Paul Barrere Talks Feat, Fred, Phil and Phish
What are your thoughts on Willin’, the new book about the story of Little Feat?
I haven’t read it. Everybody asks me. To me, I lived it. I know the stories. The inside and out. Richie had a great statement. He said, ‘I hope if they do write a book that my children don’t read it.’ A lot of it do I really need to rehash? I’d probably go through it and say, ‘That doesn’t sound right.’
I felt like it was a bit too focused on Lowell and not enough on the contributions of the rest of the group, especially in the post-Lowell years.
The whole perception of Little Feat was that it was Lowell George and Little Feat. In a lot of sense it was that when it first started. But it grew. When they brought Kenny, Sam, and myself in the band noticeably changed. It became more groove-oriented and a little less cerebral, although there are still plenty of idiosyncratic lyrics and so forth to make it seem that sort of ethereal quality. If you listen to the original “Tripe Face Boogie,” you say, ‘That’s not a shuffle.’ They enjoyed the bringing of the funk to the situation. It made it a lot more fun to play. People ask me why I don’t do the version of “Sailin’ Shoes” like it is on the record, and I say, ‘Because I didn’t play on the record. This is the way I hear it.’ Music is one of those things that is open for interpretation. Otherwise you wouldn’t have those great Miles Davis Quintets, doing the same songs night in, night out, but every night was different.
Little Feat had the respect and admiration of so many of its musical peers, even The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin were fans. Why wasn’t the band more successful commercially?
To me that was the conundrum. I’ll lay it right at the feet of the marketing department of Warner Bros. They tried to keep putting us into pigeon holes because that’s how they sell products. Nobody had the insight to say, ‘Okay, here is a band that is so unique there is no pigeon hole. What do we do to promote that incredible uniqueness so the world can get it?’ It drove Lowell crazy. Absolutely nuts. We all wanted success. If you have people like Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant saying these guys are phenomenal, and you don’t use that to sell records, what the fuck are you doing? Snap out of it.
Did the band ever think it wasn’t writing potential hits?
There were plenty of songs that I thought could’ve been commercially much bigger. “Easy To Slip?” How much more single-oriented is that? Billy wrote “Oh Atlanta.” That’s right out of pop-dom. I wrote “All That You Dream” to be that same way. When we got back together we did a song called “Things Happen.” Memphis Horns, solid groove, funky, verse/chorus. The A&R guys would take it to radio stations and say they wanted to play them the song. ‘Who is it?’ ‘I’ll tell you after you listen to it.’ They’d play the song and say, ‘That’s great. Who is it?’ ‘Little Feat.’ ‘Oh, we can’t play it.’ Why? By that time we never fit the mold.
Let it Roll, the first album of the post-Lowell years was among your most successful and did have what would be considered hit songs. Was that surprising?
We knew we had a strong album. We weren’t going to put anything out unless it measured up against everything we had done before. Maybe somebody should write the next book- Little Feat, the people who put the funk in dysfunction.
You’ve just given me an idea.
There are too many two steps forward, three steps back situations that have happened to the band, within the band, from forces outside the band.
In 2010 Phish covered Little Feat’s Waiting for Columbus at its Halloween concert. A year later for New Year’s Eve, Little Feat performed Waiting for Columbus. Was your performance in response to Phish’s homage?
Here’s the skinny on that. I kind of got an inkling that Phish was going to do it, and they keep that stuff hush-hush. I was getting phone calls from Mike Gordon asking, ‘What kind of amps were you guys using? What are those pedals?’ This is interesting. They not only like to do the records, but they like to get the gear to replicate them, which is a very cool concept. A year later we had started to attract a lot of Phish fans, which is nice. We had this gig booked at the Fillmore in Washington, DC. The people at the Fillmore asked, ‘Can you do Waiting for Columbus ?’ I’m going, ‘Jesus Christ. Sure, why not?’ (Laughs) It’s not going to sound like Waiting for Columbus. Even Waiting for Columbus doesn’t sound like Waiting for Columbus from night to night, with all the jamming. We can’t do a replication. We can play the songs.
But this wasn’t Little Feat reclaiming its record.
No gun fight at the OK Corral. (Laughs)
This May you will be joining Anders Osborne in New Orleans to perform as a member of Dead Feat. It’s the latest in a continuing relationship between the music of Little Feat and the Grateful Dead. What is the connection for you to the music?
This is the third time Fred and I have done this with Anders, and the first time they are calling it Dead Feat. Bill Kreutzmann has been on all those gigs, and he’s one of the 7 Walkers. It’s always been a jam thing, a fun thing. We didn’t even know what songs we were going to play the first couple of times. Since Billy Iuso is playing along, you can’t find a guy who knows more Grateful Dead songs than him. It’s amazing. He’s great, too. The neat thing about working with Anders and Billy is we don’t have to replicate. We don’t have to be a Dead cover band. We can play the songs in our own style. It always turns into something that is completely insane.
This connection between the Grateful Dead and Little Feat goes back quite a long time.
Lowell produced Shakedown Street. I have no idea what the hell he was thinking doing disco with the Grateful Dead. When I first heard it, I thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ It blew my mind. I didn’t get it.
People are still wondering.
Exactly. (Laughs) There was always this connection. They would come to see us back when Lowell was alive.
Little Feat shifted in the last 15 years towards a more jam-oriented live set and a grass-roots marketing approach reminiscent of what the Grateful Dead did throughout its career. But, you guys never wanted to be the Grateful Dead.
No, we never did. However, working with Phil was really the impetus to stretch our own songs, to start exploring musically our own material, which was great. Instead of doing a 25-song, two-hour set, we were doing a 15-song, two-and-a-half hour set. It opened the doors. Everybody is such a great player. Let’s create some space. If you listen to Waiting for Columbus, we were a jamband. A whole lot of jamming going on. Happy accidents as I call them. Richie used to say, ‘There is a big difference between a groove and a rut.’
I’m fascinated by a recent offer you made to the general public, that for a small fee you would perform on a song should they desire your participation. How did that come about, and what was the result?
That was part of the Indiegogo push that never got funded, so we didn’t do it. I have a lot of friends around the country that have asked if I could record on a song. Sure, just send me the files. In this digital age, it’s so easy. That was the impetus behind it.
There was no vetting process on the material, what you would or wouldn’t put your name on? Just send it and we’ll do it?
Yeah, send it, we’ll do it. I guess my ego is so small. People tell me I’m a great guitar player, and I say, ‘No. A great guitar player is Bill Frisell or John Scofield.’ I play at the guitar. I can make the guitar emote. Ego-wise I’ve never had any grandiose thoughts like, ‘No, I wouldn’t play on that song.’ If you’ve got a song, I’ll bet you anything I can make it sound a little bit better.
I consider myself a fairly knowledgeable student of music, and I think you are a great guitar player. Where that sits with you is up to you. (Laughs)
It’s really been the last ten years that I’ve accepted it. They like me. (Laughs)