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Kato: Lowell George loved bootleg albums, is this true?
There were a couple of bootlegs - the one, I believe, Electric
Lycanthrope and Chinese Bejeezus which were
done originally in recording studios for radio stations that were
broadcast live. They actually came out quite well and we all
love those. As a matter of fact, we love them so much that Billy
went in and took some of those songs that were from those radio
broadcasts and put them on Hoy-Hoy!. We like the
recordings, we just don’t like the fact that someone is bootlegging
them - I’m sure it’s the same way that video companies feel when
they find out that there’s millions of copies of their Pokemon
video out there. (laughs)
You know Lowell had a real business sense about him. He was very
aware of copyright laws and getting paid for what he did and publishing
rights. He was the first guy that discovered how to start a publishing
company. He taught me and it was like a deep dark secret. I mean
nobody wanted you to know that all you had to do is publish an
ad in the newspaper for a couple of weeks and pay a little fee
to somebody and you had a publishing company. I mean the record
companies didn’t want you to know that. Everybody had publishing
companies and you had to sign up with them. I remember, Lowell
and John Sebastian found out that you could start your own publishing
company and it would cost you nothing – maybe $20. So right off
the bat we were all starting our own publishing companies. He
was very aware of getting paid for his writing and he wasn’t really
crazy about people making money off of his creative output and
him not getting any of it. He didn’t love the idea of the bootlegs,
I mean he loved the performances, but he didn’t like anybody making
money without him getting paid for it, no.
And on that note he was also an extremely generous person because
anybody who was a member of the band that worked on those songs
would be a part of the publishing company. As you know a publishing
royalty is split into two halves: one half goes to the writers
and the other half goes to the publishing company. So for instance,
all the songs on the early Little Feat records (well the first
two records) are split amongst the original four members of the
band and then amongst the guys who actually wrote those tunes.
Then the next group of albums is split amongst the six members
of the band and then the ones who wrote the tunes. We’ve just
decided to continue in the same way. There are a lot of acts out
there that have only two writers in the band and the rhythm section
is basically carrying the luggage. (laughs) So it’s a way to make
the band feel more like a band and keep it going and Lowell was
really the instigator for that kind of situation - and I thought
that was wonderful.
Kato: Steve Kimock left the Phil/Dylan Fall Tour after the very
first show. Do you know why he left?
I’m not exactly sure of the exact reason why. I can only speculate
that Steve had loyalties to the two old timers who were the original
Grateful Dead roadies, you know, Ramrod who was the drum roadie
and Steve Parish who was Jerry Garcia’s roadie. When they decided
to leave early, Steve decided to leave early too. There was some
kind of political situation that occurred way before Billy and
I got into the scene. Quite frankly, I didn’t want to put my nose
into business that wasn’t mine. I was sorry to see Steve go. He’s
a wonderful guitar player. I mean he did everything from Jerry
Garcia to John Abercrombie. He is an amazing player, but it was
his choice to leave and he did and I was sorry to see him go.
Kato: So he didn’t leave the band because of musical differences?
No, no. That I know for sure. He didn’t leave because of the music.
He even wrote me an email saying that musically he was having
one of the best times he ever had, and he was sorry to go, but
there were some kind of politics that were going on against management
and the road crew and him at that point. I didn’t understand and
I didn’t really want to get into it. (laughs) ‘Hey I’m just here
Kato: Steve posted a public message to all the fans apologizing
any disappointment in his leaving but did not really state the
reasons behind his decision. He ended his note with a quote from
a Bob Dylan song, Maggie’s Farm: ‘I ain’t gonna work on
Maggie’s Farm no more.’ What does that mean? Does this mean he
had trouble with Bob Dylan?
No. He was actually having trouble with Phil and Phil’s wife,
Jill, who is Phil’s manager.
Kato: Oh, I see.
So it was like I said – there was some kind of political thing
going on. I don’t know if it was on the financial level. I know
it wasn’t on the creative level. I think there were just some
things that were bugging Steve that he didn’t like so he decided
Kato: So, how did you like playing with Steve Kimock?
