Little Feat, big jam
“They say time loves a hero, and only time will tell if it’s real.”With songs like “Time Loves a Hero,” the music of Little Feat has stood the test of time.Songwriter/guitarist George Lowell, formerly of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, formed the band in 1969 during the peak of L.A.’s studio scene. The group of eclectic players is well-known for its stellar musicianship among its critics, peers and fans.”They’re better musicians probably than The Allman Brothers, who are better than The Grateful Dead. I mean, whoa, they’re good,” said Mark Edwards of Avon, who saw Little Feat perform in the mid-’70s and still listens to them today. “I would keep them in my CD player for a long time.”Little Feat with Paul Barrere on rhythm guitar/vocals, Sam Clayton on percussion/vocals, Kenny Gradney on bass/vocals, Richie Hayward on drums/vocals, Shaun Murphy on vocals/percussion, Bill Payne on keyboard/vocals and Fred Tackett on guitar/mandolin/trumpet/vocals perform at Budweiser’s Street Beat free concert series Wednesday evening at Golden Peak.”When I saw the list at the beginning of the year I thought this is going to be the biggest concert,” said Pat Zimmerman of Avon. “They’re one of the bands I just listen to whole albums without skipping through any of the songs. It makes me want to be outside on a sunny day. I know it will be nighttime, but it makes you just want to be sitting on the porch kickin’ back not doing anything. It’s not music you can work to.”
Whether you’re a longtime fan or a first-time listener, the show will be rockin’ and prime for dancin’.”We’ll probably do a pretty good cross-section from our old stuff from the ’70s to our more recent stuff from “Kickin’ It at the Barn,” Barrere, the group’s guitarist, said from his hotel room in Seattle. “We’ll probably keep it up-tempo because it’s outside and it might be cold.”The band, known for classics such as “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now,” “Fat Man in a Bath Tub,” “Willin,” “Oh Atlanta,” “Dixie Chicken” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Doctor,” keeps things fresh by leaving plenty of room for impromptu jamming.Little Feat’s rock ‘n’ roll sounds are accented with old-style rhythm and blues, as well as jazz. And as of late, the group’s been dabbling in all kinds of Third World music. Barrere said there’s no real rules to the music they can incorporate. Lately they’ve been doing a version of “Fat Man” with Bob Marley’s “Get Up Stand Up.” “Improv is really what keeps musicians fresh. I think I would go crazy if I had to do the same thing the same way every day. It’s always a challenge. You’re always pushing yourself,” Barrere said. “In sound check or rehearsals, you dissect songs and see how you can change them. There’s also just times you just start jamming on a feeling and see where that goes. Musicians are really artists. That whole creative process is flowing through them and waiting to come out.”Although some players in the band have come and gone, the current lineup has been constant for the last 12 years.”Every time the lineup has changed we get a long, great run. We love the music we’ve been writing, and we’re creating new music all the time. It’s like a working family,” said Barrere. “I think the mere fact that everyone does have so many influences and are still some of the most accomplished musicians has really been a boost to it because we can incorporate so many different genres into one song. We’re all children of early rock ‘n’ roll and that’s where the southern rock comes in.”Murphy, the most recent member to join the crew, is a knock-out female vocalist and adds an entirely new dimension to the music’s appeal.
“She has an abundance of soul,” Barrere said. “She’s a consummate professional. She’s been doing this as long as any of us. She really knows her game.”With over a 100 dates for the last 10 years, the band more than three decades old keeps on moving. Traveling has changed quite a bit from the early days – now the band members biggest worries are how to balance family life with their hectic tour schedule.”Life on the road isn’t as hard as it was a few years back. If it wasn’t for those two hours on stage I think we’d all really pack it in because that’s the whole joy of the band,” Barrere said. “Back in the days, spelled d-a-z-e, what was rest? It was either come to or pass out. It’s a lot saner now. There’s not a lot of that fast-die-young attitude, which is great. With a clear mind you can learn something from the experience and come back the next day and remember last night’s jam.”Another big change for the band was the loss of its founder. Many people found that George, the ringleader, who played the slide guitar brilliantly, was hard to forget in many senses.”There was a time in Cincinnati, the sound check wasn’t ready and Lowell went off. We were getting closer and closer and closer and we couldn’t find Lowell. He was next door ice skating,” Barrere said. “He was just a little late getting on stage. He was a very enigmatic character.”George died of a heart attack while on a solo tour in 1979.”Lowell George was a superstar in the making with a jamband that could play,” said Edwards. “They’re truly a forgotten superstar band, not remembered like The Allman Brothers and The Grateful Dead and mainly in my book because Lowell George died.”
His death caused caused the players to disband, but only temporarily.”We had separated after Lowell’s passing and we were asked to come to an impromptu jam session at The Alley, an unlisted studio in L.A. that’s still unlisted today. They were dedicating one of the rehearsal rooms to Lowell. We literally hadn’t seen each other in a couple years. We had a really, really good time,” Barrere said.Since the group had split, everyone had been off doing their own gigs. Gradney had been working with Bob Weir, Hayward played with Robert Plant, Payne worked with Bob Sieger, Clayton toured with Jimmy Buffet and Barrere jammed with The Blues Posters.”Enough time had passed. We went in with our eyes wide open and knew everything that we would have to deal with,” said Barrere. “The feeling of being in your own band as opposed to being in someone else’s band really is the hook, and the music is really the glue that holds it together.” The band plans to release a live album from last year’s tour within the next month, which will be volume No. 1 of a two-volume album. And with no lack of creativity flowing, the musicians plan to head into the studio on the band’s own label, Hot Tomato Records, sometime this summer with a slew of brand-new songs. “In the mere fact that if never having been a real pop band, we’ve never really been a big sensation. It’s always been about the music and that’s what has kept us together for some 30 years,” Barrere said. “Not to blow our own horn, but we’ve always been known as great musicians. It’s nice to have the respect of your peers.” Staff Writer Laura A. Ball can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 619.Vail Colorado