TIME LOVES A HERO PART III

So like I said when we opened this interview--your story is so perfect. It’s such a great rock ’n’ roll story. I would look forward, I think a lot of people would look forward, to reading that.

Well if I have the wherewithal to do it--I mean it’s sort of like doing my own record (laughs). You know I’ve been talking about the record for years. The gift that was given to me to write for that Japanese magazine, it showed me how tough it is to write, first of all. I mean, you know what it’s like--you sit there with a sentence and it takes you through the backwoods and grandma’s porch before you can get your tongue around it, or this case, your pen or fingers, to actually say it. And other things just fly out quicker than you can stop it.

It’s a maddening thing…

It’s entirely a maddening thing…

Hey, the studio I couldn’t remember a moment ago was The Complex. That’s where we did all the work with George Massenberg. The record I was working on was Let it Roll. I was out in the hallway talking to Warren. I didn’t know Warren all that well, but well enough to spend a few moments with him. Richie and Kenny Gradney had just been on the road with him right before they came back to rehearse with us before going into the studio for that album.

Jumping back to your solo endeavor, did you bring in any other players?

So far, no. I had considered it. I’m still looking at maybe, possibly, Piero Mariani, who plays percussion, to fill in on something. But I think that it would simply be easier to come up with the goods myself on this one. From a financial standpoint as well as just – let’s not complicate it any more than it is, that kind of feeling. There was one track that Gil Morales looks at me and says “Man, Yo Yo Ma would have sounded great on this.” I’ve got a couple other things that, who knows in the future. I very well might approach him and see if he was interested because there are good melodic lines. There’s a lot of good music there. I think musicians are always in the mood, or at least they leave themselves open to it. That’s the joy of playing interesting music. I want to use that as one of my goals, to try and expose interesting music. And bring in the best players on the planet to help me bring that to realization.

Wow, that would be a boon. That’s excellent. Hey, how often do you write? I’m sure it comes in spurts.

Yea, it’s like anything else. You’ll just jump in and dive in, work for a couple years and more, and you just hit a wall, and you don’t feel like doing it. I sat down the last couple days and was going over some English Suites by Bach – one in F major and one in E minor. Just wonderful stuff. I hadn’t played that music since probably the second or third year I was in Little Feat down in Los Angeles. I dug it out – and it’s just great, great stuff. It really tests your… It’s like a tongue twister. (laughs) I don’t know I think that type of work, and we’re also going into a rehearsal period with Little Feat, and trying to up the ante there a little bit.

Last year, toward the end of the year, maybe September, I said I’m not going to be on the Internet all the time. I just dropped out. I mean, I was there every 10 days, 2 weeks, whatever. I can’t keep up with this constant flow if information. I needed to start thinking in terms of rejuvenating. Which I did. I am back on-line, pretty much every day.

What do you do?

Well, a lot of it is staying in touch with management. Keeping tabs with Paul. We’ve got a grass-roots organization, where occasionally questions are asked by some of the movers and shakers in the grass-roots thing. I don’t want to run it, but I don’t mind providing a little help. Well, like today, there were some questions our webmaster wanted me to fill out. You know, “It’s been 6 years since you first posted your open invitation to enlist the support of your fans to help the music of Little Feat. From the band perspective, what has been the result of those efforts?” You know, good little question. There were 10 or 11 questions. I thought, “Well, now that the solo thing is out of the way, I’ll try to answer them.”

From the standpoint of writing poetry, I hadn’t written anything in a really long time. I was reading something the other night that was from 12/20/99. I was at my house in Los Angeles…

Sacred time, hell bent on reflection, the crescendo of wind brings a welcome distraction of leaves, darting like birds into the yard. From my plateau, the horizon is both real and imagined, securing the corridor of fate in the distance. Flash paper nuance tests my every thought, renewal, artifice, conditions, reproach, reclamation, perseverance, all swept up in the wind’s history.

And I thought, you know, that’s not bad. But I’m going when’s the next epiphany going to hit? And I’ve written few things since then. I’m starting to get back into writing again. So they all sort of come in hand in hand. You know, I wanted a lifestyle change so I moved to Montana. It’s also that LA, financially, was killing me. You know, and a lot of people are not willing to do that. I think what I learned is that we talk ourselves out of far more things than we talk ourselves into.

