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The Show On The Road – Leo Nocentelli (The Meters)

Oct 6, 2022

The Show On The Road - Leo Nocentelli (The Meters)

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.

 

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You don’t usually put your first record out when you’re zooming past your 75th birthday. The story of how Another Side still even exists is quite a yarn (one that Leo goes into great good-humored detail about in the taping) from the master tapes being lost in damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, to a master-copy being found almost impossibly after a storage-unit got foreclosed and the music was traded at a local swap-meet. Hearing him tell it, finding these songs from his younger days, was like finding an essential, lost piece of his soul. The record isn’t polished, but the sense of youthful exploration shines through. He’s searching for his voice in real time.

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.

Nocentelli has had his share of ups and downs as a lifer who has rode the tempests of the ever-evolving music industry. It’s a “brutal brutal business” he says at one point — and Leo shares that he had to sell some of his favorite guitars to keep going through the years. The song “Getting Nowhere” leans into the sense of helplessness and frustration many talented session players and touring side-men like him went through when royalties and fame and fortune passed them by as others rose to prominence.

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.


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The Show On The Road - Leo Nocentelli (The Meters)
The Show On The Road - Leo Nocentelli (The Meters)