By Andy J. Gordon
Legendary funk guitarist Leo Nocentelli, a founding member of the Meters, led an all-star group for a night of funk and rocking blues infused songs at The Mint in Los Angeles on January 26, 2019. The National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) convention was taking place in nearby Orange County and brought many industry professionals from around the country to the famous nightclub for the show.
Nocentelli and his band have been doing shows at The Mint during NAMM for the past few years. This year’s lineup displayed expert musicianship while playing classic songs and some newer tunes from the legend’s catalog. Nocentelli has been playing funk, blues and R&B since the 60’s. His blistering guitar riffs and infectious rhythms have been the inspiration for many guitarists and songwriters over the years. In 2018 he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
As an original member of the Meters, a groundbreaking funk group based in New Orleans from the mid-’60s to the mid-’70s, Nocentelli gained national attention with his songwriting and guitar mastery. He has written over 200 songs, some of which were recorded by Albert King, Etta James, Joe Cocker, Robert Palmer, the Neville Brothers, and George Duke. He has also recorded with a number of artists including Peter Gabriel, Earl King, Dr. John, Lee Dorsey, Patti LaBelle, Manhattan Transfer, the Temptations, Stevie Wonder, the Supremes, Bonnie Raitt, Sting, and the Winans, among others.
Nocentelli lived in Los Angeles until 2016, but he rarely gets to play in the city because of his extensive touring. The knowledgeable fans in the audience at The Mint were treated to some mind-blowing chops by the guitar master and his supporting cast. Bill “Buddha” Dickens on bass, Felix Pollard on drums and Albert Margolis on keyboards all possess impressive skills and complemented Nocentelli’s blistering fretwork.
Dickens is an award-winning bassist, songwriter and producer. He has played on albums by George Michael and Mary J. Blige, Janet Jackson and C & C Music Factory beside recording with Nocentelli. He also has writer/producer credits on releases by Bootsy Collins, Aretha Franklin and Victor Wooten. Pollard is a highly in demand drummer that has played with Lionel Richie, Shelia E., George Duke, Chaka Kahn, The Staple Singers and toured extensively with Taylor Hicks.
Margolis has been a rock and blues master keyboardist for the past forty years. He has played with Richard Street (The Temptations), Ivan Neville, The Drifters, Oteil Burbridge (The Allman Brothers), Karl Denson, Darryl Johnson (The Neville Brothers), Tony Braunagle (Bonnie Raitt/Taj Mahal) and Evan Stone (John Tesh) in addition to many years with Nocentelli.
The band played several Meters classics including “Fiya On The Bayou” and “Cissy Strut.” For “Cissy Strut,” Nocentelli told the audience that they would be mixing up the time signatures of the song – he was not kidding. After playing it at the normal pace, the band drastically sped things up and ultimately went to 11/8 metering. The interplay between Nocentelli and Dickens was incredible. Each musicians’ fingers were a blur as they were in perfect rhythm in spite of the accelerated pace.
The show continued to feature the lightning fast playing of Nocentelli as well as the impressive chops of the other musicians. The savvy audience responded appreciatively to each solo and familiar tune. The master performance of impressive funk and rock tunes came to end early Sunday morning. The industry insiders in attendance filed out of the club, amazed by the remarkable show delivered by Nocentelli and his bandmates.