Yeah, I thought he was a great and wonderful guitar player. He’s
one of these guitar players that practiced like Jerry - morning,
noon and night - all he did was play. He studied Eastern instruments
and things like that. He could play lap steel. He could play just
about anything. He had one of the best collections of lap steel
guitars I’d ever seen and a ton of old amplifiers. I mean I just
couldn’t believe it. He was a wonderful player. It was funny Little
Feat had done shows about a year earlier at the House of Blues
and his band Zero opened for us. We were with a different management
company at the time having lots of meetings and lots of crazy
things were happening. They were there both nights but we had
meetings both nights before the shows, so I never got a chance
to get down and see them play. I would actually have liked to
see Zero play. Now I understand that he’s doing something with
White…wait it’s KVH…it’s Kimock, [Bobby] Vega, Ray White from
The Mothers [and Frank Zappa Band] and [Alan] Hertz….
Kato: Did you see Bob Dylan during the tour?
Yes. I saw him play. We actually didn’t get to meet him until
the very end of our part of the tour where we got to just basically
shake his hand and meet him. I watched him play and had nice conversations
with members of his band. It was a very fun time, you know. Good
crowds. It was very interesting because we went from a typical
tie-dyed audience to the Middle East where we were playing for
people in camouflage fatigues.
Kato: Did you try to play with Bob Dylan?
No. There wasn’t really any jamming going on at that point. We
would do our show and then Bob would do his show. His band would
be there early to do the sound check and then he would show up
about 15 minutes before the show time and he would walk from his
bus to the stage and then from the stage back to his bus. There
wasn’t really any time to play or do any real jamming. We only
did four shows together. Steve Kimock was there for the first
show, then he left and everything was kind of up in the air like,
‘oh what are we gonna do? I guess we’re gonna play as a quartet.’
So we did the next two shows like that which meant we had to really
focus on what we were doing. Then Derek Trucks showed up and we
did that last show with him. For the Phil Lesh tour we did long
rehearsals before the shows so we didn’t really have any time
to talk to Bob Dylan and sit in on his sets, although I would’ve
really loved to have him come out and do Willin’!
Kato: What was it like to play with Derek Trucks? He’s a very
young, but very talented guitarist.
Derek is a great player. He’s marvelous and very knowledgeable.
He does a lot of Duane’s shit doesn’t he?
Yeah, he does a lot of Duane’s stuff for sure. He’s also kind
of taken a page from Warren Haynes. I just heard the new Gov’t
Mule record and during their version of Spanish Moon, Warren
does a lot of cool slide effects – the same thing that Kimock
does on slide - where you get the sitar effect where you get a
lot of these [imitates sitar sound]. Derek was getting into all
that kind of stuff which I guess works well with the Grateful
Dead music too. I wasn’t really an aficionado of Grateful Dead
music when Phil called so I had to quickly study some material
and do a lot of cramming, and also ended up reading charts and
words on stage during the shows. It was pretty weird. (laughs)
Kato: Can you elaborate on how you and Phil learned and got comfortable
with each other’s material?
We would just rehearse songs and run charts. We had music stands
on stage – I felt like a musician for the first time in my life.
(laughs) Basically we would run them one time and adjust our charts
and that was it. I was literally singing songs and playing music
that I had never done before and having to do both at the same
time literally for the first time in my career. It was amazing.
I listened to tapes and records and I had about a week to figure
that out before tossing it in front of thousands of people. (laughs)
Kato: Did you have any songs that were rehearsed but not played
live at the concerts?
Yeah, we never did Sugaree. We rehearsed that one and had
a really cool groove on it, but we never played that one live.
Kato: How did you feel about being the only guitarist of the band
after Kimock left?
Actually it felt easy because I knew all I had to do was play
the initial licks. When you’re playing Grateful Dead songs, you
know, there’s the initial licks and then the chord changes to
the songs, but then the song goes out and you go just about anywhere.
