Paul Barrere: Phish, Phil and Little Feat’s Rooster Rag
You said lots of the songs on the new album were born out of jams. Little Feat very much came from the jam world, and, in recent years, has seemingly returned to that mold. Can you talk about what the catalyst for that change was?
The wake-up call for me came when Phil Lesh asked me to come out on the road with Phil & Friends. We would do these two-hour sets and there would be five songs and so forth. What it does, is it forces you to become on-the-spot creative, to really expand your playing as opposed to just playing the songs note for note—not that Little Feat ever did play the songs note for note because we’ve always had a tension for adding a little bit here and a little bit there. Once Billy and I had done that trip with Phil it was like, “We can expand in any direction we want to.” It was like all of a sudden the handcuffs were off. We knew we were never going to be a pop sensation anyway.
How did the experience of playing with Phil change you, personally, as a player?
It expanded my repertoire, for sure. The nice thing that Phil said to me was, “I don’t expect you to play these songs like Jerry would. Just play the songs and put your touch to it.” I think what we brought to Phil was a jazzier approach and I think he enjoyed that a lot. It kind of reminded me of when Jimmy Herring was playing with Jazz is Dead—it had that kind of free-form style of playing with a bit of a blues quality to it. Jerry came from that jug-band folkie band approach, and a little more ethereal as well, so it was a really cool give and take situation.
How do you think Lowell George would feel about the legacy of Little Feat and how the group has endured through all of the musical paths it has taken since his passing?
I think he would find some of it to be really, really good and I think he would call some of it crap. Lowell was very enigmatic, to say the least. He was a real no-bullshit kind of guy.
Sometimes when you’re jamming, it just turns into noodling as oppose to actually going some place, and he was never a big fan of that. Believe me, he liked his jams—there were songs they were playing just before I joined the band that had a lot of improvisation to them. But overall, I think he would be very pleased with it.
What would you say to fans that are familiar with Little Feat’s older catalogue, but have yet to delve into the newer material?
I would say that they really need to get in and check out things like Ain’t Had Enough Fun or Kickin’ It at the Barn. Kickin’ It at the Barn was the first one we did after Billy and I had been on the road with Phil, and so it has a lot of that jam quality but there’s also a lot of acoustic music on there. We had Larry Campbell come out and play on that record as well.
There’s a strange kind of way that all of Little Feat’s albums relate to the older ones in the fact that when we first put the band back together after Lowell’s passing we said, “We have to stay true to the form. We have to continue writing songs that have that signature of Little Feat.” We’ve always tried to keep it timeless.
In the last interview you did with Jambands.com, you talk about an impromptu jam session that pulled the band back together following Lowell’s passing. Can you talk a bit about that jam session and how it ended up taking place?
We were basically split up after Lowell’s passing. Everybody had really gone their own way for quite a while. So there’s this place called The Alley—it’s a rehearsal studio that’s not even listed, it’s just known to musicians out here like Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Emmilou [Harris] and so forth. This is the place we would go to rehearse. So when the owner of the place called me and said he had redesigned their main stage and put up a whole bunch of Feat memorabilia, and had dedicated the room to the memory of Lowell, he asked me if I could get the five guys who were still alive to come in and play for an hour to musically christen the room, if you will.
Lo and behold everyone was in Los Angeles at the time, which was unique. Richie had been off working with Robert Plant; Billy had been on the road with [Bob] Seger and James Taylor; Kenny had been out with Bobby and the Midnights; Sam had been doing work with Jimmy Buffett; and I had been doing a lot of work with The Bluesbusters. But we were all in town and we all got together and went over and started playing and it was like four hours later and we were sitting there, laughing and having a great time.
That kind of set the idea in motion of putting the band back together. Then it was just a question of how we round out the players and that’s when we said that “we will not continue this band unless we can write songs that are equal to the material that we’ve recorded.”
When you heard Phish would be covering Little Feat’s live album Waiting for Columbus as their Halloween musical costume in 2010, what were your initial thoughts? When did you first get word it was happening?
We found out a little bit before because Mike [Gordon] reached out and was asking, “Oh, what kind of bass was Kenny using on that…what kind of amps were you guys using?” and I started thinking “something must be in the works here.” I think Mike finally said, “I’ll tell you but you can’t tell anybody. We’re going to be doing Waiting for Columbus for Halloween and that’s the reason for all the questions.”
They did a great job. When that Halloween came up I got calls from all my friends and they said “Hey, you gotta check this out…they’re doing Waiting for Columbus !” It was great. It was really cool.
Even though Trey didn’t use a slide, do you feel he did justice to the original guitar lines?
Oh yeah, absolutely. Well, here’s the thing, I think when you’re covering something it’s not so much that you have to play it exactly the same. The thing I liked about how he did it was that Trey put his own heart and soul into it. It would be the same way that I would play Allman Brothers songs. Even though I play slide, I’m not gonna do the lines exactly how Duane would do it, or now Warren [Haynes]. You gotta add your own soul to those things, otherwise you might as well just be a bar band or a cover band.
Have you thought about collaborating with any of the members of Phish in the future?
Oh man, I would love to. I’m just so busy doing a zillion other things. I’m working on a solo project and me and Fred are doing our acoustic duet stuff—we’re just starting to write songs for a studio record finally. Then I’ve got a family with three kids. It’s more a question of timing than anything else. But I did write Trey a long email thanking him for doing it. I thought they did a great job.