Paul Barrere - Little Feat
Chatting with David Lee Wilson - 2001
Of all the things American's pridefully hold up as being "the best" or "Original," our music always manages to translate universally well. Hell, even the French will begrudgingly admit that for the last fifty years or so America has dictated the standards in music. So now who best exemplifies American music? Well, may I submit that Little Feat does?
No, they never sold as well as their counterparts during their thirty years but numbers ain't everything. Come on, who else could at one sonic moment funk out George Clinton, progress further than YES, weird out Frank Zappa, Blues-bust BB KING and do it all to a Texas Two-Step beat with some Hard-Rock guitars and not have it sound like a cyclone spun through the Wall-Mart music section? Nobody that I can think of but then again I have been listening to Little Feat for a while now and am unapologetically enamored of the Feat's feats.
So after thirty years of dodging the death calls of the career ending uncoolness of aging and members gone missing now and again what do you do? Make another album and tour for it until it is time to repeat the cycle of course which in this case is the nifty beyond explanation "Chinese Work Songs" out now on CMC International Records.
The Little Feat story is far too long and detailed to recount in a single interview so my best suggestion for the deeply interested is to pick up a copy of the impressively assembled "Hotcakes & Outtakes" box set from Rhino Records. Contained in the box, along with four fully packed CDs, is a 76 page biography that takes you through the swoops and dips of an American treasure, uh, that is Little Feat's life story. If your interest and pocketbook only go as deep as a single CD then the "Chinese Work Songs" disc is highly recommended for some prime Feat. If you can't do either at least get to a show 'cause they smoke like a fine Cuban after a shot of Jose Cuervo. Guitarist/vocalist/writer/philosopher of coping with bottle throwing Country fans Paul Barrere invited me in for a chat with the band this past Summer and here is a bit of that for ya.

DAVID LEE: Could you explain the title of the album?
PAUL BARRERE: Well, it is basically the title of a song. (laughs)
K2K: It is kind of a timely title, especially with all of the press involved with the free trade agreement with China and how it affects workers here in the United States. Have the Union boys here in Detroit had a word with you about this title yet? (smiles)
PB: (Laughing) None whatsoever!
K2K: Seriously though, any thoughts on all the fuss over this thing, its kind of like the sixties again with all the violent protests and things.
PB: Not having any real information on that situation I really wouldn't know what to say about that. I would imagine that the folks here in Detroit are not pleased with the jobs going elsewhere.
K2K: No. I think that everyone is afraid that some Chinese slave laborer will basically take a good paying Union job away because he can do the job for a dollar a week or something.
PB: That is kind of how we are paid to make music, a dollar a week. (laughs)
K2K: Do y'all have to split that?
PB: No, we get a buck each so it is good, you know. (laughs)
K2K: That's before taxes though, right?
PB: Yeah, so it ends up being about 33 cents or something like that.
K2K: Well at least you get free beer for as long as you are opening up for Hank! (laughs)
PB: Yeah, there is that, which is nice. (laughs)
K2K: "The Charlie Daniel's Volunteer Jam" has a reputation for living up to its name by having its participants jam with each other through the night, have you had much chance to do that with either Charlie or Hank?
PB: Actually, there hasn't been as much jamming as I thought there would be. Jimmy Hall, from Hank's band, has come in and sat in with us a couple of times but I don't think that there has been a lot of interplay between Charlie and Hank's bands. It has just been like your basic rock show where everybody gets up and does their gig. For the most part it has really been kind of a Hank Williams crowd.
K2K: Have you felt that is something that you need to overcome being that for all the mix of styles that you have you are still very much a rock band?
PB: Uh, a little bit. I mean, fortunately for us we have a lot of southern-rock/rhythm and blues kind of songs so we throw a lot of those in each set and then we can always pull out "Willin." No matter what crowd you are playing to if you tell them it is about truck drivin' and reefer, they are with ya! (laughs) "Are ya witus or are ya again' us?" and they are always with us! (laughs)
K2K: So you can always count on people coming to the lip of the stage and handing you up a number or two during a set?
PB: Yeah! We have actually had people hurl a few reefers at us, you know. That seems to be our ace in the hole, we found out early on that if you put "Willin" in the set, you will do just fine! (laughs)
K2K: And that helps from eating away at the thirty cents you get for the gig each nigh, nice!
PB: Exactly!
K2K: Well as long as they are not whipping' bottles at ya, I guess.
PB: I haven't had to duck any however the crew has.
Kenny Gradney: Fuckin' Jack Daniel's bottle almost hit me in the face!
K2K: Full or empty?
KG: Empty.
K2K: See, that's no good 'cause I could see if they was offering you a drink but the intent of an empty bottle is pretty obvious. (laughs)
KG: They were throwing full beers at us, open full beers.
K2K: Where was this at?
PB: Alabama. We got stuck in a rainstorm so they canceled our part of the show, because all of the power was out, and we started taking all of our gear off but he audience thought it was Hank's gear.
KG: Yeah, they thought Hank was going away and they were pissed! (laughs) I picked up the bass drum and I was showing it to them and saying, "Hey, its just us, Hank is still going to play!"
Fred Tackett: They started figuring it out eventually, "Oh, if Little Feat goes away then Hank will come on sooner, good, go!" (laughs)
PB: "Are you ready for some football!"