That was the great part because we could jam the song into just
about any realm that we wanted to. I think that’s the thing that
Phil Lesh likes to do which is probably why he keeps bringing
in new people – that way he keeps it different from night to night.
I think on his tour he had about five different
guitar players that came in and out. He doesn’t want it to be
a Grateful Dead show. He wants to do Grateful Dead songs but he
wants it to be a different experience every night. I felt quite
at ease because instead of having to listen to Steve Kimock and
Billy and Phil it was just Billy - it was just Billy and I. Billy
and I have been doing this for years so it actually made things
a little bit easier.
Kato: After our last interview was published, a lot of people
asked me to ask you about Helena Springs.
I don’t remember a lot about Helena. She was one of the singers
and was a really nice person and a great singer. There were a
lot them. At one point there were 7 or 8 background singers travelling
with Bob. All of them were good – there was Mary Elizabeth Bridget,
Regina Havis and Clydie King was one of the most incredible and
famous singers. Then Helena and Regina Harris – and I had never
met Helena till then. She was a real nice person and real competent
professional singer and that’s all I can tell you about her.
Kato: Have you ever listened to the Black Crowes? Either Chris
Robinson or Rich Robinson referred to Little Feat as ‘One of the
most under-rated bands in the 70’s.’ Do you think so too?
Yeah! What are you kidding me? We were the best band….(laughs)
…of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s (laughs)
Yeah, what are you kidding? Little Feat is the best band in the
world man! (laughter) Of course we’re under-rated!
It’s one of those ‘Do you like apples or oranges?’ kind of things.
I’m really flattered that the Black Crowes covered Willin’
and Gov’t Mule does Spanish Moon. A lot of bands say that
we’ve been influential in their musical styles. On the other hand
it also tells me that, gosh darn, I’m old! (laughs)
Kato: Did you know that Bob Dylan did Willin’ a couple
of years ago in Florida?
When we use to rehearse we use to play Willin’ all the
time and Paul use to make me sing the background parts. So I’d
go up there and sing the harmony parts. You know Bob use to consider
Lowell a good friend of his. I remember that he use to tell me
that Lowell was a good buddy of his and he use to invite Lowell
to his house to go fishing and all that….
Kato: Do you have any stories about Lowell George producing the
Grateful Dead’s 1978 album Shakedown Street?
At that time, we were doing our thing as Little Feat, and then
when we weren’t doing our thing, I was off doing other things
by myself. I mean I knew that Lowell was up there producing but
I was somewhere between conscious and unconscious at that time
in my life. (laughter) So I really didn’t know what was going
on but then I remember he came back with this song Six Feet
of Snow that he wrote with Keith Godchaux. As a matter of
fact, I mentioned that to Phil. I said, ‘Hey did you know that
Keith co-wrote a song with Lowell?’ and Phil said, ‘Ummmmm, no.’
So I said, ‘Yeah! Six Feet of Snow.’ So I did manage to
get a lot of stories out of Steve Parish, Ramrod and Robbie Taylor
about when Lowell was up there working with them that were hilarious.
They sounded like they had a real, real good time.
I remember when Lowell was up there, he said that one of the recreational
activities that the Dead had was to try to dose Lowell and Lowell
trying to not get dosed with LSD - and it was every day.
All the time during their sessions they were always trying to
figure out a way to get Lowell dosed – he was really on guard
– he was like, ‘They’re not going for the Coca-Cola you know,
that’s too easy.’ He said that they finally got him with some
postage stamps – he needed one and sure enough they got him. (lots
A recording studio is not the place to be in charge and to be
on LSD because there’s just too many buttons too many knobs and
too many lights. (laughter) You don’t need any kind of added confusion
when you’re working in the studio. I mean it might be great while
you’re playing and listening, but boy, if you’re trying to work
a console (laughter) I think you’d have some problems.
Kato: Lowell George played with Frank Zappa. Did you ever get
the chance to play with him?
