By Leslie D. Rose
New Orleans-based singer and bassist George Porter, Jr. has been making music since the mid 60s. A once-member of funk pioneers The Meters, he has solidified himself as a musical marvel over the years. But despite living just an hour from the Capital City, he said he only gets to play Baton Rouge four times a year. Luckily for his fans, one of those shows is just around the corner.
Along with his band, The Runnin’ Pardners – which consists of both 20-year veterans and rookie musicians – Porter will take the stage at The Varsity Theatre on July 26. He said fans shouldn’t expect a set list, but rather a concert experience that feels more like a jam session.
“We enjoy ourselves while onstage,” Porter said. “I’m just up there having fun and enjoying the players around me. When I’m playing I’m not thinking about a message being delivered, I’m just enjoying myself.”
Two of the musicians who make up his band are guys he’s been playing with for many years: Brint Anderson (guitar) and Michael Lemmier (keyboards). Joining them to create The Runnin’ Pardners are Khris Royal (saxophone) and Terrence Houston (drums). Royal and Houston have only recently begun garnering experience over the past three-to-five years, but Porter said he doesn’t find it hard to get into a groove with either of them as they are both very professional and well-rehearsed. The combination of experience and drive creates a seamless blend of music, with Porter saying that he’s most impressed with 20-something Houston’s cooperative efforts in guarding the groove.
“Terrance does his homework and he comes ready,” he said. “He is the guardian of the groove but he doesn’t try to push the band in a particular direction. He allows me to push the band where I want it to go. He just reinforces it. There are lots of Louisiana drummers who want to be the designer of the groove, and those bands tend to play around the drummers, but ours is much different than that.”
Aside from performing, Porter spends lots of time in the studio, but he’s not necessarily recording new music – he’s writing. He said he recently struck upon a writing spurt that’s given him about 27 songs, ranging from funk to R&B. He is now in the revision stage, attempting to choose which pieces he’d like to see evolve into polished songs.
But fans won’t see any of that at The Varsity, nor will they see any Meter classics from Porter. Of his most highly requested songs is the 1969 Meters’ tune “Cissy Strut.”
“I don’t play that one,” Porter said within a hearty laugh.
He continued to say that he leaves Meter songs for Meter bands to play. Since the creation of The Meters, there was a shift that created an additional band of the same name. Porter still does shows with his original band mate Art Neville in The Funky Meters and even performs with the other Meter band.
“I never know what I’m going to play. I don’t write set lists. We just show up and I kinda read the faces in front of me. If I see what looks like a funk crowd – we play funk. If I think it’s an R&B crowd then we slow it down.”
But his shows are just that – his shows.
“I never know what I’m going to play. I don’t write set lists. We just show up and I kinda read the faces in front of me,” he said. “If I see what looks like a funk crowd – we play funk. If I think it’s an R&B crowd then we slow it down.”
Porter said he’s usually dead-on with his crowd-reading, but to say he’s such a great judge of audience desires, he doesn’t spend much of any time as an audience member himself. Aside from his band reunions and performances with The Runnin’ Pardners, he doesn’t attend shows of other musicians.
“I don’t go see other [artists] perform,” he said. “I just don’t seem to have the time to do that.”
But even without the experience of publically appreciating his comrades in the field, the 66-year-old musician has had a grand career that spans nearly 50 years with 10 solo projects and near-endless concert dates.
And while he does continue to contest that he never knows what he will play once he touches the stage, Porter said he can guarantee a good time for all who attend.
“[We do] in-your-face funk,” he said. “I think the people that will come to see us play will probably know what we are – we’re a fun band, we play well and we jam.”
Porter said he does not play his songs like you would hear on his records instead he plays them to cater to the crowd, and noted that in concert, his songs are twice as long to accommodate the jam at-hand.
“We play live and we play hard,” he said.
“It’s always fun to play The Varsity,” he continued. “This will be the first time this year – it’s a once-a-year affair so come on down.”
George Porter Jr. & The Runnin’ Pardners
with special guest MOONSUGAR
The Varsity Theatre
3353 Highland Road
Must be 18 or older with Proper ID