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VALLEY WEEKEND | ROCKTALK

Longevity in Pop World Is No Little Feat

The influential band has been turning out quality tunes with little airplay since the '60s. Their next stop is the Ventura Theatre.

December 26, 1996|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Little Feat seems to be one of those bands liked by everyone except radio programmers. And it is the rare band--Grateful Dead and Phish being two of them--that can hang around for long without a bunch of radio hits. Little Feat has been around since those silly '60s, or long enough to release 14 albums. That despite the fact that their most famous member, Lowell George, died in 1979, leading to a six-year hiatus for the band. Their latest recording is a two-CD set, "Live From Neon Park."

Little Feat has a bunch of great musicians who play their own brand of rock featuring a bit of everything but disco. The band's current lineup includes Paul Barrere (guitar, vocals), Shaun Murphy (vocals), Bill Payne (keyboards, vocals), Sam Clayton (percussion, vocals), Richie Hayward (drums), Kenny Gradney (bass) and Fred Tackett (guitar). All have been in the band for years, except Murphy, who joined in 1992.

Founding member Payne, a former Ventura resident and one of the few locals to move to L.A. on purpose, talked about his favorite band during a recent phone interview.

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So where have those Feat been lately?

We've been a little slow this year, but we're starting to pick it up for '97. We're probably going to play at the inauguration party in Arkansas again this year. We did four years ago. We didn't see the president, but we heard later that Al Gore said, "Hey, where's Little Feat?" We were surprised he even heard of us. Also this year, Shaun and I were on the road with Bob Seger for six or seven months.

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How did the last album do?

The album didn't do that well although we've gotten a couple of honorable mentions on the Internet. It was sort of released unannounced by the label, which is in transition.

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How has the band survived so long?

I dunno--we've been doing it for 28 years, and it still works. I think you just put your head down and keep moving. The musical aspect has always been the guiding light for this band. There is something really special about this band and the unique style of Little Feat. Our thing is based on the music and not the flavor of the month. I guess it's just our own unique way of putting 2 and 2 together. Once the fans don't want to hear it anymore, it's over.

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You used to live in Ventura?

Yeah, I lived there, but I had to pick up stakes in the middle of the 10th grade at Cabrillo [Junior High] to move to Santa Maria with my family. Years later, I was talking to Kevin Costner, who also went to Cabrillo, about the second floor of the math building where you could check out the surf on C Street. The last four months or so, I started surfing again with my son; I always liked to surf in Ventura and the spots north of there like Solimar, the Tanks and Rincon. I played in bands in Santa Barbara and Santa Maria, but my heart was always in Ventura because that's where all my friends were.

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Tell me about this version of Little Feat.

From 1988 to 1992 or so, we had Craig Fuller on vocals, but he decided touring wasn't right for him. I met our current singer, Shaun Murphy, in 1986 when she was a backup singer for Bob Seger. She was working on one of our albums and we looked at each other and I said, "We could do a lot worse than having her sing in the band." It's really wonderful to see people react to her. I guess people always thought Little Feat was some sort of exclusive men's club or something. People think, "Oh God, now there's a woman in the group." But she is a great untapped resource, and it works.

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How did you get involved in all this?

In 1969, I was sleeping on the beach in Isla Vista and somehow I got hold of a telephone calling card, and I called L.A. to inquire about Frank Zappa's band. It turned out Zappa was going to Europe, but someone told me about Lowell George, who was leaving Zappa to start his own band. It took a while, but I hooked up with George. The first version of the band was a four-piece with Roy Estrada, Lowell George, Richie Hayward and myself, but it all stemmed from the fact that I wanted to meet Zappa.

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How did you end up being a keyboard player?

I took piano lessons when I was 5 from a lady named Ruth Newman, plus my mother played a little bit. Also, there was this little girl across the street who played, too, and I thought if she could do it, I could do it, too. It was just fate, I guess.

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What do you think Little Feat music sounds like?

Well, it's probably American music. There's a lot of influences from rock 'n' roll, jazz, country, R & B to our own version of country. The mix is difficult to tap into from a commercial standpoint because we borrow from a lot of American idioms. But it's better than disco. I'm not against dancing, but as a musician, it's stagnant.

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Where does Little Feat fit into the rock 'n' roll cosmology?

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