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Bill Payne: A Non-Traditionalist Finds His Zone

JPG: Do you think it’s a blessing in disguise that Little Feat has been popular all these years but you haven’t been overwhelmingly…

BP: …successful (laughs) Yeah, I would say it’s a blessing. When people…the other day saying, “Does it bother you that you’re not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?” And I say, “No, not really. I’m not gonna say it wouldn’t be nice but it’s not what we do this for. Jimmy Buffett asked me the same question. I said, “No. Those accolades…we’ve had a lot of accolades. I just described one of them to you with Keith Richards. Bob Dylan came up to me, “Hey Billy, you remember the Bottom Line?” You can’t get any better than that or seeing Levon Helm’s smiling face if you look over and he’s sitting up on the stage with you and you’re playing some music. Those are the things you live for. The other stuff…Let’s put the last brick in the wall before we move on to being in the Hall of Fame and Museum. We’re already in the Museum as it is. I’ve got “Oh Atlanta” and something else in there.

JPG: Your diaries.

BP: Yeah, some kind of diaries and things. I’m well aware of those surroundings but we made exactly the kind of impact I hoped, that Lowell and I hoped we would when we first started this stuff, what called the Experiment in Terror back in 1969. (laughs)

JPG: When you talk about bringing people into the club, Little Feat is one of those artists, the precursor, one of the fathers to what’s now known as the jamband genre. There are artists that have been influenced by you and the band’s idea that you don’t have to strictly play rock or country or…we can be a whole bunch of things at once and it’s okay.

BP: Yeah because the platform of being a band is, again, to promulgate what you want to say as an artist and who you want to say it with, not only the band but are you bringing in a horn section? Who’s your artist that you’re linking up with for the covers? In our case bit was Neon Park. It’s a community of things that happen and allow it to happen. We’ve gone through a lot of changes over the years but there’s an honesty about the way things have fallen together and have held it together. I would have never dreamt that you can do this without Lowell George, for example. Then, the idea was can you do it without Richie Hayward? I think some of the suggestions being thrown at me and us if we hired or tried to hire one of two of those people, the weight of it would have sunk the ship. We simply chose a guy that was Richie’s drum tech and not because he was his drum tech but because he was out on tour…he asked if can go out on tour at one point with his uncle Robben [Ford]. So, he’s out there with Jorma Kaukonen and Ruthie Foster. I’ll tell you this Robben Ford doesn’t let anybody up onstage unless they can play whether you’re family or not. So, he’s gotta have something going for him. I didn’t even know he played drums until the last six months he was with us. I just happened to pop in on a soundcheck early and there was Gabe up there pounding away. I was like, “That sounds good. Who’s that? Oh fuck, it’s Gabe Ford.” The bigger question was how big is his vocabulary. I said, “We’ll sort that out.” He’s an amazing player.

He and I just did a gig at Yoshi’s in Oakland. Sold out show. We had his uncle Robben up there with us which helped make it a sold out show and very good attendance on the second show that evening. Huge storm hit California, so the place was on storm watch. Had a great crowd. Gabe and I are gonna do some more things.

I don’t know if you read on our website that Paul, he’s going to have to take, we’re gonna have to take about a year off. He’s got some medical issues he’s got to deal with. So, there’s a bit of a scramble going on right now. We’re all trying to absorb what all this means. But, it’s public knowledge now, which is the reason I’m bringing it up. But, it’s just another turn in the road. We’re hopeful. Really, I think Paul will be able to come back and do this but there is a little bit of wait-and-see. In the midst of wait-and-see I’m gonna try and get some more work. I can’t sit during this. I’ve gotta get some things rolling.

JPG: I’m sorry to hear that about Paul. Wishing him good luck with that. But, in regards to the earlier question I was referring to Little Feat’s influence on the jamband scene and bands such as Widespread Panic, Chris Robinson…

BP: That’s a question for those guys because I don’t really know. The Grateful Dead certainly influenced a lot of those guys. I’ve been told been told that we have some influence as well with some of those bands.

JPG: Do you just ignore that fact or do you just say, “Thank you” and move on?

BP: I think it’s more “Thank you” and…I guess it’s move on. It’s not bad. They’re doing what they’re doing. It’s great stuff. The influences go both ways is what I found. I know we influenced Phish, for example, and they returned the favor to us by spotlighting Waiting for Columbus years ago for one of their Halloween shows. We did “Sample in a Jar” one time. I’ve played with Mike Gordon. He was on one of our records and he sat in when Paul and I were with Phil & Friends. These things go around and around and around.

I feel privileged to be part of that scene, and I’ve also worked to be a part of it. Those are the early designs that Lowell and I talked about, which is we don’t have to be a household word but let’s see if we can build influences out there and take the things that influenced us, whether it’s Willie Dixon….shoot, 20 years, 25 years later or more and be sitting in a rehearsal room at Madison Square Garden with Willie Dixon, Richie Hayward, Paul Barrere and George Porter on bass. It was one of those moments you pinch yourself like writing with Robert Hunter and go, “My God. I’m in a dressing room (laughs) with Willie Dixon.” He’s a tall man. He’s got the three-piece suit on and a pork pie hat. He’s taking his handkerchief out, wiping his face and looking at Richie Hayward and goes, “The drums are too loud. I can’t stand it when it’s too loud.” Richie Hayward never played softer in his life. (laughs) Then, we talked to Hubert Sumlin years later after that, who played guitar with Howlin’ Wolf (Chester Burnett), and he says, “Oh yeah. Willie Dixon, he was a boxer. So, when he would threaten you, well, he would never threaten you guys, but when he was threatening us he could back it up by beating us up if he wanted to. He never touched me but I didn’t want him to, so I did what he asked.” (laughs)

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