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Posted: 16 years ago by Judman
5,428 Viewed  - 0 Dug it

More than thirty-eight years after the arrival of their nascent self-titled debut, Little Feat revisits an eclectic mix of classic originals and favorite cover tunes.  Join the Band features contributions from a stellar host of the band's musical peers, including Jimmy Buffett, Dave Matthews, Vince Gill, Chris Robinson, Emmylou Harris, Bob Seger, Brooks & Dunn, slide guitar great Sonny Landreth, former Little Feat lead vocalist Craig Fuller and late founder Lowell George's talented daughter Inara George. 

Little Feat is best known for creating a distinctive sound that blends rock 'n' roll, funk, country and swamp boogie.  On Join the Band, current members Bill Payne (keyboards), Richie Hayward (drums), Paul Barrere (guitar), Sam Clayton (percussion), Kenny Gradney (bass), Fred Tackett (guitar), and Shaun Murphy (vocals) entrust guest artists with full creative control to great success.  Dave Matthews's vocals on "Fat Man in the Bathtub" add a unique flavor not present on the original track.  Vince Gill's acoustic guitar solo on "Spanish Moon" is extremely complimentary to Craig Fuller's equally-stunning lead vocals.  Emmylou Harris adds her signature lilting harmonies to Little Feat's classic "Sailin' Shoes."

Jud Conway (Head Writer)  and Ed Van Wicklen (Owner/Chief Editor) sat down to discuss the band's new CD and upcoming Summer/Fall 2008 tour with Little Feat guitarist Fred Tackett.

JC- In the press release for "Join the Band," Bill Payne states that the idea for the album was born in 2004... just after he played on Jimmy Buffet's "License to Chill."  He says in the actual liner notes that he spent years trying to bring a project of this nature to fruition.  What is your first recollection of the band considering a Little Feat and friends release?  

FT- Well, most of the people on this record are friends... we've hung out with over [the course of] our careers.  We have always, in the back of our minds, talked about the fact that all of us are running around the country and the world ...and nobody ever has the time to sit around... and play together.  People like Vince Gill, who people know as a mega-country star, used to hang out with us in Los Angeles when he was playing more golf than he was playing professional gigs.  We were all hustling out here in L.A. and Topanga Canyon ... and I remember Vince, my son Miles, and myself jamming in this bar in Topanga Canyon [called] The Corral. ...He is an amazing guitarist and a lot of people think of him as a guy who sings country ballads and don't know that [he] has been part of our lives for a long, long time.  The idea [was] to have him come in and play with us.  ...And people like Sam Bush, who has been down in Jamaica with us three or four times, and Bela Fleck, who we always see at these festivals for about ten minutes...  All these guys are people who ... are frankly younger than us.  When we would meet them ...a lot of them expressed to us that, as they were coming up, they had listened to [Little Feat] a lot.  That it was one of their favorite bands...  So, we have always kind of wanted to find a way to get everybody together and play.  We were able to do [this] basically because of the new technology... to do tracks of our songs and send them around to all these different people like Vince Gill, Dave Matthews, [and] Sam Bush, who all have home studios.  So, it was kind of like a home project.  We'd send [a track] over to them and they would sit around in their basement and play with the tapes and send them back. ...Even though we did not get to hang out for a couple of weeks and jam together, we were able to concentrate on [this] little project together. [It's] been going on since we first put the band together.  Every time we would [be] an area where one of our friends lived, [they'd] come out and play with us...  Sam Bush would go to Jamaica and play with us, and Craig Fuller, who was our lead singer when we first put the band back together... A few years ago, we did a tribute to Lowell George that, I wish, would have been a better project. In the back of our minds, we would like to... improve [upon] that particular product that came out.  Jimmy Buffet... is another person who has always expressed admiration for the band and has done "Time Loves a Hero" in his live show for years... Sam Clayton, [who has been] in his band forever, [is] a member of our family.  When we first put Little Feat back together, Jimmy Buffet was the guy who took us out on the road and paid us a bunch of money when he didn't need an opening act at all.  ...It was really an amazingly generous thing to do, so he has always been a great friend.  When he got his album [License to Chill] together and Billy [Payne] was a part of it, [Jimmy] suggested that we do [an album featuring guest performers] as well, and ... that... now's the time. 

JC- Well, the album sounds very organic.  How did you guys actually decide which classic Little Feat tracks to re-record for this CD release?

