Feat members Paul Barrere and Billy Payne played with Phil Lesh
& Friends, Steve Kimock and John Molo for six shows last Fall
1999. With them, Paul and Billy brought new inspiration and a
Feat-like interpretation to the ever-changing Phil & Friends
experience. Little Feat has reinvented themselves numerous times
for over 30 years and still continues to wow audiences world-wide
- delighting longtime fans while recruiting new ones.
had a chance to interview Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett, 'guitar
twins' of Little Feat, on December 9, 1999 in a room of Capitol
Tokyu Hotel, which used to be called the Tokyo Hilton. The Beatles
stayed there when they came to Japan in 1966. On December 8, Feat
played at Club Citta Kawasaki. This was the only 2-set show Feat
did in Japan - and the longest one at that! My nerves and excitement
kept me up all night and I was in tough shape when I arrived at
the interview room at 11:00 AM. Paul and Fred, on the other hand,
were full of life and willin' to talk about a lot
of things including cherished memories and humorous anecdotes.
Kato: First of all, I got the impression from last night’s concert
that Little Feat’s sound has a very unique sense of rhythm.
Yes, and it changes from night to night.
Kato: The rhythm seems to be very simple, but whatever you play
- 4 beats, or 8 beats or so forth - behind that, the rhythm is
very complicated. How did you guys develop that sound?
Tackett: I think it just kind of developed this syncopation and
swing, and as Miles Davis use to say, ‘It’s all in between the
notes’ - you know, what happens as far as with that behind the
scenes rhythm you’re talking about.
Barrere: I remember when I first joined the band early on and
finally getting to play a lot with Lowell [George]. We had a good
friend, Van Dyke Parks who use to impress upon us that it wasn’t
always so much the note but the spaces between the notes. I think
everybody really took that to heart. I know that between Fred
and I we have a real good feel for the way each other plays, and
as much as we play (laughs) we manage to stay out of each others
way while we’re doing it. We just kind of blend that with what
the rhythm section is doing. You know, it’s very unique because
for a song as simple as Let It Roll, for instance, we’ve
had drummers try to sit in and play that song with us and it just
doesn’t seem the same (laughs). So it seems simple on paper, but
in practice it is actually pretty complicated.
Kato: Fred, you weren’t a member of Little Feat back in the 1970’s,
so from your point of view, what was Little Feat like back then?
One of the things I really remember best was going and watching
these guys record. Lowell George use to get out into the center
of the room and conduct, sometimes with his feet and his arms
– just moving around. He’d just get everybody into playing these
grooves. He’d stand in front of somebody, like Kenny [Gradney]
the bass player, and kind of like nod and dance and talk and stuff,
and this thing would just start churning like a wheel and it’d
just go around and around and eventually get into this incredible
groove. The thing that really impressed me were the funky grooves.
I remember the first time I heard Skin It Back, I went
‘God damn man, that is like one funky song!’ (laughs) So it was
like a Blues band gone left (laughs), you know? It took a left
turn somewhere on the wa
to Mississippi or something. (laughs) It’s a different thing.
It came out of Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, you know, all those
guys. That’s what I remember about it. These guys were all my
friends. Lowell was the first guy I met and then I met Paul, Kenny
and Sam [Clayton] when they joined the band later. Lowell, Richie
[Hayward] and then Billy [Payne] were the first people that I
met when I moved to California in 1967 or ‘68. They were my friends
and musical colleagues from the very beginning.
Kato: Did you move there because of the "Hippie Movement"?
I moved there just to work with a songwriter named Jimmy Webb
who I met in Hawaii, and he brought me there to work with him.
Kato: Who is Jimmy Webb?
He’s a songwriter who wrote MacArthur Park and By the
Time I Get to Phoenix….
…and Up, Up and Away…
…A whole bunch of pop songs. He was a big, big, big hit songwriter
in the 60’s in California and good friend of mine. I’m going to
try to come here [Japan] with him one of these days.
Kato: I see. Paul, what made you start up Little Feat again in
the middle of the 80’s?
Ah! We actually had no plans of having Little Feat again after
Lowell passed away. We all kind of just split apart and moved
in our own separate directions and so forth. It was really kind
of a fluke that got us back together. There was a rehearsal studio
in Los Angeles called The Alley that we use to rehearse at that
Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris and gosh, even
the Eagles use to go there to rehearse because it was just like
an unlisted number. They had completely redone their main studio
with a lot of old Little Feat memorabilia and they put a bronze
plaque up on the door dedicating the room to the memory of Lowell
George. They had called me up and asked me if I could get the
remaining members together just to have a little jam session,
you know, just to open the room. And I managed to somehow get
a hold of everybody. Everybody was in town at the same time, which
was actually unique at that time because everybody was then working
with different people and we played and we had a great time. The
music was just a lot of fun. At the time Billy was working with
Bob Segar with Fred and so there wasn’t any immediate plans to
put it together. I think
Billy went back out on the road and played with Fred. Then I got
a call and Billy was saying, ‘What do you think about putting
the band back together? We’ll bring Fred in as the other guitar
player and we’ll look for a singer.’ I said, ‘Man, that would
be great – sounds like a lot of fun to me.’ And we did it. The
only criteria that we had was that when we wrote the tunes for
the new album, Let It Roll, that we’d
only go forward if the music was as good as the past eight or
nine records that we had. We thought that the music was equal
to what we had done in the past and we’ve been having a great
time ever since.
Masato Kato: How did you make up for the loss of Lowell George?
I don’t know if we ever made up for the loss of Lowell George.
