On Wednesday, January 17th, 2018, Jam Cruise 16 set sail from Miami, beginning a five-day musical excursion that detoured through Central America and the Carribean before returning to port on January 22nd. This year, Jam Cruise boasted one of its finest bills to date, including two sets by Voodoo Dead, the New Orleans-inspired Grateful Dead tribute act featuring an all-star lineup of George Porter Jr., Steve Kimock, Jeff Chimenti, and John Kimock (Anders Osborne was originally slated to perform with the band, though after missing the boat, artist-at-large Dan Lebowitz stepped up to fill in along with cameo appearances by Tom Hamilton and Kat Wright).
With George Porter Jr. on hand at Jam Cruise 16, Live For Live Music got a moment to catch up with the legendary bassist. During the chat, Porter clued us into his upcoming plans for 2018—including a new project that sees Porter collaborate on duets with a number of female singers—and spoke to us about his thoughts on The Meters’ Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and the legacy of The Meters and the Grateful Dead. You can read the conversation below.
Ming Lee Newcomb: What have you been up to recently?
George Porter Jr.: I’ve been working on three projects at home in my home studio. One is to reestablish some new music for my Runnin’ Pardners solo band, and the second is for The Porter Trio‘s first release. For the third project, I want to do a series of duets with female singers and then myself on bass. That may be a harder-to-come-by dream, but I want to try to do that this year.
MLN: What inspired all this new writing?
GPJ: Well, I’ve been pretty much writing and trying to put music together since 2014, so I’ve been at this for three or four years. For Runnin’ Pardners, I have 29 tracks recorded, so I just need to refine those 29. With Porter Trio, I think we have eleven tracks recorded—with those, they’re about 80% recorded and just about done. I have a young lady named Mia Borders writing lyrics for me, so she wrote lyrics for three of the songs. Brian Stoltz [longtime guitarist for The Funky Meters] wrote lyrics for one of the songs, Billy Iuso [leader of the Billy Iuso and the Restless Natives] wrote lyrics for one of the songs, and Miss Denise Sullivan wrote lyrics for one of the songs. So, I think Porter Trio is more prepared than the Runnin’ Pardners.
With the duets, I have music that I was doing—I called that session Garage Band Sessions. I tried doing that when I was out here [on Jam Cruise], just in my room. I had my studio set up and I was reviewing stuff. This trip takes on a bittersweet thing for me because I lost my wife on November 27th. For the last thirteen years, we’ve done Jam Cruise together as an anniversary gift, because our wedding anniversary is December 28th. We renewed our vows on Jam Cruise last year at fifty years. So it’s been a bittersweet kind of thing this trip, and I didn’t get anything done in the room—I just couldn’t get it done—so hopefully I will when I get back home and back into the real studio.
MLN: You recently found out that you’ll be getting the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Can you talk a little about that?
GPJ: Yes, yes, yes! [laughs] That came as somewhat of a shock. We never got a Grammy before. We’ve never even been nominated for a Grammy, so I don’t know where this came from, but it was just like, “Wow!”
MLN: Clearly, The Meters have such a huge legacy and have inspired so many other artists. What do you feel the legacy of The Meters is?
GPJ: Well, I think it’s strictly in the music. I think as a band, we’ve probably disappointed more people than—well, because, people like to look at musicians as that intricate part of the music that they love, but then those players just don’t live up to the music itself, you know? Our legacy will have to be just in the music because it won’t be because of who we were as a group of players. I can individually say I’ve done my very best to try and be who I am and not be somebody else or present myself as someone you can trust, but as a unit, I think we missed the boat.
MLN: Really? All the musicians I’ve ever spoken to have always—
GPJ: As a band, what we did—and that’s the mistake we made—is that everybody picked their corner, so we never got to the same place at the same time together. The only thing that we did well together is playing music.
MLN: You were childhood friends with Zigaboo [Modeliste]—
GPJ: He’s my little cousin! Or well, we were raised as cousins, let’s just say. The lady who raised him was kin to my grandmother. She raised Zig, so you’re right, he’s really not a blood cousin, but we were raised as such.
MLN: You two still play together in Foundation of Funk, so how that’s going?
GPJ: That project is in the refining stages. We are looking at this year. This year—more than any year in “Meters World,” if The Meters was a thinking unit—could be a very good year for us. Because of two very important reasons: one being that Art Neville is not very healthy right now, so it would be very questionable for us to think that we can drag him all up and down the highways right now, and the other being that we are still in corners. We’re still not in the middle as a unit, so that stops us from doing things as a unit. Buyers look at us and say, “Well, I’d much rather deal with a unit, rather than four individuals,” so that automatically makes the band a nonfunctional organization.
Foundation of Funk I think has a better chance. I mean Funky Meters could have done it, but then Art’s not there, you know? And I’m not going out with anything other than Art Neville as being a member of Funky Meters. I don’t see anyone sitting in that keyboard position. If it’s not Art Neville, then it’s not The Funky Meters to me. So Foundation of Funk is the only viable unit that can maybe go out this year in 2018 and make a statement about our musical legacy and heritage.
MLN: I saw Foundation of Funk in Denver when you played with John Medeski and Eddie Roberts, but you guys have taken on a number of different lineups in the past. For a Foundation of Funk tour, would the lineup continue to change?
GPJ: We just did the Sunshine Festival in Florida with Medeski and Eric Krasno. I think that if we did a record—and I believe that we are—it may take on several different units. I think that’s what Foundation of Funk could be. We can bring in players from the jam band community, and The Meters were the foundation of their grooves, and play this music.