I didn’t, no. I got to jam a couple of times with Elliot Ingber
who was a guitar player and Roy, the original bass player with
Feat, and Jimmy Carl Black. Actually, there was a scene in Laurel
Canyon back then that you would walk into a house and there would
be any number of people from a number of bands. I remember walking
into a house one night and there were a couple of members of The
Mothers - there was Lowell and Richie and they were doing this
really raggedy version of some sort of Doo Wop tune. They figured
that they were going to start another band called "The Heavy
Crabs" (laughs) but it didn’t go far.
One night only! (laughs)
You know Frank Zappa use to be a part of the Masked Phantoms Band
at La Monte Legions Stadium. He and Beefheart and some of those
guys who would back people like, not Richie Valens, but people
like Don and Dewey you know, all of those LA cats when they would
have all of these big concerts (and this was like early ’63 and
’64). You know ‘Live from La Monte Legions Stadium’ and there
would be this Chicano sort of thing with Doo Wop and then there
would be this Black sort of thing with Doo Wop. So when The Mothers
evolved, Frank brought all of that with him and they would do
some of the most hilarious stuff - like when Lowell use to do
In the Still of the Night with Little Feat back in the
So those times….you know it’s amazing to be here in
1999 and here we are pushing into the next century. I’m so glad
to still be alive and have some of these memories because they’re
priceless. Should be a good book someday. (laughs)
Kato: Many people have loved Little Feat since the 70’s. How do
you keep yourselves fresh?
Shower. (laughs) No, I don’t know how you’d explain that. There’s
an interesting thing that happens – we’ll go out on the road for
like 3 months in the summer and by the end of three months it
doesn’t seem fresh to me anymore, but we’ll take a break and then
we come back. Last night seemed fresh to me. It was fabulous playing
new stuff. You try to forget all of those solos you’ve played
in the past and you just say, ‘Okay, I’m going to try some new
stuff in this section right here.’ I think it’s part of the creative
process to be able to reinvent the solos and so forth. The songs
- not their structure but the tunes themselves - remain the same,
but you can change the structure of it so that it becomes a new
and fresh idea.
Sometimes the grooves like last night and parts of every show
have a different swing to it than ever before. It just happens
- music evolves and changes all the time and has subtle things
to it. I hear my son’s band playing down the street. He lives
in a house next to mine, and I hear his band rehearsing, or I
hear something on the radio, or some Hip-Hop stuff, or I hear
something that my kids are listening to, and all the while, I’m
playing and practicing classical guitar. There are so many things
that influence what I’m doing and then I come back and play with
Little Feat and all that stuff has subtle influences on me. It
just changes things. That’s the way the world is according to
that Buddhist book in there. It just always changes and it keeps
Kato: A lot of musicians have a difficult time being out on the
road so much – especially doing long tours for several years.
How do you keep yourselves sane?
It’s almost like athletics. You know Sam’s always on stage with
the basketball shirts and the stuff. It’s like an athlete. You
have to stay in training because you’re travelling, staying up
late and eating bad food and you could just get very sick. You
could get really ill at the drop of a dime and you still have
to go and play. It’s not like you can call your office and say,
‘I’m not coming in today.’ You’ve got to be there whether you’re
sick or not, so it behooves you to keep yourself in good condition
because people get sick and die on the road. Lowell had this horrible
case of bronchitis – that’s what really killed him. It was a combination
of horrible bronchitis, this antihistamine he was taking and drinking
alcohol on top of antihistamines. So it’s all about keeping your
health up. You’ve got to work out or take a walk and do things
to keep yourself healthy. It’s like being an athlete, which is
funny for being a bunch of musicians.
It was a lot different when we were younger obviously. We didn’t
take care of ourselves. We would party every night - you know
I think after surviving that, you all of a sudden you realize
‘Okay, I’ve done that and if I keep doing that I won’t be around
any more to do this anymore.’ It was kind of a question of choices.
You either get smart or you get dead. (laughs)
It’s like asking yourself, ‘How do you want to feel? Do you want
to feel really terrible?’ (laughs) You start thinking about that,
you know. ‘I’m really going to feel terrible tomorrow unless I
get some sleep or something.’