Interesting…

Cliché-ish, but I think it’s true. You know, “I can’t put a solo record together, who the hell would listen to it?” Who’s gonna buy it? Yea, Little Feat fans will buy it. And I certainly want to have Little Feat fans aware that I’m doing it. But I think, in terms of promoting a record like this, to the limited degree that I’ll do it, I want to try and reach the same fans that are Little Feat and beyond Little Feat that don’t know of Little Feat. And say here’s some really interesting music. Gil Morales said it best: “You know what? It doesn’t sound anything like Little Feat, but it sounds a whole lot like you.”

(Both laugh) Well, I guess that’s the point, right?

Well, it is the point. And that’s what I was talking to Paul (Barrere) about yesterday with the Paul and Fred (Tackett) things – which they are, in fact, getting to do. This is their opportunity, within the landscape of Little Feat, to show who they are. What are your influences? What are you developing on the side that maybe hasn’t hit the shores of Little Feat-land yet. I mean, all that stuff is worth pursuing. And it only brings more strength to the band when you come back in. Mainly from your own sense of regenerating your vision, of who you are as a person and an artist.

I’ve heard that a lot from other musicians. The idea of striking out on your own is scary to some. And then they come back to the context of their band, and everything gets better. At least it seems to.

Yea, well I’ve had the opportunity to do it, obviously, for many years, working on other projects. In December, I was so tired after this last tour. We were just beat mentally, physically, just about every way you can imagine. And I had a project with jimmy buffett down in Key West. This country record that he was doing – Sonny Landreth was there, Mac McAnally and Mike Utley were producing it and playing on it. Ralph MacDonald was playing percussion and Tony Brown was there from Nashville, he played some keyboards, too. When I got there, it was like this immediate transformation from being this worn out person to being “this is what I love for.” I wanted, for a long time, to work with Jimmy Buffett. And here’s my opportunity. And this thing, it is gonna shine. And sure enough, I have never heard him sing better. People who hang around him all the time – he’s a good-natured guy – but they said he is just overwhelmed in happiness over this project. So, that’s the way to do it.

I worked with BB King one time, and he said “Man, I’ve been praying for a track like this for a long time. And I think he was talking about the one we did with willie nelson – “The Nightlife.” And I listened to that track a few years ago, one of my neighbors in Montana had it. And you know what? It sounded great. And I was inspired in a way that, obviously I can play. But I don’t play that way with Little Feat. It’s something else. BB King was saying “how do you play all those chords? I wish I could do that.” I said, “Man, you’re the icing on the cake. I’m playing those chords because I’m inspired to play them by what you’re playing and what I hear.”

What a great compliment for you!

It was an exquisite compliment. And again, that’s what’s driven me as a musician for all these years. That’s what took me off the beach.

I was reading a book some years ago about Brahms, a musical biography. And it said, “Brahms heard these footsteps of the giants.” And the giants were Beethoven, Haydn, Bach, and Mozart. You know, every musician, every artist, hears a very similar thing. It nearly stopped him from playing. I thought “I’m glad I never heard Bill Evans when I was a kid.” I never would have stepped forward. It was bad enough listening to Ray Charles and to all these bands and classical figures. All these people you listen to and you go “what the hell am I trying to do here? This is insane.”

Well, you’ve got people saying that about you, too.

Well, sometimes it does happen. And I guess what I’m saying is that having been through it and still going through it, and looking and reading a love biography, and how people deal with that transformation. How do you get from being a certain person and then later a person that people view you as?

I wrote Hunter Thompson once, a pretty lengthy letter. Well, mainly to thank him for a pointing me in the right direction to form a grass-roots organization for Little Feat. It was from the book Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ‘72. Little Feat had played at an event for George McGovern in 1972 in Los Angeles. But I was also writing to him as the guy who, there was a book he wrote that Warren Zevon had a hand in the title, which was The Proud Highway. And Doug Brinkely and Shelby Sadler, who are two people I converse with every now and then. Doug just came out with a book on John Kerry called Tour of Duty. Shelby knows Hunter very very well. So does Doug. In fact, they worked on that book (Fear and Loathing) and that’s how I met Hunter, at least met him to get this letter to him. But I was addressing this letter to him. Not that Hunter isn’t thought of as the wacked-out gonzo guy. But I thought what his letters revealed was what a lot of artists that are vulnerable – that have people judging their work that can’t tie their own shoelaces, that are just starting out on that path. It was a brilliant set of letters. Which, thank God they released them.