Lowell was a friend you know, before he was a colleague. I had
known Lowell for years. He went to school with my brothers and
I remember being a young punk guitar player at the age of 15 and
he was like 18 and he was already playing in the clubs and I would
go see him. So when he died it was really more of a personal loss
than a business situation. When we got back together after not
being together for 6 or 7 years, everybody had really grown as
musicians - everybody had actually gotten better – which was good.
Everybody had gotten a little bit more sensible in their personal
Kato: Did Fred bring a new direction to the band?
He brought a new sense of rhythm, as far as I was concerned. Fred
is a great guitar player. I just love the way he plays. The elements
of doing the slide parts kind of fell on my shoulders which I
had actually been doing for the years that we were apart - in
the bands that I had played with or on the solo records that I
had done. It was kind of a natural progression for me to take
over that slide aspect. Fred brought in a different and amazing
rhythm aspect, not to mention his leads, his trumpet and mandolin
playing, and his writing. Fred was always like a member of the
band. He was like the cousin that we kept in the closet and we’d
bring him out and you know…
…The utility infielder! (Laughter)
…Yeah, that guy you kept chained up down there. ‘C’mon on out
and play for us.’ (laughs)
You know, the cool thing about the transition was after Lowell
had died and we put the band back together, there was Craig Fuller.
Craig and Paul had for one thing, written a song, Hate To Lose
Your Lovin’ which was our first single. They wrote that while
Lowell and I were doing Lowell’s solo tour when Lowell died. So
that song was being written – I don’t know if you guys had finished
it or not – but that song had been
started and was there. So when we got the band back together that
song was the first song that we started working on. It was just
like we picked up where we had left off. I mean that song had
had its genesis – it was born – back in the time when Lowell was
still alive. Craig had a vocal quality that was similar to Lowell’s,
so it was a nice transition in fact. He sang a lot of the songs
that Lowell sang. So when we went out and started playing, a lot
of the fans said, ‘Well, he sounds sort of like Lowell’ so it
was a nice transition and then we just carried on and the music
just evolved naturally like it would have otherwise. If Lowell
had been alive, the music wouldn’t have been the same as it was
in 1972 or 1978 or 1988. If Lowell were still here, he wouldn’t
have been playing the way he played in 1978 – it would’ve been
something else. I’d love to figure out what it would be (laughs).
You keep thinking – if you knew Lowell. You know Lowell use to
sit around and edit cassettes. He use to take little cassettes
and cut them up and paste them back together again and we use
to think, ‘What would he do with a computer or a sequencer?’ He
would be in a room and you would never see him again. You know,
he’d never be outside. He’d be in this room with a sequencer cutting
up things and making….he would’ve been wild. You know, with the
idea of sampling and stuff , it would’ve been amazing to see what
he would do with the technology of today. He was always stretching
the technology. He had the first drum machine – a weird dichromatic
thing - this weird little drum machine. What did it have two beats
on it or something?
Yeah, he got that from Elliot Ingber It actually had 5 different
settings: a samba, a rumba, a rock beat and swing and then you
could kind of combine two of them which is how he got that wacky
thing for Cold, Cold, Cold – that upbeat.
Kato: Mr. Suzuki played a slide guitar solo last night. How did
you get to know him?
Actually, Billy had worked on a record with him, I understand,
years ago. When we were planning on coming over here, we had written
Mr. Saito [Japanese promoter] to see if there were any Japanese
musicians from the list of those we had previously played with
who would want to come and sit in and jam with us, so to speak,
and Mr. Suzuki came through. He came in last night and it was
wonderful. We had a great time. I was almost losing my place singing
the words because he was playing the exact Lowell licks in the
back part of the second half of the chorus. I was like, ‘Wow,
that’s like the exact lick off of the original Dixie Chicken
Yeah, he’s the only one who showed up. All of the other people
we had worked with were little girl singers who are probably grown
up, married and got children now. (laughter).
…Or they don’t want to see us! (laughter)
Kato: Paul, you and Billy Payne played with Phil Lesh
last October and November. Do you remember you played golf with
some music fans right before those shows?
Oh yeah, that was the [B. R. Cohn Golf Tournament] in Sonoma,
CA put on by Bruce Cohn who is the manager of the Doobie Brothers
[and a recognized vintner]. He does a charity golf tournament
every year about that time and the money goes to the Children’s
Hospital in San Francisco and to Aids and Cancer research. A lot
of fans come and a lot of people from bands too - people from
Huey Lewis’ band, some people from the Allman Brothers – well
at least Gregg, Butch, and Russ Kunkle – the drummer – were there.
It’s one of those fun kind of golf events where musicians, producers
and people from the different communities come out and raise money
for a charity.
Kato: Taping was not allowed during the Phil Lesh/Bob Dylan Fall
’99 tour. Was this Bob Dylan’s decision? How do you guys feel
about taping live shows?
Right, Bob Dylan doesn’t allow tapers. Phil Lesh and the Grateful
Dead people whether it’s The Other Ones, or Ratdog, or whomever
– they all do. All of the people that Phil brings in – whether
it’s Derek Trucks or Warren Haynes or whomever – they all allow
it. I think that even Bob Dylan, well he’s so old school that
he probably feels that it's not such a good idea – maybe just
from talking with Paul Simon. I don’t know. (laughs) People do
tend to get in there and get those tapes but we’ve figured out
that to try and stop people from taping is futile, and if you
allow them to tape, you actually broaden your audience. The interesting
thing to see is how much information actually would be transferred
onto MP3’s and so forth, whether people would actually start to
pirate copyrighted material like studio albums and things like
that and actually post those files on web sites that are illegal
and so forth. You know, that’s the only problem I can see. As
far as getting live shows? - I have no problem with that. I think
it would actually stop bootlegging. However, we’ve had tapes that
came through our tape tree that have actually turned into bootlegs
here in Japan.
Kato: Lowell George loved bootleg albums, is this true?