One of the things that none of The Meters bands ever did was play all of our music. I don’t think it’s been thirty songs that we’ve played, but we have 170 some odd songs. That’s a lot of music we haven’t played! For me, I would love to see us play all of it, any one of those bands like Foundation of Funk. I mentioned this to Zig recently, we should take and do two albums in their entirety every night that we play. Especially the first three albums, because those first three were less than 30 minutes long, so we can conceivably play two records.
Foundation Of Funk – Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox – Denver, CO – 2/10/2017
[Video: Ming Lee Newcomb]
MLN: Would you be playing the albums straight through?
George Porter Jr.: I think we’d be going off, so we might not get through the two whole records. We might get to one-and-a-half, but definitely, do one and just stretch that thirty-minute record out into a two-hour set by utilizing the jam community. I believe that there’s management, and Zig’s front of house and front office is actually looking at taking on the manager that I have now, which is Silverback, and actually entertaining Madison House as the booking agency. It would kind of alleviate everybody from stepping on each others’ toes because everyone would know where I’m at, because I’m everywhere. The booking and management knowing where I’m at could put Foundation of Funk in spots where it won’t hurt my solo career, my musicians in my solo bands. Having time off would be something they could probably use while I go out and do four or five weeks with Foundation of Funk.
MLN: You’ve been on the boat playing with Voodoo Dead, though you’ve really been all over. Kind of similar to The Meters, the Grateful Dead also has this enduring legacy. What has drawn you to playing the music of the Dead?
GPJ: Ever since I did a Mickey Hart project and then more with 7 Walkers with Bill [Kreutzmann], the Dead community has kind of accepted me. I’m a part of that community now, so when projects come along like Voodoo Dead—though Oteil [Burbridge] was the original bassist in that band. The first time Voodoo Dead played in New Orleans at Jazz Fest like three years ago I believe, I was just a guest that came in and sang a couple songs and went away. Then, the next year, they called me in to be the bass player.
Steve [Kimock] and I have been working together for probably the last twelve or thirteen years on-and-off for different projects. He even did a project with me and Bill: 7 Walkers. Actually, I don’t think they called it 7 Walkers that time. We did it up in Colorado with Kyle Hollingsworth on keyboards, but that was a project that the buyer said, “This is who I want to be in the band.” Bill’s wife loved that project and was like, “We should do this with these guys. These should be your 7 Walkers.” But that would have made me the primary singer, and I can’t take on being the primary singer for the Dead’s music. That’s just way too much music to learn, and it was always too many lyrics for me. I’ve picked and chose my way around which Dead songs I want to sing.
Kreutzmann, Kimock, Porter, Hollingsworth – “Eyes of the World” – Nedfest – Nederland, CO – 8/26/2011
MLN: This is more of a personal question, but I really admire that you’re always up and out. How do you maintain your high energy?
George Porter Jr.: I sleep. [laughs] I sleep, you know? I might drink a Red Bull just to get me [snaps] quickly up. My friends at home call my bass the “Magic Thing.” Once I pick up the Magic Thing, it just turns into another piece of another person.
MLN: I’m sorry that your 2017 was capped off with something really difficult. What are you focusing on as you move through 2018?
GPJ: My goal this year is to complete these three projects. I think the first thing I’m going to do is for Jazz Fest—which is not that far away—and put out an album that has three songs from each project. I’ll put that out as a teaser to say, “There’s music to come!”
MLN: Sonically, what can we expect from the new music of these three distinct projects?
GPJ: Well, Runnin’ Pardners is Runnin’ Pardners. Like I said, that’s a song-based band that has almost twenty-six years. It’d still be in line with that. The last album had five musicians, ’cause I had Khris Royal playing saxophone, though this might only be four pieces. And then, I’m thinking again, because my wife, she loved a horn band. She loved the bands that had the three or four horns in ’em. I just may dedicate that Runnin’ Pardners’ project to her and put those four horns back in there for her. She loved that horn section, she called them her children.
The Porter Trio, there will be songs, but it’ll be geared to a harder-pushing fusion-funk, you know? The duet with the girls, I’m writing, so I don’t know how that’s going to end up. I’m kind of really looking forward to doing that. The four ladies I’ve selected at this point are all wonderful singers. I can say Mia Borders, because Mia has written songs for the project—well, she’s written songs for the Porter Trio—and she’s a wonderful songwriter and lyricist. The other young lady is a lady named Leslie Smith, who has written lyrics for previous Porter solo projects. Then, there’s Erica Falls who has been working with Galactic. Then there are two other ladies, though I may not be able to do all five, and one of them is my granddaughter—I’m not sure how I’d be able to do a duet with a female singer and not use my granddaughter. She would pour water on my head [laughs].
MLN: Well, that’s really exciting, and I’m really looking forward to hearing—
GPJ: I have to dedicate the rest of this year to my wife’s memory because I’m doing something that she loved me doing: playing music and writing and stuff. She always loved when I was on the third floor, and she could hear music going on up there. She wouldn’t bother me all day long, and she wouldn’t let nobody else bother me, and she’d text me at some point saying, “It’s time for you to eat.” [laughs]
MLN: Well, it seems like you have a lot of really wonderful ways to commemorate her planned, like with adding in the horns for Runnin’ Pardners, and that’s really beautiful. Thank you so much for your time, George.