The story of Look-Ka Py Py begins with the Meters departing New Jersey in a beat-up Mercury. Two bad pistons provide a background rhythm over which the musicians lay an improvised beat and vocal chant for 850 miles, delivering the title track at an Atlanta studio and the album into music legend.
My brother and I were both too young to say that we "experienced" the ‘60s, he of the massive Jew-fro and platform shoes, me with shoulder-length hair and Hush Puppies. We were unquestionably children of the ‘70s and its music. The differences in our appearances belied our shared musical tastes, save for the chasm between Disco and Punk that formed late in the decade.
My cousin Andrew gave me a poster that hung in the bedroom I shared with my brother in a Levittown neighborhood outside Annapolis, MD. As long and as wide as my twin-sized bed, it was a concert advertisement pinned to the wall above my headboard, a Bill Graham original taken from the concourse in Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, 1973: A SWELL DANCE CONCERT - THE GRATEFUL DEAD, the guy and gal dressed in ‘50s teen hip—He's "Truckin',” She's "Posin'," it said. I wanted to Truck.
Andrew and his brother genuinely were children of the ‘60s. The younger two of four boys from New York, they always sent me music-related stuff. Mostly albums. Boxes of them. Bowie, Talking Heads, Dylan, Lou Reed, Poco, Blondie, the Residents, the Band, Elvis Presley, James Brown, Jimmy Cliff, Parliament, and the Meters.
I loved my cousins for this gift—a foundational record collection that started a life-long love affair with music. It wasn’t until I’d travelled my own roads alongside bands in the coming decades that I understood the impact these records had on the music I listened to.
My friends and I spread our records across the carpet of my parents’ house and took turns wearing out our favorites on the massive console stereo in the living room no one used. Queen, Aerosmith, KISS, the Beatles, the Stones. Vinyl stacked high—33s, 45s, even some of my dad's 78s. You’d never heard such low-end! My neighbors did though, and with a rap on the aluminum frame of the screen door, they let my parents know that the music was not to their liking.
I was a regular at Waxie Maxie’s, a record store in the corner strip mall where you could buy LPs for $8.40 a pop including tax, collect your orange ‘Free Records’ coupon, and grab a Slurpee from 7-11 on the way home. Waxie Maxie’s gave me my first job. “We should just pay you in vinyl,” the manager once said to me. “Every week I hand you your check and every week you hand it right back in exchange for records!” The easy life of a teenager. Biking home with a bag of records under my arm, one hand steering the bike in a wobbly path, dumping the bike in the front yard and bolting into the house, I’d unload my week’s pay onto the bed, swiping the edge of each album cover across my jeans to burn open the shrink wrap, placing the needle of the department store record player onto side one with a staccato scratch, looking at every picture on the cover, reading every word on the sleeve, and losing myself in music for the afternoon.
This ritual followed me through junior high and high school, where the breadth of my musical library expanded along with my circle of friends. Open lunch, afternoons, and weekends were spent with my patchwork crew gathered in the parent-free home of Alan, the living room furnished with one chair and a stereo. There were seven of us and we'd each bring a contribution of vinyl and aluminum, drinking the afternoons away air-jamming to ‘70s Prog, Punk, Jazz Fusion, and what was even then Classic Rock. Rush, Zappa, the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jaco Pastorius, the Clash, Beastie Boys.
During college I moved in and out of dorm rooms and apartments with little more than a bag of clothes, a turntable, and about 1,000 albums. Walking the hall of my first dorm was like turning the radio dial—the Who faded into Prince into Talking Heads into Madonna into Tears for Fears into the Clash. Among our floor mates, knowledge of bands and the ability to cite liner notes was played out in substance-fueled contests of one-upmanship. My roommate and I excelled. As a member of SEE Productions at the University of Maryland, I experienced my music up-close and personal, backstage with the Godfathers, Living Colour, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Jane's Addiction, Butthole Surfers, Fishbone, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Neville Brothers.
The Meters started as a backing band, laying down the groove for New Orleans greats like Lee Dorsey and Earl King. And like Booker T and the MGs, who backed Otis Redding and Bill Withers, and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, the Swampers, who backed Aretha Franklin and Joe Cocker, the Meters were an unmistakable, but largely unrecognized, musical voice behind the Stars.
It was during that Neville Brothers concert in Ritchie Coliseum at Maryland that the Meters came back into focus and burst open my understanding and appreciation of ‘the groove.’ The crowd was unforgiving, booing the opening act, Egypt, who were, in my opinion, delivering a scorching set of Meters-inspired, funked-up rock. How can you not strut when this is the soundtrack to your life? The groove of your gait?
On the first warm day of the summer, fifty-year-old me, that boy riding his bike while balancing a stack of albums, loads up his Jeep and heads north, open to the sky, with the Mighty Imperials’ “Thunder Chicken” providing the soundtrack. The beating heart of funk re-connects across the years along a vein that runs through my entire record collection. Think James Brown. Think Sly Stone. Think Aerosmith and Run-DMC. Think Ocean's Eleven. Think the Meters. Think cool.