FT- [We] were in Jimmy Buffet's studio, which is down in Key West... just a beautiful place to be, and very relaxed.  Relaxed is the key word.  We just kind of went in and played all the songs.  I remember we would sit at dinner with everybody involved in the project; the engineers, the technicians taking care of our instruments, our guitars techs.  We'd all be eating dinner and everybody'd just throw out ideas like "why don't you try this song?" or "you should do this song."  So, all these songs... we just went through them and started matching them up with... friends of ours that wanted to be involved in [the project].  I remember Levon Helm telling us that when [The Band] would have a song they would do three or four different versions.  Richard Manual would do a version, Levon would do a version, and Rick Danko... then they would go through them and decide which one was the funkiest.  That's basically what we did.  We just went through and played... lots of material and put [it] all down [with] Paul [Barrere], Shaun [Murphy], Billy, and everybody singing the songs.  Then, we started saying, "Well, Dave Matthews... maybe he should check out "Fat Man in the Bathtub"".

JC- A good match.

FT- Yeah, that was an excellent match. You know, he sat in his studio and just went nuts, man.  He came up with just [an] outstanding vocal version of "Fat Man in the Bathtub".

JC- In addition to the original Little Feat songs featured on the "Join the Band" CD, there are some great, and in some cases, obscure cover tunes, from Woody Guthrie's "This Land is your Land," to the more obscure Huey Piano Smith's "Don't Ya  Just Know It."  I love that song.  I actually first learned [it] from the Fendermen's 1962 release.  How were these tracks picked, and how or when was the decision made to include both Little Feat originals and cover tunes? 

FT- Well, songs like "Don't Ya Just Know It" [are] something all of us know from childhood... Lots of times, during sound checks, Paul would just start doing that laughing riff.  We've played that [song] on occasion, and it's... infectious.  Pretty soon the place is just rockin'.  It's a special, magical tune; one of the funkiest, dirtiest songs around, as far as we can tell.  "See You Later Alligator," I remember [from my childhood].  I went off when I was ten years old to New York City, from Little Rock, Arkansas, with my parents, and we went to Birdland and saw Dizzy Gillespie and all those people.  I came back to the sixth grade and ... "See You Later Alligator" was on the radio, man, and ...life changed, just like when the Beatles came out with "I Want to Hold Your Hand."  It was a whole different game.  That one has a special place in our hearts, you know, and it's just a fun, fun song. 

We play "This Land is Your Land" with a little more intensity and rawness to kind of bring home the fact that it is a very important time... for people to realize that this is their land and not anybody else's land,  you know?  We... walk around with everybody telling us what we're going to do and what we're not going to do.  Woody Guthrie wrote that song as an answer to Irving Berlin's "God Bless America ."  Check it out; this is my land, too, man. 

JC- Yeah, you're right.  It is definitely as relevant today as it was then.

FT- We started doing that [song] a long time ago, and I just think it's really important for people to understand... during this election and all.  [That's] why that one is on [the CD].

JC- We thought it was particularly poignant that the CD features Lowell's daughter Anara singing "Trouble;" one of her father's songs. 

FT- Absolutely.

JC- What's the story behind that track on the album?

FT- Well, you know, she's done that with us before.  As a matter of fact ...years ago, NASA [put] up a satellite with a... CD [featuring] songs that were supposed to represent our culture, in case aliens came across this thing... and went "hey, a CD... let's check it out." ...Anyway, we [contributed] a [live] version of Anara singing "Trouble" from... one of our Calling the Children Home shows.   ...If anybody comes across it, they'll hear Anara back when she was a little girl.  She's still a little girl, but... she's a wonderful... artist and we [got] to experience her blossoming.  I really wish Lowell would have been able to see she's grown up.  She lived in my house a little [while] ...with her mom and dad, when they were first moving out to Topanga, way back in the day, and she was just like our daughter. It's like she's Lowell's daughter and we just have to have her when whenever we can get a hold of her.  She's got a brand new album out with our friend Van Dyke Parks, [who is] a national American treasure.  They [did] a CD of just orchestra on Anara's songs.  It was incredibly beautiful.  She's an outstanding artist, a member of our family, and she's the next generation.  It is very appropriate for her to be representing Lowell on the project.

JC- Absolutely, and that's an interesting story about the recording circulating through outer space.  I guess it would make Little Feat not only an international success, but an intergalactic band, to some degree.

