Back on the Road with new music, this band’s success is no ‘Little Feat’
Little Feat circa 1978
By Mike Flynn
Legendary jam-rock band Little Feat are back on the road and heading for New England. The band is touring in support of their latest studio album, Rooster Rag: No Excuses, No Regrets released in 2012 on Hot Tomato Records, distributed exclusively by Rounder Records.
Rooster Rag, the band’s 16th studio album, represents the first straight ahead studio offering of original material in some time for Little Feat. 2008’s Join The Band showcased some of Feat’s time honored material and featured guest performances by everyone from Jimmy Buffett to Bela Fleck. The new record captures a vitality that many a younger band would love to have, and may have had an unlikely genesis.
“We decided to make a blues, blues rock record,” keyboardist and founding member of Little Feat, Bill Payne explained to me during a recent interview on Almost Acoustic, UMass Lowell radio 91.5 FM WUML.
“We went into the studio with that in mind, but as things happen we started playing and playing around with ideas. What we came up with, the songs that ended up becoming the Rooster Rag record are really classic Little Feat style songs,” Payne said. “We ended up having a real ‘band’ feel in the studio.”
Payne delivers four new songs written with the legendary Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. Fred Tackett contributes four songs that demonstrate some superb songwriting and singing. Paul Barrere drops a classic cover and a sizzling rocker written with the late Stephen Bruton. Sam Clayton brings it with a cover of Little Walter. New band member Gabe Ford keeps Feat’s funky rhythms going in a fashion that would have made Richie Hayward proud. And Kenny Gradney just keeps on providing a truly superb bottom end.
The influence of Robert Hunter, who shares writing credits with Payne on four cuts, can be felt throughout the record which opens with a rendition of Mississippi John Hurt’s “Candyman Blues” and closes with a rollicking rendition of Willie Dixon’s “Mellow Down Easy,” made famous by Little Walter.
On working with Hunter, Payne is a bit philosophical on the process.
“Robert sent me some lyrics and I was inspired to write some music for them,” he said. “It’s funny how as a musician certain stories or phrasing can call for a musical style, like a mambo variation for instance on Rag Top Down, when you wouldn’t have thought about it but there is something in the lyric that feels right for it. I started sending him some music I was working on and he’d send me back some lyrics, so it was a very collaborative process.”
Bill Payne photo by Hank Randall
This type of 21st century musical collaboration is not a new concept for Payne, who embraced the information revolution on behalf of Little Feat very early on. Staking a claim on cyberspace and paving the way for most bands to follow by encouraging an electronically connected network of Feat Fans on the world wide web that has been described as the prototype of the grassroots fan ‘Street Teams’ that bands encourage and utilize today.
“I’ve never claimed to be Al Gore or anything,” Payne jokes, “but I was using a thing called CompuServe, which was a brand new thing in the 80s and it used a telephone and you could only email back and forth with one person. When I was introduced to America Online by Fred (Tackett) I started thinking that this thing could be very useful to the band to connect with fans.”
Connecting fans is something Little Feat have been doing since their inception. With critical acclaim but little commercial success early on, the band earned the dedication of a loyal fan base with their high energy and musically adventurous live shows, a fan base that extends to the highest echelons of rock stardom.
“I can remember Keith Richards coming out to our show in ’75 or ’76 when it was getting big,” Payne said. “He threw his arm around my shoulders backstage after the show and said, ‘You’re in the club now mate!’ and I knew what he meant — that now we were both part of something that was bigger than ourselves.”
That tradition continues to this day, as does the dedication of the Feat Fans worldwide. On that phenomenon Payne said, “Music brings people together, it collects people of a like mind and if you want to get together with a bunch of people who are into this type of music, this type of community — progressive people who are active and passionate about things — a Little Feat show is a good place to start, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Little Feat’s Rooster Rag and all their releases can be accessed here. Little Feat will play at The Flying Monkey in Plymouth, N.H. Friday Aug. 10, The Indian Ranch in Webster on Saturday Aug. 11 and The Blue Ocean Music Hall in Salisbury on Sunday Aug. 12.
Mike Flynn is a native Lowellian with a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication/ Film from Emerson College where he produced The Jazz Oasis on 88.9 fm WERS. After graduating college he left Lowell for sunny California, where he sought refuge from the horrors of Visual Effects editorial work on such abysmal pictures as Mission Impossible 2, Kung Pow: Enter The Fist and Siegfried & Roy: The Magic Box in Los Angeles’ many superb used record stores. Upon returning from Los Angeles to Lowell in 2001, Mike attended the graduate program in publishing & writing at his alma mater, Emerson College. He was an on-air personality at 980 WCAP am in Lowell from 2008-2012 and has hosted Almost Acoustic on 91.5 fm WUML Lowell since 2011. He likes long walks on the canals and, for some reason, thinks that he has seen far more sunrises than sunsets.