and saxophonist, kept the crowd dancing with "Fire on the Bayou" and "They All Asked For You." This was the first time Gros had played with Porter in five years, amazingly enough. Albert told me a funny story before the set. He said that George mentioned the names of the keyboardists he couldn't get for the gig when he asked Gros to play. "He sure knows how to make a cat feel good," Albert laughed.

I forgot how great of a guitarist Anderson is. Sick. It was funny how George floated from one song to the next without breaks. He kept the band on their toes as he cued songs without warning.

The Meters material George played is some of the most authentic New Orleans music I know. I naturally dance like I'm in a second line when I hear it, waving my imaginary handkerchief. It's the great loosener of body.

After rolling through Meters songs, George pulled out more mid-tempo Pardner material, which was enjoyable but not nearly as much fun.


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