For over 40 years, guitarist Paul Barrère (left, pictured above with longtime music partner Fred Tackett) has played a major role in not only making hit records with Little Feat but also with friends like Bonnie Raitt, Carly Simon, and the late Robert Palmer. With credits that include “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now,” “Down On the Farm,” and “Time Loves A Hero,”—all of them now a staple of the American songbook-- one can trace a lot of the Americana genre’s spirited mix of blues, swing, jazz, country, rock, and Cajun to Paul’s songwriting and guitar work with Little Feat. Paul and longtime colleague Fred Tackett will appear at
Boogie 'n the Bayou, September 26-29 at the Nottoway Plantation and Resort in White Castle, Louisiana for three days of jam sessions, clinics, and excellent food to go along with the music. Epiphone.com spoke with Paul about the event and all about the early days of Little Feat.
Thanks for speaking with us Paul. How are you? You’ve had some health setbacks year.
Not so much a ‘set back’ as a ‘step back.’ I’ve dealt with the Hepatitis C virus now since 1994 when I was first diagnosed. Fortunately, I had already quit drinking and using nine years before that so all of my “numbers” were in a manageable range. But as it is with all diseases of this type, it finally started to get worse and a biopsy showed some real damage starting to take place in the liver. That was four years ago and since then, I’ve been monitoring my liver with doctors at the Pfleger Liver Institute at UCLA, which has been great.
This all put a hold on long term touring like Little Feat tends to do. But I’ve been doing a few weekend shows with Fred in our duet format and thus we have some very cool and special shows scattered across the US for the rest of the year. I must say that the effect of being home for a while is really good for my overall health and I do miss seeing all our fans our there. I hope by doing a few special shows will afford us the opportunity to see them.
Your album Riding the Nova Train came out earlier this year. Did you have a different approach compared to how you work with Little Feat?
This is a project that I undertook with my partner Roger Cole. We co-wrote and produced the songs in a long, slow fashion with no time constraints, affording us plenty of time for rewrites and a really more focused approach on all the songs individually. It is really remarkable how Roger could constructs songs for me just playing along with a beat. Sometimes you really capture some magic just playing and recording everything and that’s what Roger did for me.
It’s a guitar driven body of work that includes everything from acoustic to very heavy electric. And I must say, I used my Epiphone EJ200 and my new Ebony Sheraton guitars and they sound wonderful. If anyone would like to visit Betterdazerrecords.com they can hear samples of the recording and if they like it, buy it either on disc or download.
Is there a particular song on the album that stands out for you—one that really achieved what you were going for?
Actually there are a few, not just one. This reminds me of trying to pin down a favorite album I’ve done or song I’ve written. It’s just impossible. I love the two acoustic numbers, “In My Time of Dyin’,” and “Why Ya Wanna Do Me,” for how simple they are—two guitar tracks and an upright bass. But the funky nature of “One Eyed Jack” and “Pumpin’ the A” get me as well. Roger was really good at having me step up a little harder in the sound and attack of the guitar on “Riding the Nova Train” and “Number Six Dance.” The whole project was just fun to do!
What other Epiphones are you using these days?
Well, for my acoustic gigs I still use my EJ-200. I can’t tell you how many sound engineers at venues love the sound they get in the front of house with it. It’s simply the best of any acoustic/electric guitars I’ve ever used. The Sheraton I talked about before has not made it on the road as of yet. It’s so pretty and pristine. I use it in the studio and don’t subject it to the thrashing guitars get on the road.
You had two back-to-back solo records with On My Own Two Feet and Real Lies but long stretches in-between since then. What brought you back to the studio?
It’s funny that when Roger and I started this project it was really just for fun. We were co-producing a Coco Montoya record and while setting up the studio, I would go out and just play. Then the thought that perhaps we would just start to write songs and peddle them came up. And then
it started to become what was originally a solo project and eventually when we got really serious about it, a joint venture using Roger’s knowledge of recording and a more classical/metal approach and blending that with my blues/funk approach. And voila! The Nova Train
took to the tracks.
Boogie 'n the Bayou is happening in September. What can folks expect at the event?
We were approached by Danny Heaps, who has these artist getaways in the Catskills as well as the Nottoway plantation down in Louisiana. He suggested that a three-day and three-night acoustic camp would be good for Fred and myself. And where he wanted to do it was right up our alley. We have Anders Osbourne joining us one night and Papa John Gross the next for the entertainment factor while during the day, Fred and I will do clinics teaching seminars or me just showing folks some tricks of my trade and telling stories of some 42 years of playing music around the globe. Fred, on the other hand, having gone to music school, will be able to actually impart some real musical knowledge to the folks. And of course those that don’t play will have the choice of being in an old plantation setting between New Orleans and Baton Rouge where they can chill on the veranda with a mint julep or travel out to see where the gators live or whatever they’re little hearts desire. But the emphasis will be on fun.
