This week, we dial into New Orleans for a fascinating talk with master funk-guitarist and songwriter Leo Nocentelli. Discerning listeners may known him as the chief groove-creator behind the legendary group The Meters with Art Neville on keyboard, George Porter Jr. on bass, Zigaboo Modeliste on drums. There is no mistaking his soulful dagger-sharp signature sound leading often-sampled treasures like “Sissy Strut” and “Hey Pocky A-Way” (The Beastie Boys were big fans) — or even his slinky masterful backing of Dr. John’s classic Right Place, Wrong Time. But a new generation are learning of Nocentelli from last year’s surprise release of his first and only solo record, the acoustic folk-driven Another Side, which was resurrected and marketed by Light In The Attic Records nearly fifty years after Leo first recorded it.
You wouldn’t think a rock-funk maven like Nocentelli would be inspired by songwriters like James Taylor or Elton John — but in many ways, it was the softer, more yearning, poetic side of rock-n-roll in the early 1970s that intrigued him most when he began writing songs like “Thinking of the Day” in 1972, wondering if his place in the world, his “tomorrow would ever come.” Other standouts like “Riverfront” told the stories he couldn’t tell while penning the Meters’ funky (but often instrumental) dance anthems. With his Meters mates chugging beside him in the studio, he can tell darker, more personal tales about his hard-working friends, like Aaron Neville (who he grew up with in the 7th Ward), and how he used to haul bananas off the boats in New Orleans to get by.
Some things really haven’t changed in fifty years. But only a generational talent like Nocentelli could create sparkling guitar backdrops for artists as diverse as Dr. John, Otis Redding and even Jimmy Buffett, and keep his passion long enough to see new crowds packing houses on tours in 2022. It must be quite the feeling to finally be able to perform his own solo work — a half century after the songs first emerged and were almost lost forever.