Leo Nocentelli, one of New Orleans’ masters of funk, is coming to Baton Rouge. The original Meters guitarist and his all-star trio, the Funkin’ Truth, will perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Hartley/Vey Studio Theatre.
Nocentelli takes care to distinguish his shows from the gigs he periodically plays with his fellow original Meters — Art Neville, George Porter Jr. and Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste. It’s inevitable, though, that the guitarist brings Meters funk to any show he performs.
Nocentelli made huge contributions to the group via his composing and signature syncopated guitar work for “Cissy Strut,” “Sophisticated Sissy,” “Chicken Strut” and “Hey Pocky A-Way.”
When Nocentelli plays Baton Rouge, he won’t have to travel far. In 2015, after 33 years in Los Angeles, he moved home to New Orleans.
During his L.A. years, Nocentelli’s stage, recording studio, touring and composition credits included Peter Gabriel, Queen Latifah, Ice Cube, Bonnie Raitt and Sting. His pre-L.A. studio credits as a member of the Meters include Paul McCartney, Labelle, Robert Palmer, Dr. John, Earl King and Lee Dorsey.
Living in sunny California those many years, Nocentelli knew exactly what it means to miss New Orleans. Especially the rain.
“I missed those gloomy days,” he recalled. “I got tired of the redundancy of great weather.” He also missed his hometown’s lifestyle, its pace of life. “L.A. is a very stressful place,” he said.
As the years passed, visits to New Orleans, sometimes for Meters reunion shows, left Nocentelli longing for more time in the city.
“I got tired of coming back here four and five times a year and not wanting to go back to L.A.,” he said. “So, I decided I’d come back to New Orleans and not go back to L.A. I had a good time in L.A., but now I’m enjoying the ease of New Orleans. My city. This is where I was born and raised. I’m home.”
Economic reasons played no role in Nocentelli’s return. Licensing fees from the Meters’ albums and publishing royalties from Nocentelli’s catalog of more than 200 songs provide income. Meters songs have been sampled through the years by hip-hop stars LL Cool J, N.W.A., Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys, Queen Latifah, 2Pac and many others.
“Sampling is one of the best things that ever happened to me,” Nocentelli said. “I didn’t move back here to get a gig. I do a lot of work, a lot of live stuff, but writing songs afforded me not to have to do it.”
Nocentelli’s all-star homecoming show at Tipitina’s in December 2015 is something he’ll never forget. Irma Thomas, Deacon John Moore, Walter “Wolfman” Washington and Cyril Neville were among his onstage guests.
“It was so heartwarming to see these artists of such great stature come out to welcome me home,” he said. “And they did it on their dime. I didn’t have to pay anybody. Matter of fact, I offered pay to some people and they refused it. They said, ‘You don’t have to pay me anything. We’re just glad you’re here.’ That was the most gratifying thing about it.”
In addition to his performances, Nocentelli has a new recording in the works. Peter Gabriel, Stanley Clarke, George Duke, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, Harry Connick Jr., Kirk Whalum and Allen Toussaint participated in the project.
Duke and Toussaint died shortly after they made their contributions. Toussaint, the New Orleans pianist, songwriter and producer who recruited the Meters to be his recording studio house band in the 1960s, also composed a song inspired by Nocentelli. But the guitarist says he’ll never perform “Leo.”
“If I play it, it would be self-indulgent,” he said. “People asked me to release it. I said, no, I wouldn’t want it to be on the record. That would take away from what Allen meant. With the lyrics he wrote, it was personal to him. So, I’m just glad that he did it, even if nobody else hears it.”
In 2017, nearly two years after his return to New Orleans, the thrill of being home hasn’t worn off.
“No, never,” Nocentelli said.
AN EVENING WITH THE METERS GUITARIST LEO NOCENTELLI
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Hartley/Vey Studio Theatre, 100 Lafayette St., Baton Rouge
COST: $20-$50, plus fees at brownpapertickets.com