|Crossroads: Paul Barrere of Little Feat|
Pivotal moments in musicians' careers propelling them from obscurity to infamy
by Mark E. Waterbury
Little Feat by all rights should not exist anymore. There were problems in the early days and many break ups and rifts. There was the death of founder and chief songwriter when the band was at the zenith of their popularity. Then they had to make a comeback and survive in an era dominated by the changing face of musical tastes and the quirkiness of the music industry. They have managed to persevere, and their dedication, love of creating music and the ability to get beyond past quarrels and problems is why over three decades, their inception Little Feat remains one of the most endearing and enduring bands in the history of rock.
It was about 1970 when former Mothers of Invention members Lowell George and Roy Estrada first formed Little Feat with Richie Hayward and Bill Payne. The self titled debut and sophomore album "Sailin' Shoes" did not do particularly well, and the band experienced its first break up, albeit briefly. Little Feat quickly reformed with the addition of a fifth member; guitarist Paul Barrere. Receiving his musical indoctrination as many youngsters did by taking piano lessons at a young age, Paul eventually opted for the six string guitar, primarily teaching himself to play by listening to rock and blues records. He began performing in garage bands in his early teens and on through high school, which is where he first met Lowell George. "He used to come up and watch our band play in Laurel Canyon," Paul remembers. "When he first formed Little Feat, he asked me to come and audition as a bass player, which I failed at miserably. What that did do was introduce me to Billy and Richie, who finally convinced Lowell to let me come on board as the second guitarist. I always wanted to be a member of that band because I though it was the tightest band in Los Angeles." Around the time that Paul joined, Roy Estrada left the band to be replaced on bass by Kenny Gadney, and they added another guitarist Sam Clayton. The revamped Little Feat released the album "Dixie Chicken" in 1973, but mirroring the first two recordings, it received critical acclaim no real solid success. One aspect of the band that changed with the new line up was increasing of the band's touring schedule. "They didn't do much touring to promote the earlier albums," Paul notes, " and when Kenny and Sam and I got in the band, we did a tour that was a little late for "Sailin' Shoes." With "Dixie Chicken", we changed the sound a bit and made it a little bit New Orleans, and when we toured and promoted that record, we would be in towns doing radio promotion and we found out that there were not any records in stores. When we got off tour, Lowell was extremely upset with the people at the label for the lack of support."
Despite the fact that the band was gaining notice, primarily in the South and on the East Coast, Little Feat stopped playing for awhile after the "Dixie Chicken" tour and there were more personnel shake-ups. The band teetered on the edge of breaking up again when they drew interest from Carvello and Riplo management. The management team persuaded Warner Brothers to release a new album, so the band reunited in the studio to record "Feats Don't Fail Me Now." At the insistence of management, Warner got firmly behind the release and it finally launched the band to a comfortable level of success. "Even though "Dixie Chicken" was probably a better record, it just kept moving forward from that point," Paul notes. "We were getting more and more popular with better record sales. We still were not touring a lot because Lowell just didn't like going out on the road that much, but when we received airplay back then, that helped with the record sales."
Little Feat put out an album a year over the next four years, but there were difficulties cropping up. Lowell George was having drug problems, and his often erratic behavior necessitated Paul and Bill Payne taking over most of the songwriting for the band. Other band members including Paul were struggling with their own substance abuse hardships. In 1979, George once again disbanded the group to embark on a solo tour. There was conflict between George and Payne about the production of the new album "Down On the Farm." There was never an opportunity to repair this latest rift as just a few months into his solo tour, Lowell George died of a heart attack at age thirty-four. "During the first seven years I was in Little Feat, we probably broke up four or five times," Paul muses. "Usually we would sit down and patch up the disagreements and move on, and that is what Lowell planned on doing after his solo tour. When he didn't come back from that tour, we were going to finish "Down On the Farm" and then put out the record for the fans "Hoy-Hoy" which had outtakes and such on it. But we felt like the band was going to be done at that point."
In the 80's, the band members went on to work with a number of other artists. Paul recorded with Bonnie Raitt, Robert Palmer and Col. Bruce Hampton among others. He also did solo records and although he enjoyed these other projects, he was never quite as satisfied as he was with Little Feat. In 1986, the surviving members of the band reformed for an impromptu jam session at a rehearsal facility in L.A. called The Alley where many well-known musicians rehearsed. When the rehearsal studio was being remodeled, they erected a plaque commemorating Lowell George, so the owner of the facility called Paul and asked if he could contact the band members to be the first ones to jam in the remodeled facility. "Everyone was in town at the time, which was strange since they were all so busy with other projects themselves. I missed the Feat, and that jam session was a lot of fun. That music feeling came back immediately, and when Billy (Payne) asked me how I felt about putting the band back together, I was all for it. We had all straightened out our acts and were more mature than we had been before, and when we played those Little Feat songs the spark was still there." Little Feat returned to the studio in 1988 to record "Let It Roll," perhaps a prophetic title since the band has recorded, toured and stayed together pretty much since that point. The acceptance for the return of Little Feat was immediate and has not waned since. "We kept the integrity of the music and weighed it against what we had done in the past to make sure everyone knew that we were not going to be some money-grubbing nostalgia act. We felt with "Let it Roll" we created a wonderful record, and the people at Warner Brothers were ecstatic about it. We had a ninety-five percent favorable reaction to our return, and even though we started playing in smaller venues, by '89 we were back to playing arenas again. We worked extremely hard those first couple of years and played 120 dates a year."
Since that reunion, the "Feats" are not failing anyone now. They just released their newest CD "Kickin' It At the Barn" and are out on the road again. One would have to believe that wherever Lowell George is now, he has to be immensely pleased that his creation is still rocking the world over thirty years later. "When we first reunited back in '88 there were those few people who thought that we could not be Little Feat without Lowell George. We thought what better way to pay tribute to the man's music would there be than to continue playing it. And I'm enjoying myself more now than I was in the early days of the band, because I'm sober and I'm more focused on playing music. This is our life and we see our fans and their kids coming out to see us. We're getting a new and younger audience from the jam band community. I think we are going to just keep on doing this until we drop."
Paul Barrere's advice for musicians: "Music is a fickle business. The best thing is to be musically confident first of all. Be original as possible and then just work your ass off. You've got to get out and play every venue you can and just love what you are doing. If you don't love what you are doing, then there is no sense in doing it.