Much in today's music is owed to legendary rockers, Little Feat
. From their inception in 1969, it wasn't until their 3rd album "Dixie Chicken
" that the band's career took off with a huge following in the South, partly due to the combination of funk and that harmonious New Orleans sound which bands like The Grateful Dead
were exploring at the time.
By 1979, frontman Lowell George
has passed away and Little Feat
had went into hiatus. Guitarist Paul Barrere
went on to form several music projects until the reformation of Little Feat
in the 80's.
Now nearing 40 years in the music industry, Little Feat
show no signs of slowing down, especially with a new release expected sometime this year.
Ultimate-Guitar: What sparked the interest of playing guitar when you were growing up? Can you recall your first guitar?
Oh yeah, it was a great Gibson 3/4 guitar steel string and would be priceless now. Of course when I hooked up with a guitar teacher here in Los Angeles, hmmm, let's see, that would be when I was 13, so around 1961, she was a folkie and talked my parents into trading that guitar for a nice but not quite as valuable nylon string acoustic that she said would be easier to learn on. She went to the Newport folk festival that year after giving me two lessons and never returned.
Had you been focusing on playing professionally prior to joining Little Feat in 1972?
Yes, my first gig was with a songwriter named Hank Shifter, who was being sponsored by Johnny Rivers in Los Angeles. I was 18 and we did one gig at the Whiskey A Go Go. Then I quit to start my own band, which became bands unitl I finally hooked up with Little Feat at the age of 24.
How much input were you given at the time of recording Dixie Chicken?
One song that I wrote with Billy, "Walking All Night", and one I wrote that didn't make the record, but eventually made a Feat record called "High Roller", and I remember that Lowell gave me a couple of solos on that first record I did with the Feat.
Were you familiar with Allen Toussaint's work when Little Feat recorded "On Your Way Down"?
That was the first song I knew that was written by Allen, however, once I looked into it I realized that "Working In A Coal Mine" was also his tune. Lee Dorsey was an early favorite of mine.
Your guitar tone on Dixie Chicken is incredibly crisp. What were you using in the studio to achieve that tonality?
|"I come from a show biz family where the motto has always been "the show must go on"."|
I had a '69 Stratocaster and a 1957 Vibrolux that I use to this day recording, and "On Your Way Down" Lowell hooked me into a Leslie speaker for the first time. Loved that.
With Little Feat and bands like The Grateful Dead drawing influences from New Orleans. It seemed to bring a real luster to your music. What did you find most appealing about the New Orleans sound?
No doubt the groove. That second line feel is infectious. I had been hearing it since I was a pre-teen with Fats Domino, and my favorite at the age of 12 was Little Richard, although his sound came from Macon, GA.
Where did you learn your sliding technique?
That started when I started to play folk blues at the age of 15. Got a Mississippi John Hurt record and that started me on that path. I went from there to Muddy Waters, and eventually found Robert Johnson.
It sounds as if you're using a Telecaster for the majority of Waiting For Columbus. Am I correct?
Actually, no, I used Stratocasters along with my 1969. I had a 1972 as well, one tuned regular and one tuned to an open G.
Do you try to keep your onstage gear as simple as possible?
Having gone through all the different types of rigs, MIDI switchers, etc..yes and no. I like to keep it simple, just a few stomp boxes but plenty of guitars.
Was it difficult playing live again after the passing of Lowell? Was the Blus Busters a proper outlet for you at the time to release those emotions?
Not really, I come from a show biz family where the motto has always been "the show must go on
". I actually recorded a couple of solo albums before The Blus Busters, along with sessions and a tour with Nicolette Larson. So even though I missed Lowell, I jumped right back into the fray ASAP.
You had some shows in Hermosa Beach with the Blus Busters. What do you remember from those shows?
Easy, 3 and 4 sets a night, but great times with Catfish and Freebo, Larry and my main man T. Lavitz. We had a good time band then, a lot like The Radiators. We even did a few shows with The Rads, and I was struck by how similiar our styles were and the enjoyment we got out of playing together.
Upon your return to Little Feat, how did you approach your role in the band as frontman and guitarist?
|"When it was brought up to restart Little Feat, I felt pretty good about my singing and playing."|
Having been the leader of my own band and co-leader with Catfish, I knew the ropes, had become more comfortable onstage, developed more stage presence, so when it was brought up to restart Little Feat, I felt pretty good about my singing and playing and abilities to work a crowd, even though Bill is really the leader of the band, being out front kinda gave me the role of Master of Ceremonies.
Do you stress the importance of doing your homework before entering the studio to younger musicians?
Yes and no. I think that if you can have time in a studio, you need to experiment. It's good to have the songs ready, but if you can afford the time, get in there and play!
What were your impressions of the tapping technique that bands like Van Halen brought onto the scene when they emerged?
I really don't know what they would do in the studio. I knew that we liked to overdub. Layer some tracks a track at a time, and for others just get in there and play them. A funny story that Levon Helm told us one time was then they were recording Big Pink, they would play a song 3 or 4 times, and if it didn't cut it they would let it rest and come back to it days later to get that real feel. Listening to that record, I'd say they hit the mark on all counts.
With Little Feat approaching forty years since it's genesis, are there any special plans to celebrate this achievement?
Nothing in the works yet. We have a record coming out this year with a lot of friends and stars joining us for different songs. Dave Matthews on "Fat Man" for instance, Emmy Lou Harris on "Sailing Shoes", but I think at this stage we are just taking it one gig at a time. The old folks boogie lives!!
Paul, I want to say thank you for your time and that it's been a tremendous honor. Do you have any last words for beginning guitarists looking to get into the music business?
Let's see...keep all your publishing, don't sign with anyone without references, and only do it if it really gets you off because it's a rollercoaster ride as a career. It's show biz, baby!
Interview by Ryk Weston