George Porter Jr. is a man who needs no introduction. Aside from his main projects, like funk-music staple The Meters, he’s played bass alongside so many bands and musicians — David Byrne, Earl King, and Tori Amos to name a few — a full list of his song credits could span a six-part book series. If you need a pocket-focused bass player, Porter is the man to call.
A now, the Voodoo Dead is coming to town. Debuting at NoLA Jazz Festival in 2015, this supergroup explores the Grateful Dead’s expansive catalog with a New Orleans twist. With all-star musicians like Steve Kimock and Dead & Co.’s Jeff Chimenti sharing the stage with Porter, it’s a high-energy performance jam fans would remiss to skip out on.
Here, we sit down with Porter ahead of the February 6 Voodoo Dead show at the Capitol Theatre to talk a little voodoo, a little Dead, and a lot of music.
You’ve played at the Capitol Theatre plenty of times, right?
Yeah, probably six or seven times, at least twice a year.
Port Chester is a Grateful Dead town if I’ve ever seen one. I think the local fire trucks even have the Stealie on them. What do you enjoy about playing at the Capitol Theatre?
Oh it’s a wonderful venue, I mean the production end is wonderful. We musicians always love walking into professionally ran venues.
The sound is always wonderful, the people treat you really well, and the food is good. And you know it always has wonderful turnout. In fact I was just there with Warren Haynes, for that benefit he does there every year. I think that was my second time doing that with him.
After this tour stop Voodoo Dead is heading to Japan. What are you looking forward to most out there?
Playing Voodoo Dead gigs! That’s the first time that I’ve gone over with Steve [Kimock]. I’m sure Steve been there before, but this will be my first time going there with the Voodoo Dead. I just was over there to do the Fiji festival that just happened last year.
How was that?
That was wonderful, that was great. It was a beautiful tour, a wonderful crowd of people. People were standing out in the rain and we were the only band that did an encore and the production people let us do an encore and it was killin’.
You’ve said that you’re more of an “in-the-pocket” bass player, as opposed to melodic. Do you feel like you shed that a little bit when you play the Grateful Dead’s music?
When I’m playing the Dead’s songs I tend to be a little more busier than I would be if I’m playing one of my own gigs. Then again when you’re playing in an ensemble that’s just four pieces, there’s room for you to move around. It’s better than when you’re playing in a group that’s six or seven pieces where you know you kind of tend to stay out of other people’s way so they can make statements at the same time.
I’m very well happy being in the pocket, I like holding down the group, create a baseline and hang on it. And every now and then say something but most of the time just find a good pocket and get in it and have some fun.
When you’re playing with musicians like Steve Kimock I’m sure there is a lot of room for people to stand out, because it’s really remarkable musicians all on one stage.
Yes, exactly and his son John Morgan is one hell of a drummer. I love playing with John Morgan. He’s a wonderful pocket player. He’s wonderful, he has great ear, this kid can hear ya know, he hears everything.
You know he hears things happen and when it comes back around he knows you might make that statement again so he be prepared to make that statement with you, ya know? He’s a killer drummer.
How much of that New Orleans sound do you try to infuse in the Dead’s music with Voodoo Dead?
As much is allowed. You know I haven’t been told that I should not do something. So you know I’m still putting forth my efforts to add the “Voodoo” to the “Dead.” [Laughs]
A couple of times, I think it was a year before last or something, after one of the Voodoo Dead shows during Jazz fest there was a couple people coming up complaining that we wasn’t doing enough Voodoo. So we try to bring a little bit more Voodoo to the pocket, ya know.
I’m sure it’s welcomed because there are so many Grateful Dead cover bands out there. But Voodoo Dead really brings this extra energy, a much livelier sound, and a really inventive way of playing the Dead’s music.
I’m a firm believer that people don’t come hundreds of miles to hear a band play the music exactly the way it went. I do know there are bands out there that play the Dead’s shows and they play them note for note how the Dead played them and I understand that some of those bands are making very good money, so I do know that they exist.
But I mean, I think the people that come to see Kimock and myself or the Voodoo Dead are not coming expecting to see pure Grateful Dead ya know. I mean I think they’re expecting us to go out and stretch it ya know and take it pass the limits that the Dead had taken it. the actual performance changes every time so you know. Its up for musical grab, its not a pre prescribed prescription for this music, ya know?
What’s upcoming for you that you’re really excited about?
There’s records in my hard drive that I need to get working on. I really want to try to put out an EP on both bands, [The Porter Trio and Runnin’ Pardners] before Jazz Fest is coming. Almost 90% of the music is done, um the Trio stuff is really done, and the only hold back on that stuff was that I wasn’t all the way completely happy with my vocals on all the tracks. Most of it is instrumentals.
The Runnin’ Pardners project was changed when our original guitarist, Brint Anderson resigned right after Jazz Fest last year. I decided I was going to replace those guitar parts that he did with Chris Adkins, the new guitar player for the band.
My solo career has kind of kept me away from home and out of the studio so hopefully in March I’ll be home for a little while. I think I got three weeks at home and I’m going to pretty much try to spend all three of those weeks in the studio. And still pick four or five songs from each one of those projects to put together for Jazz Fest. So I’m really excited about those.