Paul Barrere Talks Feat, Fred, Phil and Phish
Nearing a year since taking a leave of absence from Little Feat to treat his Hepatitis C, Paul Barrere has remained as busy as he is physically able. Sporadic two-date outings throughout the U.S. with longtime Feat cohort Fred Tackett, as well ongoing recordings with songwriter/producer Roger Cole, have kept the guitarist active in spite of his time away from the group. On the verge of its 45th anniversary, with a biography of the band, Warner Bros. box set, and annual trip to Jamaica putting Little Feat back under the microscope, we talked with Barrere about his current health, plans to perform in 2014, and his future with the acclaimed Southern California sextet.
How are you feeling?
I’ve just completed eighth week of the Hep C treatment. The two-pill treatment. I’m taking this new Sovaldi and Ribavirin. No Interferon. My eight-week blood work came back and my doctor was so excited he called me personally to tell me there was no sign of any virus at all in my blood. So, the Sovaldi is working. I’m pleased. He’s pleased. We’re going to continue through the 24 weeks, and then hopefully after I stop taking treatment, the results will remain the same and I’ll be back to having a little more energy, a more productive life nearing retirement age.
That’s great news, but is it still too early to tell?
That’s the big question; once you stop taking the drugs, does it come back? You just never know until time goes by.
You made the decision to share updates of your health on social media, keeping the fans informed of your progress. What made you decide to do that?
My whole theory was this is something I’ve known about since 1994, and I’ve had and had managed to survive all these years without having to go through treatment. For the past four years I’ve been seen by the Pflegler liver clinic at UCLA, monitoring it very closely because it started to progress as I got older. It seems to create more damage to the liver. I knew eventually I was going to get off the road and deal with this. Partially, it was to let people know the reason behind my choice to get off the road, and partially because I’ve never hidden the fact that in my youth I was pretty crazy. I made some bad choices, although they seemed like a lot of fun at the time. (Laughs)
It also raises awareness, I would imagine.
What I’ve learned over these 20-some years now about Hep C is that there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people walking around from my generation with the virus in them that they didn’t even know about. My objective was to let people know that, if treated, you have a pretty good chance. What was the line that Col. Bruce Hampton had? ‘If I had a bazooka at the Battle of Hastings, I could’ve lived to full adulthood.’ It wasn’t in the public eye, and I thought maybe it is time it is. If I could help one person, great.
I’ve read with Hep C it’s difficult to pinpoint from where and what source a person contracts it?
I’m pretty sure I got mine from drug use.
We are in the midst of so many rock musicians, from Phil Lesh to Paul McCartney, still performing in their seventies. Or bands like the Allman Brothers and Little Feat celebrating 45th anniversaries this year. Did your role models growing up give you any sense that you’d be doing this into your sixties and seventies?
Oh, yeah. Absolutely. The kind of music that I’ve made over my entire life, including Little Feat and not including Little Feat, has always been blues-oriented. It was easy for me to see someone like John Lee Hooker or Muddy Waters, who were getting older. Mississippi John Hurt wasn’t even discovered until he was 64. I see no problem with doing the old folks boogie sitting down. I enjoy performing, that part of it I’ll continue to do until I keel over.
When you were joining Little Feat in 1972, fresh out of Hollywood High School, were you thinking about playing until you keeled over?
Back then I thought I’d keel over a lot sooner. (Laughs) Just because of my lifestyle. It was definitely live fast, live hard, rock out. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties and got clean that I realized this is something you can do forever. When you are in your twenties, you don’t think about getting into your forties, fifties, and sixties. It’s the furthest thing from your mind. You’ve seen Fred and me work. It’s like an old blues artist. You can just sit, play songs, tell stories. The stories keep growing, so it’s great.
So the Paul and Fred shows seem more appropriate for you at this time in your life?
Absolutely. It’s easier on my physical well-being, and on my psyche not having to travel for long periods of time. I spent the better part of the last 23 years away from home. My son is going to be 25 in June. I missed a lot of his life, my two daughters’ lives. I’ve never seen anyone graduate. To me it seemed like, ‘You are battling this virus. You have an opportunity to be home. Take advantage of it.’ Since last March, that’s pretty much what I’ve done, and it’s been wonderful. It’s crazy. Lord knows I have a new appreciation for my wife. It’s really nice reconnecting with the family.
You announced that you would not be joining the band in Jamaica for its annual week-long excursion. What led to that decision?
There are a number of things that can go wrong, and if they go wrong, it can go very badly. Between my doctors and myself, we thought it was better that I don’t go to a Third World country.
What about stateside? Any plans at the moment to perform with the band after Jamaica?
As I’ve told everybody in the band, I don’t see myself going out doing week-long road trips. I just don’t feel up for it. If they want to continue on as Little Feat without me, that’s fine and dandy. Hell, we replaced Lowell. We replaced Richie. I’m sure they could replace me. It’s not something where I feel like I’m the only piece of Little Feat that means anything, that’s for sure. It’s always been a band.
Has that reached a level of formal discussion, the notion of them performing without you after Jamaica?
Billy (Payne) mentioned since they are going down to do this thing with the Ramble band, that it might be something they are considering taking on the road. Whether or not that happens, I don’t know.
Have there been any talks about a Little Feat concert recognizing the 45th anniversary of the band? Maybe a Los Angeles show or special event that you could be a part of?
There’s been no discussion about it. I didn’t even know it was the 45th year. (Laughs) Oh, 45, wow. I never, ever close the door on anything. Quite frankly, when you are doing the road thing of one-nighters- you do the show, you get on the bus, maybe sleep a couple of hours, wake up, get a hotel room, if you’re lucky get a late check-out, if not you’re screwed- you never catch up. That’s why it is easy with Fred and me. We can do the show, go back to the hotel and sleep, the next show is a short drive, and then fly home. Everything has to balance because, you know, I’d like to see 75.
So, you will continue to perform Paul and Fred shows throughout 2014?
Yeah. They’re ongoing because it’s really simple and easy.
Just to clarify; you’re not saying you’re tired of Little Feat. You’re saying the physical toll Little Feat exacts is not something you can afford at the moment. Is that fair?
That’s a fair statement.