FT- {Laughs} Potentially. 

JC- Fred, you joined the reformed Little Feat for the recording of "Let it Roll" in 1988, almost a decade after the death of founder Lowell George and the breakup of the original band.  How were you introduced into the Little Feat family?  Obviously, you have been in the family a lot longer than you have been credited as a member of the actual band.

FT- Yes...I met Lowell, I guess, in 1967, when I came to Hollywood [during] the summer of love. I had basically been found playing in a bar in Honolulu by Jimmy Webb, a songwriter.

JC- An awesome songwriter, " Wichita Lineman..."

FT- "Wichita Lineman," " Galveston," all these great songs.  He was twenty-one and had gotten his first money from "Up, Up and Away in My Beautiful Balloon," and had gone to Hawaii and found me playing in this bar in Honolulu.  [He] said, "I'm putting together this band in Los Angeles."  [All] this crazy stuff [was] happening, which I had only read about in Rolling Stone... Well actually, Rolling Stone hadn't even come out yet.  I'd only read about it in Tiger Beat magazine.  {Laughs}   I moved to Hollywood, and he had this huge mansion that he had rented, which used to be the Philippine Embassy, right in the middle of Hollywood.  ...All these crazy people were hanging out in this place twenty-four hours a day.  You'd come downstairs and Jimi Hendrix would be sleeping on the couch, or Peter Tork, from the Monkeys, would be barbequing in the back yard.  I mean, it was just a party going on twenty-four hours a day in this place.  And [Jimmy Webb] had this rock 'n' roll band... It was kind of like a reality TV show today.  He'd... found all [of us], brought us all together, and put us in this house he was living in.  I came downstairs one night, and Lowell was sitting in the middle of the floor, all dressed in white, playing the sitar.  I went over and started talking to him.  He was studying with the Ravi Shankar School in L.A.  At that time, he wasn't even playing guitar.  He was just strictly playing traditional Indian music.

JC- Wow...

FT- Which was bizarre, because I was [saying] "hey man, we could tune this sitar into some wild tunings and do some really psychedelic stuff," and he was like "oh, no, no, no... Traditional Indian."  About three months or so after that, he was playing with the Shondells.  Then he was with the Standells, or one of those psychedelic bands.  Then he was in the Mothers of Invention.  So, he was a live wire.  But he was in Jimmy's house before Little Feat.  Hollywood was a really small town, especially during the sixties.  Everyone hung out at the same places and it was like a neighborhood kind of thing.  So, [Lowell and I were] always hanging out over at Jimmy's house... playing each others songs.  He introduced me to Richie Hayward and Billy Payne in Griffith Park when he was playing with the Fraternity of Man.  Billy came down... trying to get involved with the Frank Zappa organization and they steered him towards Lowell.  That was basically the nucleus of Little Feat, so I knew all those guys before they started the band.  They put out the first couple of records and then they got Kenny [Gradney], Sam [Clayton] and Paul [Barrere] and did the Dixie Chicken album. Kenny and Sam had come from the Delaney and Bonnie Band, which was our favorite band at the time.  I had a song called "Fool Yourself," [which was] the first track on the second side.  Lowell had the band cut the song and I played acoustic guitar.  That was nineteen seventy-two.  Then, I played on "Time Loves a Hero" and different things.  So, we were all just real good friends.  You'd go by the studio and they'd say "hey, play an acoustic guitar on this," or "play that Strat thing with the pencil like you do."  The band has never been anything but kind of a neighborhood band.  ...We never had auditions [or] tried out a bunch of people when Billy put the band back together....  I was working with Lowell on a solo album and tour [Thanks I'll Eat it Here] when he died.  I was on the road with him when he died in '78.  After about seven or eight years, Billy Payne and I were working with Bob Seger's band and he said, "hey, we've been thinking about putting the band back together again, so if you'd like to be a part of it...," and I said, "absolutely, sign me up."  So, we've been a bunch of friends since basically around nineteen sixty-eight, and we've all been close.  That's how the band has evolved... Little Feat's an actual band of Hollywood hippies [who] somehow, like a piece of coal, stuck with it.

JC- With that thought in mind, did you guys have any idea when you officially reformed the band, especially when you moved into the Representing the Mambo album with "Texas Twister," that it would be as successful, and the second coming of the band would be as long standing as it has proven to be?  Did you guys see that coming?  Was that an expectation or was that icing on the cake?

