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No Big Stars, Just Long Running Little Feat
This article by Richard J. Skelly was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on
November 18, 1998. All rights reserved.
After nearly 30 years together as a group, the members
of the eclectic roots-rock band Little Feat aren’t exactly rock stars.
The words "rock stars," argues the band’s longtime guitarist,
Paul Barrere, implies a certain flash-in-the pan kind of success.
Given their long-term success, he says they’d rather be known as
"just good musicians."
"Here’s a band that’s been going now for close to three
decades," Barrere explains, "never had a hit record, yet is
still recording new albums and touring and finding ourselves with a
cross-generational following. I just think everybody is at the point
where we’re proud to be called good musicians rather than `rock
Little Feat, who, in the course of one of their marathon, three-hour
shows, mixes blues, New Orleans rhythm and blues and funk and jazz
and country stylings, perform Saturday, November 21, at Club Bene
in Sayreville. Except for some tight seating at closely packed tables
on the floor in front of the stage, this venue is arguably one of
the better sounding rooms in the Garden State. Owing to its prior
life as a bowling alley, there are practically no bad seats at Club
Bene. Unless it’s jam-packed, there are unobstructed sight lines to
the stage all across the room that comfortably seats 700 people.
Little Feat’s latest album, "Under The Radar" (CMC
International) is another installment in a long legacy of
well-recorded, well-produced albums, including two gold albums and the
platinum (1 million) selling "Waiting For Columbus." One
listen to "Under The Radar" and you’ll hear all the elements
the band brings together at their live shows. Barrere notes proudly
that "Under The Radar" was recorded relatively inexpensively
at his home studio in Woodland Hills, California.
"We were signed with CMC International because they had listened
to stuff we had recorded at my house. Rather than take all the
budget money and go into a studio and be under pressure, we wanted
to buy some equipment and record at my home studio," he explains.
The record company executives were all for it, he says, something
increasingly rare these days at labels like CMC, which has major
record label distribution through BMG Entertainment. The band bought
some additional 24-track recorders and took it from there. Among the
unusual features of the new album is the liner note for the band’s
drummer, Richie Hayward, who is credited with "drums, little tyke
playhouse, and vocals."
Little Tyke Playhouse? "One of my kids has a little walk-in
plastic playhouse," Barrere explains, "and Richie plays it on
the tune `Distant Thunder.’ We have a humongous kind of `boom, boom’
sound at one point, and we ran a microphone into the middle of that
house and had Richie bang on it."
Barrere, raised in Hollywood, joined Little Feat shortly
after it began in 1969, when founding member Lowell George — who
died from a heart attack in 1979 — decided he wanted to expand
the group from a quartet. The core members of the group have remained
through the years, even if their touring has been somewhat infrequent.
Little Feat’s core members include Barrere on guitars, dobro,
harmonica, and vocals; Hayward on drums and vocals, keyboardist Bill
Payne; percussionist Sam Clayton; and bassist Kenny Gradney. The band
has recently added a female vocalist, Shaun Murphy, who also plays
tambourine. Guitarist and trumpeter Fred Tackett has written songs
with the band since the early 1970s, Barrere says.
"The basic band of Bill Payne, Sam Clayton, Richie Hayward, Kenny
Gradney, and myself have been working together since 1972," he
explains. Barrere notes that former lead vocalist Craig Fuller, who
joined the band in 1988 after leaving Pure Prairie League, left the
band for the same reason the late George did. He didn’t particularly
"The rest of us, we have families, yet we enjoy going on the road.
The travel becomes grinding and the hotel food is bad, yet the aspect
of getting up and playing night in and night out kind of outweighs
Barrere says vocalist Murphy, quite a road hog herself, brings a
much-needed feminine touch to the group. "She’s basically lived on
the road her entire life," he explains, "whether it was with
Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band or Eric Clapton or Bruce Hornsby.
She loves the road."
After George’s untimely death, all members of the group found plenty
of work in the then-burgeoning Los Angeles recording studio scene.
In 1983, Barrere released a solo album and toured with his own band
before Little Feat re-formed in 1987 and went on tour for two years.
The band released the moderately successful "Let It Roll"
in July, 1988.
Asked about the group’s connection to Southern cities
like New Orleans, Barrere says that in the 1970s the band toured with
master New Orleans songwriter and pianist Allen Toussaint (he wrote
"Southern Nights" among other hits). That and the fact that
most of the band members were born in the South and influenced by
Southern music make it a natural.
"More important than just being born there, though, is that the
South is the birthplace of this whole genre. This music went north
to Chicago and got electrified. When we were kids and first turned
on to this music, if you wanted to get to the roots of it all, you
had to go back to the blues."
Each member of Little Feat brings a different musical background,
and that’s what makes the band so eclectic, yet blues-based. The fact
that they’ve been able to survive all these years and retain most
of their older fans while attracting younger ones is a credit to their
level of musicianship, as well as a reputation as a band that plays
lengthy shows. "We’ve done things from jazz to country, blues,
rhythm and blues, and rock ‘n roll," says Barrere. "It was clear
to me when I first heard the band in 1969 that it was going to be
a very eclectic group."
Like the Allman Brothers and other great Southern rock aggregations,
having two guitars gives the band a distinct sound. "We’ve used
our two guitars in a more syncopated fashion than the more typical
Southern rock bands where you have two guitars playing simultaneous
leads," he explains, "we like to play more rhythm off each
other. At our live shows, we’re playing more like jazz musicians,
improvising off one another."
The band will certainly include the more popular chestnuts from its
repertoire at Club Bene, songs like "Dixie Chicken,"
Moon," "Skin It Back," and "Let It Roll." But
it’s unlikely they’ll be performed in the same ways as at their last
show in New Jersey, over the summer at Trump’s Marina in Atlantic
Using technology that’s a lot younger than the band, Little Feat
E-mail at its website, www.LittleFeat.net, and it tries to
fans’ E-mailed requests at particular shows. Band members also like
to pull out gems from the past so the fans who come to see the band
on a regular basis will hear something new.
And that’s why Little Feat would rather be known as "just good
musicians," says Barrere. "And that’s a real good feeling
to have about yourself, as far as what you do in your career. It’s
much better than `rock stars.’"
— Richard J. Skelly
732-727-3000. With opening act by Tinytown. $30. Saturday, November
21, 9 p.m.
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