Happy Birthday Leo Nocentelli: Performing Live With The Meters In 1976

Listen to the guitarist performing with the legendary funk group in their prime.

By Nate Todd Jun 15, 2021 6:35 am PDT

Today marks Leo Nocentelli’s 75th birthday. The renowned founding guitarist of seminal funk group The Meters was born on June 15, 1946 in New Orleans. Encouraged by his father, Nocentelli began playing music at an early age.

He first picked up the ukulele and later the guitar and was influenced by jazz guitarists like Charlie Christian, Barney Kessel, Johnny Smith and more. But Leo also gravitated toward rhythm and blues and by 14 was backing notable musicians including Otis Redding and Clyde McPhatter. A few years later he found work as a session musician for Motown acts like the Supremes and the Temptations among others.

After serving two years in the military, Nocentelli hooked up with Art Neville and the Neville Sounds, a seven-piece proto Meters band that was later pared down to four members: Nocentelli on guitar, Art Neville on keyboards, George Porter Jr. on bass and Zigaboo Modeliste on drums. Thus the classic lineup of The Meters was born.

The quartet honed their chops playing six nights a week at the Ivanhoe nightclub in New Orleans where they performed both dance-style rhythm and blues as well as jazz. The Meters would have their first hit in 1969 with “Cissy Strut,” which was co-produced by the late great Allen Toussaint. The success of “Cissy Strut” urged the collective to stay together

While The Meters continued to record and perform in the early and mid 1970s — with percussionist Cyril Neville also joining the group — their ace musicianship caught the attention of a number of artists including Paul McCartney, Dr. John, Robert Palmer and more. After Mick Jagger saw the band perform at an album release party for Paul McCartney’s Venus and Mars album, The Rolling Stones invited The Meters to open for them on their Tour of the Americas ’75 and Tour of Europe ’76. It was also around this time the quartet released their landmark 1975 album, Fire On The Bayou.

In 1976 The Meters released their penultimate LP, Trick Bag, and continued to tour although The Meters would disband in 1977. On October 1, 1976, the quintet performed at Kingfish Lounge in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The set featured Meters classics like the disco-tinged groove of opener “Hang Em’ High” from Trick Bag, the Nocentelli riff-driven “People Say,” the infectiously funky “Just Kissed My Baby,” the standard “Hey A-Pocky Way” and more. The Meters also included covers of the Stones’ “Hony Tonk Woman” and Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.” The recording comes to a close with “Africa.”

To celebrate Leo Nocentelli’s birthday, listen to The Meters perform from Baton Rouge in 1976 below:

Tracklist & Times

  1. Hang ‘Em High 00:00
  2. Honky Tonk Woman 01:20
  3. Jungle Man 06:01
  4. I’m In Love Again 11:39
  5. People Say 14:51
  6. They All Ask’d For You 20:54
  7. Just Kissed My Baby 27:23
  8. Hey Pocky Way 35:10
  9. It Ain’t No Use ~ Do That Stuff 44:23
  10. Johnny B. Goode 01:03:44
  11. Big Chief 01:07:13
  12. Africa 01:11:21
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