Show me the money, baby
So you think you’ve got it bad with off season in full effect – trying to survive a few months until powder time on whatever money you’ve got, or scraping by on the few tourists still left in town.
The same sink-or-swim ordeal is part of nearly every professional musician’s life. Unless you’re out on the road, earning meager dollars at sometimes scarcely attended gigs, or unless your CDs somehow manage to crack the charts, musicians who aren’t playing music aren’t making money.
Funky Meters mainstay George Porter Jr. knows the routine. Porter’s regular band has been semi-permanently sidelined while bandleader Art Neville continues to recover from a painful physical ailment. He comes to town today with a new variation on his most recent post-Meters ensemble, a group the kids are already dubbing NAPS – featuring himself and Meters guitarist Brian Stoltz, plus Gov’t Mule drummer Matt Abts and Allman Brothers regular Johnny Neel on keyboards.
“When it comes to it, you’ve got to keep a source of income and get the music where you can get it,” Porter says. “Musicians have to work all the time, unless you’re the Rolling Stones or Phish. That said, this band’s not just about money – if it was just some people thrown together to play for money, that would be pretty shitty. It’s got to musically be right with a good sound. And if you go out there, people aren’t going to be bullshitted.”
Porter’s no stranger to ever-changing side-projects – including his consistently star-studded Runnin’ Partners band – although he said he thought he’d found a potentially lucrative alternative to the Meters in the ensemble PBS, his last band du jour. The group, which featured Porter, Stoltz and Meters drummer Russell Batiste Jr., visited Colorado a couple of times earlier this year. And while the trio were able to play nice together as the Meters, under the watchful eye of Neville, as a trio, Porter says there were plenty of problems.
“We just couldn’t pull all of those thinking bodies together on the same page,” Porter says. “The band seemed like a very good idea but people have to want to do things and be open to other ideas. When you’ve got a band full of bandleaders – you have to learn to give or it doesn’t work. It just was not feasible for friends to be on the road arguing about music all of the time.”
Do the math with NAPS and you get to see which leg of PBS evidently wasn’t able to work in a collaborative fashion. Porter says the PBS project wasn’t a complete disaster; three live shows were recorded at the Boom Boom Room in San Francisco and could be issued in the future, although that too would require more cooperation than apparently exists between the Meters men.
“There are also lots of live tapes out there that the kids recorded at our shows and they ask for more stuff all of the time, so that gives us some sense of the interest in PBS.”
Given the choice between not working at all or trying something different, Porter says his manager started talking to Abts and Neel’s managers and discovered that they too had some time off from their own projects – and suggested forming a new musical alliance.
“It actually kind of stems out of the power jam thing we did in Denver after the Red Rocks Widespread Panic shows, featuring us and (Papa Grows Funk guitarist) June Yamagishi. We all talked and figured out this was a project that would give us three or four months of work – and hopefully it will spread into something bigger.”
Porter says that he, Stoltz, Abts and Neel – all of whom have crossed musical paths at some point or other in the past – immediately headed to Nashville and cut five new songs together.
“I didn’t know what to expect but we all walked out of there with smiles on our faces. We all knew that we were the kind of guys who can go on stage and everyone can play, but we weren’t so sure if we could create together. And now we’ve already got half of an album in the can.”
As for the future of Stoltz and Porter’s mainstay ensemble, Porter says it’s probably going to be a long time before the Funky Meters hit the road once again.
“Art hasn’t finished all the therapy he needs and we know that he might never be 100 percent again. And since he’s not feeling well, there’s no sense in having him grumpy and pissed off, trying to play shows S so we have to go out and fend for ourselves. This is the unfortunate part of our business – bands come and go, so we hope we’re lucky enough to find a niche and stick around for a while.”
NAPS will appear today at 8150 with opening guests Mama’s Cookin’. Tickets are $20.