Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: The Meters/Neville Brothers
Guess everyone’s talking about New Orleans today. So in honor of the Saints in the Super Bowl, and Mardi Gras, let’s take a brief look at two albums with virtually the same title: Fire On The Bayou by the Meters, and Fiyo On The Bayou, by the Neville Brothers.
The Meters are, of course, one of the greatest bands ever. That they aren’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is one of the true injustices in this world, and proof positive that the people running that Hall are trend-chasing lackeys who are more interested in selling tickets to tourists rather than honoring and preserving the history of great music. Formed in 1965, the original quartet included drummer Zigaboo Modeliste, guitarist Leo Nocentelli, bassist George Porter Jr. and keyboardist extraordinaire Art Neville. They had a few R&B instrumental hits including “Cissy Strut” and “Sophisticated Cissy,” and by 1972 they were the most sought-after players in New Orleans. Becoming the house band for Allen Toussaint’s Sansu Records, they played on hits from Dr. John (“Right Place, Wrong Time”), Labelle (“Lady Marmalade”), Ernie K-Doe and many others.
In 1974 Paul McCartney asked the Meters to play on his album Venus and Mars, then they played the album’s release party aboard the Queen Mary. Mick Jagger was blown away by the Meters, so he invited them to tour with the Stones that year. That leads to 1975, and the album Fire On The Bayou. Produced by Allen Toussaint, this classic unveiled the now classic title cut as well as a new, fifth band member: little Neville brother Cyril, on vocals and percussion. “Fire” showcases what the Meters were all about: some really tasty riffs on top of a spicy, funky little rhythm. “Talkin’ About New Orleans” and the extended groove “Middle Of The Road” are more of the same.
But there are two cuts that stand out above the rest: “Mardi Gras Mambo” is actually a cover, the original was cut in 1953 as a country song but the next year a New Orleans band, the Hawketts, made it their own. The Hawketts were led by then-17-year-old Art Neville, and the song became a Mardi Gras standard. The Meters’ version substituted Neville’s keyboards for the tasty sax on the Hawketts’ record, but it rocks anyway. And then there’s “They All Ask’d For You,” a tune with some local catchphrases and an insanely catchy melody. The Meters claimed writing credit on it, but there’s evidence at least some part of this song has been handed down among New Orleans musicians over the years but no matter – I remember going to New Orleans for Mardi Gras in 1976 or so and it was everywhere.
So, the next year Art and Cyril joined their brothers Charles and Aaron in Toussaint’s recording of The Wild Tchoupitoulas, featuring music from the Mardi Gras Indian group. The boys liked playing together so much, they formed the Neville Brothers and released a debut album that stiffed. That album tried too hard to be trendy and cool, so the Nevilles went back to their New Orleans roots for the followup and presto: Fiyo On The Bayou, from 1981.
This gem kicks off in high gear with a remake of the Meters’ classic “Hey Pocky A Way,” then later revisits “Fire On The Bayou.” This version of the latter is a little more funky, with more of an emphasis on the vocals, but still great. Two oldies covers, “Ten Commandments of Love” and “Mona Lisa” unleashes the Nevilles’ most potent weapon: the incredible voice of Aaron Neville. And there’s a great cover of Jimmy Cliff’s “Sitting In Limbo” but for my money the album’s best track is “Brother John/Iko Iko.” Starting with the Art Neville-penned story of a fallen Mardi Gras brother (done earlier by the Wild Tchoupitoulas), this infectious tune wraps with the danceable “Iko Iko,” which was a hit for the Dixie Cups.
If there’s one thing wrong with Fiyo On The Bayou, it’s that the album is too short. But if you team it up with the Meters’ Fire On The Bayou and add some gumbo and beer, well you got yourself a party.