There’s no telling how Trombone Shorty’s latest full-length, Say That to Say This, will be remembered in the future. The album was released in September 2013, and how it will impact the course of Trombone Shorty’s music and career — or music in general — won’t be known for some time.
Though a year old, the album might still become a commercial breakthrough for the New Orleans-based trombonist/trumpet player. Perhaps it will be hailed as an artistic high point in his young career. Or, maybe Say That to Say This won’t have any such dramatic impact and it will go down as just one of many albums that make up Trombone Shorty’s catalog.
But before those or any other outcomes begin to take shape, his ninth studio album has already done something few albums achieve — it’s made history. That’s because this is the album that brought together the original members of the seminal New Orleans band The Meters to record together for the first time in more than three decades. They back Trombone Shorty on “Be My Lady,” a song The Meters first recorded on their 1977 album New Directions.
The significance of the occasion is not lost on Trombone Shorty (whose real name is Troy Andrews).
“(The Meters) know how much they mean to New Orleans music, and I know how much they mean,” Andrews says. “I don’t know what the contemporary sound of New Orleans music would sound like if The Meters didn’t do what they did.”
The influence of The Meters, indeed, can’t be overstated. During their initial run together from 1965-1977, Art Neville, George Porter Jr., Leo Nocentelli and Zigaboo Modeliste (with Cyril Neville added to the lineup a bit later) forged a trailblazing sound that blended Funk and the traditional second-line rhythms of New Orleans with Rock, Jazz and Soul.
While Art Neville and Porter have continued to perform as The Funky Meters over the years and the original members have done occasional live shows, they hadn’t been in a studio together until Andrews did the improbable and coaxed them into recording “Be My Lady.”
The idea of the reunion happened casually enough.
Andrews had been working on Say That to Say This and one day was riding around New Orleans with his cousin while they listened to some classic music made in the city.
“We were listening to all that old music from New Orleans —The Meters, Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Ernie K. Doe — and for some reason we were really excited about that, as if it came out while we were living,” Andrews says. “So The Meters thing came on and I was like ‘Man, they’ve got everything that represents my band: vocals, horn parts, funky grooves.’ And I was like, ‘Let’s re-do that song.’ I said, ‘Now I want to do this song. I’m going to get The Meters to play with us.’ ”
His cousin laughed off the idea, but Andrews was serious. And he had one thing in his favor. He personally knows the members of The Meters and considers them to be like his uncles. The elder musicians had watched Andrews as he grew up, starting out as a precocious child prodigy (he started playing trombone at age 6) and going on to attend the prestigious New Orleans Center for Creative Arts before embarking on a successful recording career, establishing himself as arguably the brightest young talent on the city’s music scene.
So Andrews phoned each member of The Meters and presented his plan.
“I reached out (first) to George Porter and I said ‘Man, I want to do “Be My Lady” from y’all’s record, New Directions, but I want to get the original cast.’ Like I tell you, no joke, no lie, I told each one of them that and there was a silence on the phone when I said that,” Andrews says.
While perhaps reluctant, Andrews said he could tell each of guys was intrigued by the idea. One by one, they signed on.
If anything, what happened in the studio was even more exciting.
“On one take, they just went into this thing that made The Meters to me. They just kept playing and everybody’s grooving and Leo kicked off a little rhythm, on the guitar, and the rest of them followed,” Andrews says. “At that very moment I said I’ve just witnessed how they were creating all of that great music back in the day. They stopped after about five minutes, ‘All right, all right, we’re here to work. We’ve got to get (this song done).’ And they just broke it down. I knew at that moment, that showed me they really missed each other.”
“Be My Lady” is one of many high points on Say That To Say This. Its silky Funk sound provides a relaxed change of pace on an album that finds Andrews continuing to develop his distinctive hybrid of New Orleans Funk, Jazz, Soul and gritty Rock & Roll. This collision of styles is especially effective on songs like “You And I (Outta This Place),” “Fire and Brimstone” and the title track, where guitar riffs, punchy, sharp syncopated rhythms and jazzy horn lines make for a modern, enervating and original type of New Orleans music.
The rocking character of the music is what sets Andrews apart from other New Orleans artists. It’s a side to his tastes that he began exploring during high school after discovering bands like Nine Inch Nails.
“I just thought this was some cool music,” Andrews says. “When I had my breaks, instead of going on lunch break, I’d go to the practice room and play with the Walkman and try to figure out some interesting things to play over Nine Inch Nails.”
But what really helped Andrews figure out how to bring together his Rock style and his New Orleans musical roots was getting hired by Lenny Kravitz right out of high school to play in his touring band.
“Instead of me playing over a Walkman at that time, I was able to get the real school right in front of my face. That situation changed my whole mentality, changed my life,” Andrews says. “Once I did that, I was able to come back to New Orleans and add what I learned from (Kravitz) to my New Orleans (sound). Now you had the sound that you hear now.” ©