Gary James' Interview With Bill Payne of
Little Feat is an American group that was formed in 1969 in Los Angeles. Their admirers include Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. Co-founder and keyboardist / vocalist Bill Payne spoke with us about the band.
Q - Bill, wasn't it great to put together a band in 1969 without the interference of a record company or a manager or a producer? Friends getting together to play music. Isn't that what a band is supposed to be all about?
A - Well, unfortunately there was a lot of that other thing going on too. I'll give you an example; there was The Animals with Eric Burdon. They were legitimate, but had to admit there were other groups calling themselves The Animals that were touring around the country. That kind of nonsense going on, so the business element of it is always lurking off to the corner or right in the center vision. It's not too far away. But, yeah, I think in general, things were perhaps a little looser back then. Radio was in a less defined area than it is now, although I guess that's not even accurate the way things are changing so rapidly. I think your overall thinking is right though. Friends getting together. Garage bands...there were a lot of garage bands.
Q - According to The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll: "Little Feat mixed every strain of Southern music - Blues, Country, Gospel, Rock-a-Billy, Boogie, New Orleans, R&B and Memphis Funk. They may have been too eclectic for their own good, yet they had a strong cult following and became one of California's most influential bands of the 70s." Is that accurate? Were you too eclectic? Just how influential was Little Feat in the 1970s?
A - I think in terms of record company support, we probably were too eclectic. We weren't that easy to package. Here's what they are! Here's their hit single! (laughs) But, that was true from 1969 when we first began writing music for the band. We've always had an eclectic base. As far as the influence, I think the influence of the band was...we influenced a lot of people musically, because of that eclecticism.
Q - In Irwin Stambler's book, Encyclopedia Of Pop, Rock and Soul, he writes "Little Feat gained most of it's recognition outside home boundaries. Part of the reason for its relatively poor showing with the US mass audience probably was the failure of most of its albums to capture the awesome concert presence of the group." Would you agree with that statement?
A - I think that, that statement is not altogether wrong. Although I don't know that we would've had a mass audience anyway. The part that I agree with is that we were unable to capture the way we played 'live', in the studio. That's absolutely true. It's something that haunts us for quite awhile. I think also when we did the album "Waiting For Columbus", which was our 'live' album, that put the spotlight on that record in a way that possibly wouldn't have been there had we already possessed the ability to play in the studio like we did 'live'. Although, that affliction was not only with Little Feat, I think Grateful Dead suffered something similar and quite a few other bands.
Q - When an original member of a group dies, like Lowell George, what does that do to the group? Does it weaken or strengthen your resolve to go on?
A - In our case, it completely flattened us. (laughs) We said "That's it!" I was quoted in People Magazine as saying "Without Lowell George there is no Little Feat." It might not have been good English, but it wasn't that I felt Lowell was the entire ball of wax or absolutely the main ingredient of what we were doing. After all, it was a band. None of us had the strength to carry on, so we all went our separate ways. When we re-formed, I was reminded of that statement. I said "Well, seven years previous to that, that's the way I felt." Seven years later we're jamming with the realization that the sound of Little Feat was intact. We made the decision to carry on.