A conversation with George Porter Jr.
George Porter Jr. is an iconic bass player from the city of New Orleans. He was a founding member of the seminal funk band, the Meters, as well as playing in Porter Batiste Stoltz, The Wild Tchoupitoulas, New Orleans Social Club and his current love, the Runnin’ Pardners. He has played on albums by Dr. John, LaBelle, Taj Mahal, Robert Palmer, John Scofield, Snooks Eaglin, Tori Amos, Aaron Neville, Allen Toussaint and Irma Thomas, among others. George is well respected among his peers and absolutely beloved by his fans. It is the latter of this that has drawn me to him as a fan and an influence. George has a way of putting you at ease at one of his shows. He jokes with his band and spends so much time smiling and enjoying what he does, it becomes infectious for those in the audience.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with George before his show with the Runnin’ Pardners at the intimate 8X10 in Baltimore, MD on Friday, January 29, 2010 to talk about his latest project. We sat in a small dressing room with a couple of friends hanging out behind us. George’s presence filled the room as did his New Orleans accent and boisterous belly laughs. I asked him what inspired him to reconstitute the Runnin’ Pardners and he said “It’s my absolute favorite band you know, it’s playing my music. I would say 90% of it is my music and the other 10% is music I had influence on, that I was a part of”. George thought, that to continue to grow as a musician, he would either have to revitalize the Runnin’ Pardners or look to join someone else’s band. He was playing with John Scofield’s Piety Street Band at the time, playing Gospel music, but that was more or less a hit or miss kind of gig, here and there, owing to Scofield’s involvement in so many other projects.
I asked George if he was writing music now for a new Runnin’ Pardners album and he said “Yes,” and preferring to write organically, “I do most of my writing in jam sessions”. He also wants to do a project that does a fresh take on his favorite Meters songs that were recorded but never really played, by the Meters or anybody else. “We recorded 127 songs, and we only ever play 13” (Laughs).
The past Runnin’ Pardners lineups have had some real “A List” players such as Mark Mullins, John Gros and Terrence Higgins. I asked George to talk about the current lineup. “Well I’m hoping they don’t get big too fast (everybody laughs). I’d like to keep them for a little while. Mark got high jacked from me for Harry Connick Jr., Terrence Higgins, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band snatched him you know, and John Gros started his own band. Basically they were young players when I got them, they hadn’t been around the world, and these guys came and offered them worldly tours. I understand you know, I was whole heartedly happy to see them go off. But I had to figure out how to cover their spots. I was lucky that, in New Orleans there is an abundance of musicians that actually pay attention, listen, and are team players. Ray Weber suggested a young drummer named Terrence Houston to me and he was very prepared at the audition. He knew the stuff better than I did (everybody laughs). He’s a good player and he pays attention. He watches me, I always feel his eyes on me and when I turn around, he’s right there.” George and Terrence will be joined on tour with Brint Anderson on guitar and vocals, Michael Lemmler on keyboards and Khris Royal on saxophones.
As far as the material George will be concentrating on for this, it will be a mix between some older Meters stuff that never got a chance to be played too much, and a cross section of songs that George has written for various projects through his career. He is taking a five piece band on the road, whose credo will be, according to George “Take no prisoners”. The Runnin’ Pardners won’t be his exclusive gig, however, as he is planning shows with the Funky Meters which include original Meters member Art Neville along with Ian Neville and the dynamic Russell Batiste Jr. on drums. George also had kind words for his most recent project, PBS (Porter, Batiste, Stoltz) saying “I was heartbroken at the end of our last gig. I love them guys and we did something together that was magical you know. I mean, we thought the same way, scary sometimes.”
George Porter Jr. is an institution in the city that gifted the world so many great, groundbreaking musical styles. I am excited to see where this latest stop on his musical odyssey will take him; wherever it is, we will all benefit from his musical knowledge, song writing and personal charm.