Leo Rising
Guitar Player|February 2022
After 50 years, Leo Nocentelli’s long-lost solo debut reveals a softer side to the hard-nosed electric funk legend.
By Jimmy Leslie, Photography by AB Sykes Photography

LEO NOCENTELLI WAS once a sensitive ’70s singer-songwriter? Well, who knew? What everyone should know is that Nocentelli was counted as one of Guitar Player’s 50 Greatest Rhythm Guitarists of All Time, is a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient and one of the most sampled guitar players in recorded history. As a founding member of the Meters, he helped lay the blueprint for modern New Orleans funk in the ’60s and ’70s, and he’s carried the torch proudly into the present. Nocentelli is the maestro responsible for the stank-nasty syncopated riffs anchoring classics including “Cissy Strut,” “Fire on the Bayou” and “Just Kissed My Baby.” His extensive sideman credits include supporting an array of artists, from Patti LaBelle to Dr. John, Robert Palmer and Lee Dorsey, so one would figure the world has a pretty complete picture of the player’s stylistic range. That’s what makes Another Side such a shock.

Die-hard fans that have followed the man for decades have never even seen him with an acoustic guitar, so to have Another Side drop like mana from a time machine, showcasing not only Nocentelli’s unplugged chops but also his fine handle on the narrative lyrical style and melodic vocal delivery of a golden-era singer-songwriter, is nothing short of a revelation. The album’s folk-funk sound brings to mind Bill Withers, Paul Pena or perhaps a groovier Jim Croce or James Taylor. But none of those players have anything close to Nocentelli’s musical flair.

Put on “Riverfront” and notice how the riff melds bass and treble ideas within a call-and-response motif, kind of like Nocentelli’s signature licks on “Cissy Strut.” Now consider that he’s working a gut-string acoustic with a classically inspired fingerstyle technique, which is best exemplified at the very outset of the album on the introduction to “Thinking of the Day.” It’s wild to consider such a fingerstyle etude coming from a player known for his laser-focused pick attack on an electric axe.

The backstory of how Another Side was cut and finally came to light is even more far-fetched. After the Meters’ original label, Josie went belly up, Nocentelli went into Cosimo Matassa’s Jazz City Studio with fellow Meters George Porter Jr. and Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste — bass and drums, respectively — as well as drummer James Black, plus national treasure Allen Toussaint of “Southern Nights” fame on piano. They worked on Nocentelli’s folky acoustic songs occasionally over a couple of months before he got back to his usual funky business when the Meters signed with Warner Brothers and blew up on both sides of the Atlantic as the opener on the Rolling Stones’ 1975–’76 tour. Everyone, including Leo himself, forgot about Nocentelli’s acoustic fling.

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