Funk star Leo Noucentelli: “Isolation leaves a stain on your mind” | Music

AndYou cannot install Leo Nocentelli at the bottom. When I asked the legendary funk guitarist about his extraordinary solo album another side Released after 50 years into oblivion, he tells the whole story in a seven-minute monologue, but when I try to confirm his age, there are no dice.

“It doesn’t matter,” he says in his deep Louisiana accent. “I can say I’m 20, I can say I’m 85. Look at me. How old do you think I am?”

It appears to be a decade smaller than I think, so I’m choosing a polite 65. It looks a bit frustrating. “I was thinking you’d say you’re younger but that’s fine, I’m flattered.”

Nocentelli on his sofa in New Orleans, wearing sunglasses and a hoodie. Returning to his hometown five years ago after more than three decades in Los Angeles, “sick of the abundance of great weather.” In the background, his wife Pesuky occasionally flashes in his memory, which doesn’t mean he needs much help. He’s a vibrant storyteller, buoyed by a warm reception for an album he thought was lost forever.

Nosentelli in the prime of his life.
The master of funk…nowsentally in its heyday. Photo: © Rick Oliver

In 1971, Nocentelli’s band, Meters, were the kings of New Orleans funk thanks to tight, hilarious hits like Cissy Strut, but they were among record deals, so Nocentelli began writing some songs to sell to other artists before deciding to record for them himself. Wise, meek, and playfully wise, songs hit the same sweet spot of folk spirit as contemporaries Bill Withers and Terry Callier, but Nosentelli credits his obsession with James Taylor’s album Sweet Baby James. “I hope James smells this,” he says.

Some songs like I Want to Cry were about his frustrations and heartfelt feelings, but most of them, he says, were just stories. One interviewer said, ‘The song that has become a habit is about a prostitute. How was that, Leo? I said, “I had nothing to do with a prostitute!” I just thought, how would a person feel? How does he tell this story? “

He worked at Cosimo Matasa’s Jazz City studio, a converted cavernous storehouse on the second floor accessed via a rope elevator. He attributed the record’s spacious ambiance to that “big hollow studio”. With fellow meter George Porter Jr. on bass, “cool” jazz drummer James Black on drums and Allen Toussaint on New Orleans R&B on occasional piano, he recorded nine original songs plus a glossy cover of Elton John’s song. “It wasn’t supposed to be an album per se. It was just a raw thing.” When Meters were picked up by Reprise Records, their lead songwriter got distracted and demos stayed on the shelf for decades.

The naphthete did not haunt the knowcentelli; In fact, he rarely thought about it. When Hurricane Katrina flooded Sea-Saint Studios in 2005, Nosentelli assumed the tape had disappeared. “I said, ‘Okay, so be it. “It didn’t matter to me. It was an afterthought.”

However, thirteen years later, Beastie Boys assistant Mike Nishita acquired 16 boxes of Sea-Saint tapes at an exchange meeting in Torrance, California. It turns out that they had been rescued from the floods and held in a Hollywood storage facility until the owner’s default. Nishita realized that this priceless collection includes the only surviving copy from a completely unknown album of the greatest funk guitarist. He shared his discovery with the re-release label Light in the Attic and the surviving artists. “It was great to hear these songs again,” Nosentelli says. “The majority that I completely forgot about.”

Nocentelli was born in 1946. His father gave him a $2.98 guitar when he was eight and he was a guitar prodigy at the age of twelve. In my little room I try to stretch my fingers.”

Jazz was his first love but he followed the money. In his mid-teens, he was on the road with Otis Redding (“Very Nice Guy”) and playing uncredited guitar for Tucson and Motown. Between 1964 and 1966, he served in the US Army at Fort Riley, Kansas, but before being sent to Vietnam, he received an honorable discharge for being the main breadwinner for his family. Upon his return to New Orleans, he joined George Porter, drummer Zigaboo Modeliste and keyboardist Art Neville in a band known as the Neville Sounds.

Racial segregation is still prevalent in Bourbon Street clubs. In Ivanhoe, Neville Sounds will play for a white-only crowd indoors and a second, spontaneous audience outside. “We were looking out the window and there were 200 black people standing in the street dancing to our music,” Nusentelli recalls.

The memory of apartheid still stings. “When I was a kid I had to get out of my seat on the bus to let a white person sit. If a white person was walking on the sidewalk, I had to get off and walk down the street. It leaves an indelible stain on your brain. Even now if you walk into a religious house, I remember a time I couldn’t do it in him. You reject them hastily but you never lose these thoughts.”

He disappears for a bathroom vacation and returns to pick up the story while sucking an orange popsicle.

meters in 1968.
meters in 1968. Photography: Jill Pittard/Redferns

In 1969, the Neville voices switched to Meters, and the main funk pioneer in this aspect was James Brown. They’ve backed the likes of Dr. John and Labelle (Nocentelli refers to a platinum disc for Mrs. Marmalade) and attracted some heavyweight fans. Led Zeppelin once asked the Meters to play a party at Jazz City – or at least it sounded like a party. Nosentelli recalls: “We all got dressed up, and then when it’s time to play, where are all the people? Come these three guys and that was it. They were the audience!”

In 1975, Mick Jagger invited them to open up to the Rolling Stones. Nocentelli says fans who queued for hours to get front-row seats weren’t necessarily curious. “You want to see the Rolling Stones after all this time. It could be Jesus Christ. You don’t want to see Jesus Christ. Several times we had to empty the bottles and cans. We knew we had to put up with urging the public to accept us.”

The Meters collapsed after the new trends of 1977 with more credibility in the bank than money. Since then, there’s been work sessions, sporadic reunions, lifelong reunions, and the windfall of becoming one of the most sampled bands in the world, from Public Enemy’s Timebomb to Amerie’s 1 Thing. “The sampling, the praise of the Lord, was the most clever thing that ever happened to the meter,” says Nosentelli.

Shortly before his death in 2015, Toussaint performed a Nocentelli memorial in New Orleans, a song called Leo in the Key of F. “I will take that song to my grave,” Nocentelli says. He composes two verses while tapping a tabletop rhythm with a lollipop stick. “He’s a meter guy, from the meter squad,” he sings. “The whole world knows Leo…nowsentelli.”

Does he think his career would have ended differently if The Other Side had been ended and released in 1971?

ignore it. “It doesn’t even exist in the mental and spiritual equation. Everything was supposed to happen the way it did. When I went to the studio, this record was preset, spiritual, and it took 50 years to display. And it is.”

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