I was body-surfing down in Zuma Beach, and I was talking to these two guys and they were sort of an artistic bent. And I said, “Hey man, I’ve got this book in the back of my car, let me bring it down to you.” And I showed them a couple passages, and they were just knocked out. So that was the kind of thing. Hunter, somewhere in his soul, still has that person in there. And I think Shelby was happy that that was the person I was addressing, rather than the other one. Which is the way people normally address him.

That’s nice that you recognize that.

Well I thought it was pretty obvious in that book. But again, Scott. Some things that are obvious to us, in the long run they’re not.

Public perception can really taint. I’ve been talking about this a lot. That people seem to take what is given to them, rather than… you know they came up with that contrived term “thinking outside the box.” Deciding for yourself…

Well, I came up with several different conclusions. One of which is that I think when people actually read something – it also has to do with the way they digest or re-articulate it in their head. But I came up with this line “people read what they want to hear.”

I was talking to somebody last night about John Kerry. And she’s a Republican down in Florida. And she goes “Oh well he just told the Republicans to go to hell the other day.” And I go (laughs) “Really? What are you talking about?” She goes “Well, he was caught off-guard talking about cheating the upper class.” I go, “Oh crooks and liars, yea. Well he wasn’t talking about Republicans. Why the hell would he do that? He wants as many to vote for him as he can. He was talking about the same machinery that accused John McCain of fathering an illegitimate child. The whole party emasculated this guy.” I said “Those are the people he’s referring to, not you. (laughs) Here, let me send you some information.” (laughs)

Isn’t it interesting that that’s what she got out of it? Like she was being attacked.

Well, exactly. I heard someone else that was saying, “Well John Kerry is for gay marriage.” I mean, he’s not, really. It’s one of the few issues – other than Bush wanting to do a new amendment, which is not going to fly, I don’t think. I certainly hope it doesn’t. It’s one of the few areas where they dovetailed to the Senate. These guys going out on the fringes for the most part.

I’m a political person. I mean, one year I actually wrote to the people in the Little Feat Digest. I didn’t tell them who to vote for. I certainly would this time – I’m not going to pull any punches this go-round (laughs). I was simply saying here are some important issues, take a look at them, and make sure you go out and vote. But vote as an informed person. I had people writing me back that “You’re just an artist. Stick to what you do, playing piano and coming up with songs. Forget trying to say anything political. (laughs)

Well come on Bill. Don’t you know? You’re not allowed to be a regular person anymore.

(Laughs) I know. I sat there in shock at first, and then I laughed. Obviously these people didn’t read what I wrote. It wasn’t like I posted “Vote for George McGovern.” Just vote with your conscience. There’s a guy, a pretty big artist, and he’s got a kid. He goes “I don’t like either candidate, I’m not voting for the President.” I said, “You just had a child, right? I’m not going to tell you who to vote for, but you should at least vote for the lesser of two evils. Because that person is going to put some people in the Supreme Court which can directly effect your child, and probably their children afterwards.” He said, “I never thought of it that way.”

You know it’s all about music. I’m not such a rabble-rouser like Bonnie Raitt, or some of those people.

But thankfully we have those people too.

I think so, I think it takes all kinds of people. I think Bill Maher said it best. He had Ralph Nader on and he told Ralph “Last time, Ralph, I voted for you. But this time, I don’t have the luxury of letting my conscience vote for me.” I thought, what a great way of looking at it. And I don’t agree with that guy on a lot of things.

That certainly makes some sense, though… It says a lot.

That one made perfect sense. I thought, “That’s the way it is.” It’s all important stuff. Particularly in the arts – we deal with the reflection of what society is. And the kind of chaos that’s building every day on this planet is going to create some extraordinary artists.