Did you grow up in Burbank? Who were some of the artists that inspired you growing up in the 50s?
Yeah, born in Burbank but raised in Hollywood. My folks were character actors so Hollywood was the place for me. My first real musical hero was Louis Armstrong. My father was a Dixieland fan and he had quite a few Satchmo 78s. There was something about that music that touched a nerve in me when I was really young. It made me fee good. From that to when I became at a teenager I was into folk music, bluegrass and blues really--Jimmy Reed and Mississippi John Hurt in particular--for their ease and simplicity. Although I dare anyone to try and play some Mississippi John Hurt’s guitar style note for note. It’s so distinctive. It reminds me of Mose Allison’s piano playing. You hear it and know immediately who it is.
Jimmy Reed on the other hand just wrote some great songs and it’s through those songs that I started to play a guitar. Of course, I was a fan of Elvis and Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis as well. But the energy of Little Richard—that was the kicker. I heard “Tutti Frutti” on the radio when I was 8 or 9 years old and flipped, went and grabbed a dollar out of my drawer and went down and got on the bus to Sunset and Vine to the Old Wallachs Music City and bought the 78.
Man, my parents were steamed. Not because of the record but that I would just up and leave and jump on a bus by myself at the age of 9. That never crossed my mind. “Slippin’ and Slidin’” was the B-side and that was a bonus. The first 33 LP I bought was Here’s Little Richard,
which was not long after that. All that stuff was recorded in New Orleans I found out afterwards. Fats Domino’s backup band had Lee Allan and Alvin Red Taylor on sax, Frank Fields on guitar, and the great Earl Palmer on drums.
Lowell George formed Little Feat in 1969. What's the story of how you entered the picture?
Lowell George played with the Mothers of Invention and wrote a song called “Willin’.” Frank Zappa said, ‘that’s a nice tune why don’t you start your own band.
’ Now then you can take that a couple of ways—either it was sincere and Frank liked the song but not for the Mothers or a polite Donald Trump-like “your fired
Anyway, there was--in Frank’s office--a demo tape from a young keyboardist Bill Payne who wanted to play with the Mothers. So one of Frank’s minions gave the tape to Lowell and Lowell contacted Billy and together they wrote some songs and got an audition with Warner Brothers Records.
They got signed eventually and had to put together a band. Lowell chose Richie Hayward to be the drummer and as Richie was playing in the Fraternity of Man with ex-Mother Elliot Ingber, he joined the band. Then the process of finding the right bassist started. They auditioned 14 players. I was one of them and failed miserably as a bassist. But eventually they got Roy Estrada, also a Mother’s alumni, to join up. As a quartet they recorded the first two Little Feat records. After Sailing Shoes
, the second record, Roy chose to leave and join Captain Beefheart’s Band and that’s when I got the call to be the second guitarist.
I was lucky enough to have known Lowell from Hollywood High School. He liked the garage band I had been playing with, the Led Enema. I mean, who wouldn’t love a band with a name like that?! It also didn’t hurt that I would jam with Billy and Richie on occasion and they kept telling Lowell to bring me aboard.
How did you and Lowell work out your guitar parts?
Lowell kind of left me alone to create my own space but made sure that I heeded the words of Van Dyke Parks: “less is more and it’s the space between the notes that is important to a song.” The lessons I had learned from Lowell about songwriting and playing really served me well. Now that I am the main slide guitarist and vocalist, it worked out because I knew I wasn’t Lowell and had to remain myself and use my own techniques to keep it believable.
For Epiphone fans who are new to the Little Feat sound, where does it come from?
Howlin’ Wolf was a big inspiration for Lowell and the band and then it expanded to Allen Toussaint. Each member of Little Feat has distinguished musical tastes, so therefore I would say listen to as much music as you can. Seems like the only genre we swore off was disco. But really, check out everything you can that’s not so mainstream—Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Muddy Waters and Albert King, The Meters and Professor Longhair, to Stravinksy, Bach and Clifton Chenier. Oh—and Bob Marley! I danced on the tables at the Roxy to the Wailers.
Do you see Little Feat going into the studio anytime soon?
It may be awhile before we find our way back into the studio. But you never know!
Who is coming to your shows now? Do you see young people discovering your work?
Oh yes and that is really cool. Sometimes there are folks in their 70s and others in their late teens in the audience. That’s really a testament to the music. It can touch any nerve in almost any age group.