New Orleans bassist and vocalist George Porter, Jr. has conducted a brilliant musical career over the last four decades — from his early days as a session player and a founding member of the influential group The Meters through his years as a reliably groovy collaborator. He's jammed with such artists as Paul McCartney, Robert Palmer, Jimmy Buffett, David Byrne, Patti LaBelle, Tori Amos, and Billy Kreutzmann. At a young and vibrant 62, he seems unstoppable.
In recent years, Porter's main touring band has been the Porter-Batiste-Stoltz trio. He visited Charleston last year for a gig at the Pour House as part of the John Scofield Band. This year, he brings his new funk/soul/fusion combo to town. The Runnin' Pardners features Brint Anderson on guitar, Mike Lemmler on organ and keyboards, Khris Royal on sax and keys, and Terrance Houston on drums.
"There's some old blood infused with some young blood," says Porter. "Brint has been playing with me for 19 years. Mike came about 14 years ago, when I broke a horn band down from an eight-piece to a five-piece. Khris is a New Orleans musician who I didn't really know until very recently. He sounds great, and he's only 24."
The bassist and bandleader seems particularly inspired by the skill and enthusiasm of his new drummer — an up-and-comer who did serious homework before joining the combo.
"Terrance is a terrific, 23-year-old drummer from Baton Rouge" Porter says. "When he came aboard, it just clicked. He came ready, and he knew the music. It was a breath of fresh air, and his style made me rethink what I was doing to my own music. I'd gotten so used to things accidentally happening that I'd forgotten how well things go when they're prepared and thought-out ... not that I'm against jamming."
Versatile and proficient, Porter easily locks in with whomever might be on stage or in the studio, and he can flow and connect with any situation. The basis for his approach came from an in-studio lesson in the mid '60s from New Orleans pianist Allen Toussaint.
"When Allen brought the original Meters into the studio for sessions as Lee Dorsey's backing band — back before the Meters really started recording together — I was a very busy bass player. Lots of sixteenth notes and stuff," Porter says. "I remember Allen saying to me at the time, 'It's not what you play; it's what you don't play that's gonna make this happen.' He drilled me."
Porter realized how much space there was in the music, so he started paying more attention to what he didn't play than what he could play.
"Getting out of the way of the backbeats was important," he says. "That snare should be by itself on the two and four, you know? The bass and drums should be in the same pocket, so I learned to play more with the drummer."
Porter recently rerecorded 16 original tracks from the Meters old set lists — deep tunes no other acts ever attempted to cover. Two of the songs, "Soul Machine" and "Borro," are available at Porter's website. Fans can expect a wide variety of Meters funk and Porter solo pieces this week.
"It'll be a little of everything, including some of the newly reworked Meters tracks," he says. "I pull songs from my four previous records, and there's room for other numbers. And, absolutely, all the solos are open for interpretation."