Their time has come at last. After spending years, even decades, providing some of the greatest backline support New Orleans music has heard, the brilliant sidemen George Porter Jr., Russell Batiste Jr., and Brian Stoltz, (Porter Batiste Stoltz) are ready for their close-up. “It’s now time to focus all of our efforts on this, right here, right now,” says Porter Jr. “This is where we want to be. We might be walking away from some decent projects but we believe in this and in each other.”
Everyone else who hears Porter Batiste Stoltz believes, too, which is why the prospect of a new album from the group is reason to get excited. There’s no denying the trio’s pedigree, and their chops are miles wide and oceans deep. Porter is the original bass player for the Meters, a group that virtually defined New Orleans rockin’ funk, while Batiste and Stoltz joined Porter in the latter day incarnation of that band, the Funky Meters.
“We all come from old school New Orleans,” says Stoltz. “I grew up listening to the Beatles and Hendrix, but we still have that deep New Orleans background.”
A few years ago, when Funky Meter Art Neville opted to go back to the band bearing his family’s name, Porter Batiste Stoltz saw opportunity, not disappointment. Rather than continue on with the measured but explosive Meter-like grooves, Porter Batiste Stoltz decided to explore a little, to tinker with the foundation of their funky sound.
The result of that tinkering was a debut album, the aptly titled Expanding the Funkin’ Universe (2005). “The stuff we do together can only happen with the three of us,” says Batiste. “We have a deep respect for the groove. We sound like Porter Batiste Stoltz and only Porter Batiste Stoltz, that’s what’s so special about this band.”
All the tracks on the new album begin with a great idea, and improve from there. “It’s more like a funk rock kind of thing with a strong pocket,” says Porter, “a bass line that connects with the drummer and allows for the rhythm stuff and the lead chords to do whatever.”
The rhythms are inimitable, as only first-call New Orleans players can lay down. But they’re also real songs. Stoltz, who has a songwriting background, adds greater dimension to the PBS collaborations, casting the melodies of classy pop and rock into the rawness of great R&B. “There’s a big difference in our approach,” says Stoltz. “We work very fast in Porter Batiste Stoltz, with the grooves coming first and finding topics to sing about later. There’s more intuition and less thinking, which makes it really fun.”
While their debut album offered funk, groove, fusion, rock, hyphenated style freakout, the new album, says Porter, promises to feature more focus and less wild-eyed indulgence. “We’ve taken a real step forward in the groove and we learned some things from the first record that’s made this next one really special.”
Batiste, accustomed to the more spontaneous approach in the studio, agrees: “To me it’s better because we’re more unified. The constructions on this album came from jams, right off the top of our heads. Now we’re talking grooves!” Stay tuned for information on the next album release by Porter Batiste Stoltz.
The three funky kings have worked up musical resumes that make even those in the Crescent City envious:
GEORGE PORTER JR.
Few bass players in the history of modern New Orleans music are as storied as George Porter Jr. During the course of a career spanning four decades, Porter has not only made a deep impression with his work in the Meters, but he’s notched sessions with artists as diverse as Paul McCartney, Jimmy Buffett, David Byrne, Patti LaBelle, Robbie Robertson and Tori Amos. Early in his career, Porter worked with seminal New Orleans artists like Allen Toussaint, Earl King, Lee Dorsey, and Johnny Adams. Back in 1965, Porter joined on with the Meters, considered by many to be the ultimate fusion of rock, funk and R&B, and gained recognition as one of the scene’s elite bass players.
Porter’s rhythmic work in the Meters in lockstep with drummer Zigaboo Modeliste was epic. Those pockets, the long notes and fat holes, provided the cushion for Leo Nocentelli or Art Neville to play or sing over and created some of R&B history’s most memorable grooves.
Today, Porter features that epic bottom end in his latest collection of Porter Batiste Stoltz tunes. “It’s the ultimate jam band,” Porter says, “one that actually is more musical than just playing everything you know in every song. This band slaps people in the face until they see how good the stuff is!”
RUSSELL BATISTE JR.
As a member of one of N’awlins legendary musical families, Russell Batiste Jr. knows his way around a sound stage. He’s played multiple instruments, and has been at the drum kit since the age of four. Even before that, Russell recalls watching his daddy, David Batiste (of the city’s seminal funk band David Batiste and the Gladiators), jam with an endless array of the city’s most talented musicians. That band hosted a virtual “Who’s Who” of ’60s musicians. One of Russell’s earliest memories is sitting on Jackie Wilson’s knee listening to him sing “Lonely Teardrops”!
Russell joined the Funky Meters in 1989 and, like Porter, has played with a wide variety of performers, including Harry Connick Jr., Champion Jack DuPree, Robbie Robertson, and Maceo Parker. An industrious artist and creator, the busy Batiste also manages to put time into his own projects, too, like Orkestra from da Hood, who released their debut The Clinic a few years back. “I believe music is in you naturally and you just have to tap into it,” he says. “It’s got to be an emotional thing. When we play together in Porter Batiste Stoltz, what we do touches all three of us emotionally. That’s music to me.”
Brian Stoltz’s playing is a perfect fusion of virtuosity, emotion, and instinct, and the combination has helped him to develop a reputation as one of New Orleans’ most sought after guitar players. Stoltz originally made a name for himself with the Neville Brothers, then later the Funky Meters with Batiste and Porter. He’s done session work with some of music’s best, including Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Daniel Lanois, Dr. John, Edie Brickell, and Linda Ronstadt.
But in addition to his instrumental work, Stoltz has also worked as a singer-songwriter. With the release of his two solo discs, East of Rampart Street and God, Guns & Money—both efforts in the rock and pop vein—Stoltz has added skills as a songwriter, lyricist and melodicist to his repertoire. He even received a Grammy nomination in the Traditional Blues category for a track he contributed to a Mississippi Fred McDowell tribute in 2004. “For a long time I had been stereotyped as a funk guitarist,” he says, “But I’ve always been about songs as opposed to groove or guitar.”
For Stoltz, PBS is a breathtaking departure from the Funky Meters’ routine. Despite its legacy, that band refrained from creating much original material. Porter Batiste Stoltz is diametrically opposite to that; it’s a wellspring of spontaneous creativity, a canvas upon which all three of its very talented members can dabble with color. And often those colors combine to create gorgeous pictures.
“When we play together, there’s one mind at work,” says Stoltz. “It’s scary sometimes. In the middle of battle, we can be doing some fierce jamming, and George and I will go to the wrong chord together. How does that happen? It only happens when you’re of one mind.”
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