Just A Fever: Another Little Feat Comeback
Keyboard constant Bill Payne on ‘Rooster Rag’
By Jim Caligiuri, 11:31AM, Wed. Jul. 25, 2012
How many times can a band come back? Since forming in 1969, Little Feat faced lead singer Lowell George passing a decade later, and then original drummer Richie Hayward succumbing to liver disease in 2010 at the age of 64. The group's reaction, Rooster Rag, is one of its strongest releases in years.
“Richie’s passing was the first time we really had to confront whether to continue or not,” reveals lone founding member and keyboardist Bill Payne. “I think a lot of other bands would have put the brakes on.
“Little Feat is personality-oriented obviously, but it’s also built on the fact that it boils down to what music Little Feat is playing and does it still sound like Little Feat when you hear it. I don’t know of a lot of bands that could have pulled it off.”
With former drum tech Gabe Ford in the drummer’s seat, Little Feat, which appears at La Zona Rosa on Friday, seems revitalized. Ford earned his stripes in the band fronted by his uncle, guitarist Robben Ford. “I didn’t know how big his musical vocabulary was, but Robben doesn’t let anybody play with him unless he’s really good,” observes Payne.
In another new wrinkle for the band, Rooster Rag features four songwriting collaborations between Payne and Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. They never actually sat in a room pounding out chords, however. It was another collaboration facilitated by the Internet.
“It’s an interesting collaboration,” confirms Payne. “I just finished my 11th song with him a couple of nights ago. He called Rooster Rag’s ‘Rag Top Down’ ‘a damn fine ride.’ At one point he asked me to kickstart the process and send him some music. So I did and that became ‘Way Down Under.’ With the other songs that are finished, we’ve got a head start on another record.”
Feat guitarist Paul Barrere’s songwriting contribution to the new disc is “Just a Fever,” a bluesy stomper co-written with Austin's late, great Stephen Bruton. Payne, Barrere, and Bruton were longtime friends, which makes sense considering their mutual association with Bonnie Raitt. Payne also played on Bruton’s final album, 2005's From the Five.
“Stephen was one of the few people in the world that I would jump on a plane and go hang out with and have a grand time,” laments Payne. “Bruton always made you feel at home. We went down when they were filming The Alamo. I got to hang out with him and Billy Bob Thornton. I loved him as a person.
“I’ve got a song that I hope will be on the next Little Feat record called ‘The Last Adios,’ which was written mainly about Stephen, but it’s also about Ritchie Hayward.”