Q&A with Paul Barrere of Little Feat, Playing Revolution Tomorrow

Categories: Q&A
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You may not be familiar with Little Feat, but you sure as hell should. They've been around for 40 years, during which time they've worked and shared the stage with some of music's true legends, artists running the gamut from Jimmy Buffet to Bela Fleck, Dave Matthews to Vince Gill, Brooks and Dunn and Bob Seger.

Not to mention the instrumental role the legendary Frank Zappa played in the formation of the group. It was while keyboardist and co-founding member Bill Payne auditioned for the Mothers of Invention that he met Lowell George, Zappa's guitarist at the time, with whom he'd go on to form Feat. The rest is history, albeit a hazy and rather blurred one.
Four decades later, the majority of the original band remains intact (though George died of a massive heart attack in '79), their catalog continues to grow, the Feat keeps testing boundaries and experimenting with sonic possibilities, and though front man Paul Barrere hinted they may have traded rock star antics and free love for Geritol and golf, they continue to hit the road religiously, loving every second of it.

New Times: You've described Little Feat's sound as a freewheeling fusion of California rock and Dixie-inflected funk-boogie. If you had to name a genre for those characteristics, what would you call it?

Um...American music. It's really based on diverse music. To simplify it, you can just call it Americana. Or sophisti-funk! You know, it's just kinda hard to describe, it's so eclectic.

With so many influences, what do you like to listen to? What are you listening to right now?

Wow, that's a good question. My iPod is filled with a lot of old jazz--Miles, Coltrane, Charlie Mingus. A lot of old blues. Recently I've been listening to a lot of blues because we've been thinking about doing a blues record.

There's a band called The Pharcyde that my son turned me on to.

They're cool.

[Laughs] Yeah. Not being a kid--I'm 60-years-old, so what can I say--I wasn't really into the rap movement. But my son's in his 20's and he was like, "here listen to this." And here are these guys that've got these loops from Hendrix and John Coltrane, and the lyrics are just really, really good. So, I've gotten into that a little bit.

Oh! There's this kid that played bass with Dweezil Zappa, his name is Pete Griffin.

I love that guy!

You know him?

Know him? I have every season of Family Guy on DVD!

He's got this band called Gryphon Labs. His stuff is really interesting. It's kinda like techno-jazz-rock stuff. Multi-meter kinda stuff, weird timings.

Little Feat's been around for 40 years now. What do you attribute that to, when so many countless other bands have split over the course of those years?

I think the music is really the most compelling aspect of why we stay together. I mean it's just kinda timeless and classic. The things we came up with even in the 80's and 90's, it's always been different. We've never been, how can I put this? Timely? [Laughs]

We never want to go out there and replicate the record. We want to go out there and have fun doing it, by being musicians and enjoying it, be able to change things and alter the arrangements. As a gig it's perfect, if you want to be a musician. As a gig it's imperfect if you want to get rich.

There are several legends about how Little Feat was actually formed after Zappa fired Lowell George because of "Willin"? Was it really because Zappa thought he was too talented, or because of a 15 minute guitar solo, sans amplifier?  

[Laughs] I hadn't heard that one, but that sounds like Lowell!

My understanding was that Lowell wrote "Willin'" and played it for Frank. Now Frank was not the kind of guy who liked the drug or alcohol references. But nonetheless, he did think Lowell had a lot of talent suggested he go off and start his own band.

And he even gave him an assist, letting Lowell use his network of, uh...I think it was two labels that Frank had. Anyway, it was a mutual and amicable understanding.

You have to truly love it to still be recording and touring all these years later. What's the best part?

They're both great. They're both great experiences. Personally, I love live performance though. I think that's true of all the members.

As we're now also much older, the touring aspect is much harder. But it's also easier in a lot of respects because we're more sensible [laughs]. But it's a bit more wear and tear on the old bones. What can I say?

Talk to me about Join the Band. You have some incredible collaborations on this record.

Yeah, it was amazing! I couldn't believe we got Brooks and Dunn. That was fantastic! And they just did the perfect version [of "Willin'"]. I mean, it didn't generate any airplay or anything, you know, just because, I guess, the references.

Any other favorites?

I thought everything the guests added was fantastic. The way we made the record was very interesting. We went to Jimmy Buffets studio, I guess four years ago, and we recorded 23 basic tracks. And what we wanted to do was have the guests come in on them.

On "Fat Man" we changed the sounds and the arrangements so it didn't sound like the original. We wanted to give the guest room to play with it, so they wouldn't feel saddled in, and Dave Matthews just fell in love [with "Fat Man In The Bathtub"] and did 14 vocals. If you listen closely he added these little breathing noises and background things that just sound amazing. And then to get Sonny Landreth on it was amazing. Vince Gill on acoustic guitar [on "Spanish Moon"] was just great.

You know, the whole was just like a multi-layered work of art, like a painting.

What can fans expect from a Little Feat show?

They can expect to have their groove-a-meter spun tight [laughs]. Because for some reason, we seem to get even the oldest of the oldest to get up and boogie. It's the kinda music you can't seem to sit still to. I think it'll be a good cross section of 40 years of pretty good songs.

Thanks for your time, Paul.

Thanks for calling early. I get to go to the golf course now!

Little Feat plays Revolution Live, 200 W. Broward Blvd., on Thursday, June 4 at 8 pm. Tickets cost $25.

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