K2K: So he had all of his rowdy friends in the house then? (laughs)
PB: Just about every night and he is doing a hell of a show, it is amazing. The tour has been great because all of the band members and the crew have all been really cool. It has been a kick, I got to tell you, still it has been a different kind of audience for Little Feat to play to but I think that we got a few friends out of it. Our whole idea is to play to some new and different folks instead of preaching to the choir everyday.
K2K: A large part of this audience will be completely unfamiliar with Little Feat music so how do you pick forty minutes from thirty years of music for this crowd?
PB: Well, we got an hour. It is not that hard. If we did "Dixie Chicken" and "Willin'" that will pretty much cover the old bases and we throw in a lot of new songs. Basically we got a song off of "LET IT ROLL," two songs off of the new record, actually three songs off of the new record so we are pumping the new material but all of our new material relates to the old material so it is not hard. It is a cross-reference to the last thirty years. It satisfies everybody's little aches and pains.
K2K: Yours too?
PB: Oh yeah.
K2K: How does the set change when you are out as a headline act, besides being longer?
PB: It is a lot more heavy with the jamming part and recently I have been trying to change it from night to night so that we are not playing the same songs every night. I mean, we are playing "Dixie Chicken" every night but we will do other things each night. We won't do "Willin" every night for example when we will do "Sailing Shoes" or "On the Way Down" or something else that is a little more level. Lately it has been a lot more jamming and a lot more taking off into different areas. It is a little bit more, I don't want to say jazzy but a little bit more
improvisational than what we would play for a Hank Williams JR crowd. (laughs)
K2K: Strictly by the numbers for these folks?
PB: Well, we want to keep the beat going for 'em.
FT: Entertain them folks.
PB: That's right.
K2K: You say tonight is your last night for this tour so what are you doing after this gig?
PB: Yeah, we are going to the West Coast, we have a couple of shows up in Oregon and then we are taking a little six-week leave of absence. The record will come out and hopefully get some radio and build some momentum for the tour and that will take us from August 21st for a long while afterwards.
K2K: Any particular place you going or just wherever your feet's take you, damn that was bad, sorry. (laughs)
PB: Yeah! We are going to go to Europe and we are going to do a show in Scotland, one in Ireland, one in England, three in Denmark, one in Norway, one in Sweden and one in Germany. Oh, and then we have some USO shows to do. Last year we did some USO shows in the Persian Gulf, Bahrain and Dubai and Kuwait and going into those shows we were sort of hesitant, "Oh my gosh what is this going to be like?" but it was a great experience, it really was. This time we are going to the Balkans and we are not going to have that Persian gulf to look at. We also have shows at bases in England and Germany too. Playing for servicemen, I never thought it would be as cool as it is because these folks are over there in foreign lands and they are just waiting to hear something from America and whether they know about Little Feat or not they go, "Hey, that is great!" It is a good way to make new fans.
K2K: Yeah, and it has to be a bit different than the USO shows with Bob Hope in Vietnam and Korea, I would imagine.
PB: Well, yeah. Being one of those guys that did anything that they could to stay away from Vietnam it feels kind of good to go back and kind of serve my time in a different way. (everyone laughs) Well, I got to eat in a mess there anyway! (laughs)
K2K: Before you get on I want to ask you about this Little Feat/Lowell George tribute album that came out a couple of years ago.
PB: Shoot.
K2K: These things are usually put together pretty quickly and cheaply but this one seems to have some genuine feeling behind it, am I just romanticizing the situation here?
PB: No, I think for the most part that it is. There are a couple of folks on here that cut songs that don't have much of a relationship with us, I won't go into the names but for the most part when you think of Jackson Brown and David Lindley and the Bottle Rockets and Taj and Randy Newman and JD and Bonnie Raitte, as well as us, I think that it came out as a pretty fitting tribute to the man. I mean, Lord knows he has written some pretty wonderful songs. It was an interesting project the way that these folks put it together because it took them a long time to get this thing to actually happen.
K2K: Why was that?
PB: Just to get the people to commit to doing it, basically.
K2K: Is this new one, "Chinese Work Songs," the first record for CMC?
PB: No, we did "Under The Radar" two years ago so this is our second one.
K2K: Is CMC a good home for the band?
PB: Um, yeah, I mean, it is a record company. (laughs) I mean, we are in business together and we learned some things after the first one and had some discussions about how to market this one and they have been very receptive. The gentlemen came to us with a marketing plan that pretty much resembled how we wanted to market this record and I was very encouraged by that. If they follow through on all of those things then I will say, yeah, we are having a great relationship with those guys! (laughs) We are constantly checking to see if the records are in the shops through our grass roots organization.
K2K: The post reunion version of Little Feat has been around for as long or longer than the original band with Lowell, does it feel different to be Little Feat today than it did in say, 1975?
PB: Well, it obviously feels a little bit different not having Lowell, Lowell was a very big part of this band but having been without Lowell for twenty years, I mean, it feels very comfortable. Fred has been with us for fourteen or fifteen years not to mention all the times that he came in and worked on our records before. We actually just saw Craig Fuller last night (The Feat's lead vocalist on three records) which was interesting because he is playing with his old band now, Pure Prairie League. So, for me it is more comfortable working now. Maybe it is just because I have been doing it longer or maybe because it seems like more of a group situation than some of the old days but it is pretty much still the same band. We are playing a lot of the same songs, we are revamping those songs nightly, but we are doing them and hey, it is just Little Feat.
Written by David Lee Wilson

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