Hmmm. I certainly hope so…

I think it’s a given. I don’t think it’s reflected, or it can’t be, in the current atmosphere that we have in the United States – probably worldwide. I mean, in terms of the spotlight. I mean, I have zero problem with people creating shows that showcase artists that are not created from nothing – they bring something to the table. But it’s manufactured. These people aren’t writing their songs, it’s written for them. If the only thing the people wrote were blues songs and they were up there singing 10 blues songs in a row and you had to choose the best one of the lot. Well, this is all pop music, and some of these people have pretty extraordinary voices. I don’t sit down and watch these shows, but you can’t avoid it. If you turn on a television, you’re going to hear or see a person singing a snippet and go “well, what the hell is that?” On Oprah or something. You can’t escape it, and that’s cool.

Those aren’t the artists I’m talking about. People that were like Frank Zappa, The Fugs, Glenn Gould, and people that spring out of nowhere with an interesting vision. The Hunter Thompsons, the Allen Ginsbergs, those people are always there. You know, what I call “under the radar.” But they’re not under the radar to everybody.

You know Little Feat is on that list…

Well I think it definitely is on that list. And has been forever. And should remain there. People go, “well, aren’t you upset that you weren’t brought into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame?” No man. We’re still a viable band. We’re still creating and doing stuff.

Well first, Jackson Browne for that matter. The fact that Shaun (Murphy) was back there for the induction and she said one of the first bands that he mentioned when he accepted his award was Lowell George and Little Feat. And I thought it proper that he put Lowell – rather than say Little Feat – that he put Lowell first. Because Lowell was one of the first guys he met. And he and Lowell were very very tight. And I was honored that he mentioned Little Feat, too. I mean, that part of it… I don’t know if it will ever happen. If it does, great. If it doesn’t then, all you can do is what you do. Go out there and play and touch people. And more importantly that people effect us.

I mean our lives are – at least for myself, Scott – I guess I’m about spoke out here. But my life is so much richer for having connected with our fanbase. And with people that are very very good friends now, that have come up as a result of initially being fans. But we are dealing with each other on a much deeper level than I’m the artist in the back room and I’ll shake your hand after the gig. And a lot of people don’t leave themselves open to that. Maybe they don’t need more friends (laughs). Maybe it’s too chaotic. There are a whole lot of reasons, which I can certainly understand. You know we weren’t a household word. And people that I met continue to come into the ranks of the Little Feat network. And it’s been an amazing journey the last 6 years, not to mention the last 30. So, it’s all these chapters that are beginning to take shape in my mind. And I hope I can articulate them before the essence of what it all means gets too terribly clouded.

Well, I mean it’s certainly a treasure that you guys are forging on the way you are, creating new, good, viable music.

I tell you what, man. It’s the influences with our fans and with groups like Leftover Salmon. I just produced a record for them last year. And it’s coming out next week. Guys like Kyle Hollingsworth who works with string cheese. Obviously with Phil Lesh. Bobby Weir sat in with us at a concert. Sonny Landreth, Monte Montgomery, Stephen Bruton – there are so many people on the horizon. Jimmy Buffett, it looks like we’re going to be doing something with him.

Some of it was kind of like what happened with the fanbase. You simply put yourself out there and ask people something and you get a response. And if you don’t ask, there’s too many things going on in life that you could sit there and feel like everybody’s ignoring you. Well it’s not that. They just got their lives, too. But take the time, if you need people, or you want to enrich your life. Go out there and start meeting people and go out of your circle of friends and influences. The influences definitely come in. Some people say, “Well yea, you’re a guy people want to meet.” Well, read some books and talk with other people who read books.

What I told my son and his friends, it sounds simple, and at the root of it, it really is, it’s all about how involved in life you are. Being involved takes you a whole lot of places. If you sit on the sidelines and continually talk yourself out of doing it.

Do whatever you want, but just do it, right?

Well, yea, it’s kind of like that. But do it with a purpose. You have to begin with the questions. But the fact that you’re involved will promote the questions. I feel blessed being with this band and being able to put myself in the position of doing some things I thought maybe I’d never do, or I wasn’t sure how to do. And I’ve finally come to a place where I can share at least some thoughts on how I’ve gone about doing it. And maybe it will be inspirational to others sitting there going “I’ll never get on that television show with those 3 people telling me I suck.” (laughs) There’s a lot of different ways to put your work out there.

Scott Caffrey
JamBase | New Jersey
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[Published on: 5/28/04]

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