All of us at Epiphone send our condolensces to friends and family of Little Feat co-founder, songwriter, and musician extraordinaire Paul Barrère who passed away October 26.
For over 50 years, Barrère (left, pictured above with longtime music partner Fred Tackett) played a major role in Little Feat as well as the careers of friends Bonnie Raitt, Carly Simon, and the late Robert Palmer. Barrère's songs “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now,” “Down On the Farm,” and “Time Loves A Hero" are now part of the American songbook. And it's easy to trace much of the Americana genre’s spirited mix of blues, swing, jazz, country, rock, and Cajun to Barrère's songwriting and Little Feat. Barrère has also been an Epiphone fans since the brand's re-emergence in the early 90s. In honor of Paul Barrère and Little Feat's 50th anniversary, we revisit Barrère's classic interview with Epiphone.com about the early days of Little Feat.
Thanks for speaking with us Paul. What are the origins of Little' Feat's sound?
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.
What 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.
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 feel 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.
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.