FT- It was kind of icing on the cake.  I wasn't a member of the [original] band but, like I said, I participated in writing and arranging on some of my songs and stuff.  The basic premise... behind putting the band back together was [that] we had all been playing with other people.  I had been working with Bob Dylan and Billy had been playing with James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt... all the singers/songwriters [and] all the Warner Brothers people.  Everybody was off doing these projects and being hired guns for other people.  We just wanted to get back into being artists again; playing, making, and creating music.  Our only criterion was that we wanted [the new Little Feat] to stand up, in our estimation, to the old Little Feat.  "Hate to Lose Your Lovin'" was basically our bridge between the old and the new.  Craig Fuller and Paul Barrere started writing that song when Little Feat started to fall apart. Lowell and I were working on his solo album and going on tour, and Billy, Paul and Craig Fuller were trying to come up with some other organization. As a result, they started writing this song.  ...Then Lowell died and everything just sort of fell apart.  Everybody fell apart for a bunch of years.  When we were starting to put the band back together, Craig called Paul, out of the blue, and said, "Hey, I found this song we were working on, and it's sort of half done.  We ought to get together and finish it up.  It's a pretty cool song."  And, Paul said "it's amazing that you say that, because we're just getting the bug to put the band back together and you're one of our guys, so why don't you come out to L.A. from Nashville and let's get together and check out that song and see how it goes." Craig came out and they finished off "Hate to Lose Your Lovin.'"  ...It was half written in the old days and the second half [was] written in the new days.  It was a perfect transition between the old and the new Little Feat.  And we just carried on from there ... [with the] same Hollywood hippie standards that we had before, you know.  I remember Billy saying "we ought to be able to do this for ten years" after we played [a] gig in Washington, DC.  But it's now been twenty years or something. I don't know... it is ridiculous.

JC- We are also familiar with the Paul & Fred duo that has kind of come out of this.  While you guys cover some of the Little Feat catalog, outside material also plays a major role.  Do you guys feel freed from any constraints in Little Feat when you are performing as Paul & Fred?

FT- It's just wacky, because Paul and I have played [together] so much over the years that we just have this ESP kind of thing.  It's really cool to hear the interplay between just the two guitars or a guitar and a mandolin when we do our duet show.  With some of the Little Feat stuff, there's so much going on that when we get to do the Paul & Fred thing... the songs take totally different arrangements.  We do "All That You Dream" as more [of] a ballad than the funky version we do with Little Feat.  We do certain songs Paul and I wrote, like "Clownin'," that we don't do with Little Feat... It's just a lot of fun, man.  We're getting ready to go over to Ireland and Scotland and it's just great that we can move real quickly.  It's just the two of us, a couple guitars, a car, and our friends.

JC- Obviously, you guys have a busy year with the Little Feat summer/fall tour and then a Paul & Fred tour. What can longstanding Little Feat fans expect from the new tour?  Will any of the guest artists on the [Join the Band] CD be sitting in with you guys at any of the venues?

FT- I don't know... There are no written plans for anybody to show up.  We are hoping we can pull off a television show or something where we can get everybody together and get something happening.  If we're out in North Carolina and Dave Matthews happens to be hanging out, I'm sure he'll come down and jam with us.  If we see Vince Gill out there, I'm sure he'll come and jam with us. But we don't have any particular plans. It's just going to be a big summertime party like it always is, man.  We're gonna see if we can come up with a few surprises and have rockin' good time... Who knows what to expect, [besides] just a lot of good music and good times?  I never know what to expect. {Laughs}

JC- Following this tour and your upcoming Paul & Fred dates, what's next for Fred Tackett and Little Feat?

FT- Well, we have our own record label, Hot Tomato Records, and I put [out] a little solo record, In a Town Like This, with my good friend Dominic Genova.  [It's] kind of an acoustic guitar and upright bass record.  My son Miles [Tackett] produced it about three or four years ago, and in very small amounts of spare time, we've been trying to get a... new CD to come out of that. We got those songs just about done and I'm hoping to pull that off... Paul and I have got to do something new and Little Feat's gonna make another record.  So, we've got lots of work to do.

We''d like to thank Dennis McNally for making this interview possible!
Also, many thanks to Iris Fultz (The Transcription Goddess) for transcribing this long interview!

Little Feat's 429 Records release Join the Band hits stores on August 26, 2008.

Tour dates and locations can be found at:  www.littlefeat.com

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