Kato: The last question is: What do you think music will be like
in the 21st century?
Who knows? I don’t know.
I do know one thing though – there will be Rock n’ Roll. There
will be some form of Rock n’ Roll. Someone tried to tell me that
Rock was dying. I said, ‘Well, you must be crazy. Just listen
to commercials on television, or your radio, or whatever it’s
everywhere.’ Obviously Rock n’ Roll changes, but there’s still
those aspects of that early form of Rock n’ Roll that came out
in the mid-50’s which permeates into all musical styles today.
So I think whether it’s got Hip-Hop, or the older Rhythm and Blues,
or some form of blues aspect to it, or a jazz aspect to it, there
will always be some rockin’ going on. The only things that I can
see that really would change are the different sounds they’d come
up with on synthesizers. (laughs)
There’s a spirit to the music. Most of those people who believe
that Rock is dead think so because they’re tied into the music
that was popular when they were young. That’s the thing, young
people have got to have their music. Every time a new generation
comes up I never know what it is they’re going to do to it. I
mean you think, they can’t do anything weirder than what’s happened
already, and then of course
they come up something else and I’d have no idea what it was going
to be and you just think, ‘What? What’s up with that, man?’ (laughs)
You know every young generation has got to have its own music,
and then that generation grows up and they’re attached to that
music and they go, ‘Now that’s Rock n’ Roll.’ You know, the definition
of Rock n’ Roll changes all the time and like Paul said, it’s
got that element of rebellion - of getting away with something.
Even that old Blues stuff you know, they’re making those double
entendres about sex and stuff and they’re getting away with something.
Nobody knows just what’s going on there. (laughs)
But that’s the hook. That’s the alluring part of it all especially
to young people. I’m constantly laughing and poking fun at my
wife because I have a ten-year-old son who likes things like Garbage,
Limp Bizkit, 311 and what have you. My wife says, ‘Oh this is
terrible,’ and I’m saying, ‘God you sound like your mother. Stop
it already.’ (laughs) You know, let the kid listen to what he
wants to. (laughs) It’s like you can’t stop that aspect. The only
thing you really want to do is to check out the music with him
and say, ‘Hey this reminds me of….’ and then bring out something
of yours. Nine times out of ten they’ll go, ‘Hey, that’s pretty
cool.’ Once you’ve got them on that level you can slip in some
Classical music and then you just broaden their horizons. Music
is just like a great piece of art. It lifts your spirits. If you
don’t let somebody get into it – if you start putting clamps on
it – you’re just going to block their cool groove. (laughter)
Exactly. What he said…. (laughs)
You don’t want to block their cool groove. (laughs)
I remember my son was diggin’ Marilyn Manson – the very first
record – and he was playing me all of that stuff. Like Paul said,
I brought out this old Dr. John – the very first Dr. John album
– the Gris-Gris album where he’s all dressed up
in this voodoo outfit and doing all the voodoo stuff. I said to
my son, ‘Look he’s doing the same stuff." He’s all dressed
up in these voodoo outfits and he was being way out there dressing
up like a voodoo priest.’ I was telling him about the cat, Screamin’
Jay Hawkins coming out of the coffin and of course Alice Cooper.
You know, there’s always been a guy in that tradition of Marilyn
Manson. There just has always been one, you know? (laughs)
Yeah, like Elvis Presley was just the next step from
Frank Sinatra. So there’s always something that’s catching the
ooze buttons on the chicks or whatever? (laughter) It ain’t me
though. (uproarious laughter)
(singing) It ain’t me babe. No, no, no…it ain’t me babe. (laughter)
Kato: Thank you very much.
and Paul: Your welcome.
It’s always such a pleasure to talk to you – great questions.
and Billy will join Phil for the BIG birthday benefit
on March 10, 2000 and are rumoured
to be Phil's friends for summer tour!
out the Official Little Feat website.
Catch Little Feat on tour.
to Little Feat audio.
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