Checking Up On Little Feat’s Paul Barrere
Words by: Andrew Wetzler
Images by: Jay Skolnick
I had the honor of sitting down with Paul Barrere, a member of Little Feat since 1972 prior to his shows this past weekend with Fred Tackett, Ron Holloway and The New Orleans Suspects at The Funky Biscuit in Boca Raton, Florida. The shows were part of the 5th annual Biscuit Fest.
JamBase: First and foremost, how are you feeling? [Ed. Note: Barrere is currently undergoing treatment for liver cancer.]
Paul Barrere: Um, tired. More than anything else, the tiredness of the medication and the tumor and all that kind of stuff just gets to me. There’s been no new growth in the tumor, so. It’s almost a year now.
JamBase: What kind of protocol are you on in terms of treatment?
PB: Well, they did this thing called Y-90, which is really Yttrium 90. They put it directly into the liver and it’s like a radiation kind of thing. And then they added this chemo drug, this pill. But it’s not a heavy dose of chemo. But it kind of messes with my stomach, but it makes me more tired than anything else.
JamBase: Well, I’m so thrilled that you’re here. So it’s 1981– I’m at Tulane and Chicken Legs is playing at Tipitina’s with The Radiators opening for you guys.
JamBase: Is that early connection in any way part of the genesis of working with The New Orleans Suspects? And how did all that come together?
PB: It happened we had the same booking agency, so we were hired — we got hired to do a gig in 2013 down here, somewhere outside of Fort Lauderdale. And I knew Reggie (Scanlon) and I knew Willie (Green). I didn’t know the rest of the guys. But once we hooked up it was like perfect, it was easy. You know? Same mindset, if you will. And so, throughout the year, we’ll probably do a half-dozen gigs together, which is great.
JamBase: After Lowell (George) passed away I had this vision that Dave Malone (The Radiators) could walk in and play that role, which obviously never happened. Any thoughts on that?
PB: Well, that’s an interesting thought, you know? We tossed a lot of names around at that point and Dave’s never came up. I probably should’ve thought about that, because he’s definitely got the voice. You know? He’s a cool guitar player. But we weren’t looking really for a guitar player because we had Fred and myself. So we were looking at vocalists more than anything else.
Well, first we ended up with Craig (Fuller). And he just, you know, he heard that we were looking and he learned a couple of songs, came in. Both Billy (Payne) and myself had written songs with Craig so we knew that that aspect was cool. And he sounded so good with us that it was just like kind of made in heaven. And he’s not really a guitar player other than an acoustic guitar player, so it was great for like “Willin'” and things like that. And then when he decided to leave, we were making — I can’t remember which record it was, maybe Shake Me Up — and then we brought Shaun (Murphy) in to sing some back-up vocals. And she sounded great and we thought, “Well, let’s get her to get in and sing with the band.” She lasted with us a long time and sang great. And she’s doing really well now from what I hear. She’s got a blues band out in Nashville.
JamBase: Was there ever any talk of Lowell’s daughter (Inara George) joining the band?
PB: No, no. See, her style is so different than — than her dad’s and — she is, she is just the sweetest girl I know. And she’s got her own thing. I mean, she’s just really got her own thing. Although when she did all those Hall & Oates songs, I think if Lowell were alive he probably would’ve gone, “What are you doing?”
JamBase: So I grew up in Baltimore.
PB: And you got out?
JamBase: I left 21 years ago actually. And I know that Feats Don’t Fail Me Now was recorded in Baltimore and there’s a whole lot of history of the record studio that sank and all that stuff.
JamBase: Anything you can share on that?
PB: Towson, Maryland. We had just come back from a tour and, as we usually did when we get back from a tour, we broke up. And then our managers also managed The Lovin’ Spoonful, and they heard that the bass player, Steve Boone had a studio that he built in an industrial park in Hunt Valley, and it had this board that George Massenburg built, which was his first parametric equalization that kind of, you know, really hot shit board. And so we got the studio on a buyout for three months, you know, for less than what we would pay a week in L.A.
So we all just, packed up and moved there and recorded that album. We did some of (Robert Palmer’s) Pressure Drop. Lowell recorded The Seldom Scene with Emmylou (Harris) and Paul Craft. And it was, it was like having your own studio anytime you wanted to. So it was really cool. And, you know, we’d get up whenever we planned on hooking up together, usually around one or two in the afternoon. And we’d just get in there and start playing and it was — we felt no pressure, it was nice and easy.
JamBase: But if the studio was in Hunt Valley how did it sink?
PB: Well, when they got kicked out of the industrial park — they went downtown, put the stuff on a barge in the harbor. And it was the barge that sunk.
JamBase: I also enjoyed Catfish Hodge and you guys together at The 8×10 in Baltimore. What are your recollections of that and do you ever keep in touch with him?
PB: Oh, yeah. We exchange emails and stuff, we have a phone call every now and then. He’s living up outside Chicago now. And, you know, Fish and I kind of threw that thing together and it grew into the Bluesbusters. But we initially did it because the Olympics were going to be in L.A. in 1984 and we thought, “Hey, let’s just take a couple of guitars and go up to I-95 and go honky-tonking,” you know? So we got this booking agent who booked us like 40 gigs — out of which maybe 15 were real. So it was like we were just travelling up and down and playing all these places. We played a club in — it was like an Italian restaurant in Staten Island. And the sound system was this little, tiny mixing console on stage. Mix yourself kind of thing. Well, I thought, “This is interesting.”
Well, it grew into the Bluesbusters. We started playing this place in L.A. It was actually in Hermosa Beach called The Lighthouse. Famous for jazz records, yeah. And we would go down there and play a duet. And there was this band that Freebo (Daniel Friedberg) was in, so he’d come down early and he’d sit-in with us and stuff. And then we thought, “Let’s get this drummer friend of ours, Larry Zach,” and he started to play with us. And then T. Lavitz and I were good friends from when I toured with my own band and had the (Dixie) Dregs, rhythm section. And so it was — it just kind of grew into that. We made a couple of records. We had some fun. And then right as that thing was starting to get bigger and bigger we decided to put Feat back together. And I felt bad, you know, leaving the Bluesbusters and all. But it was like, now I got to go do the Feat.
JamBase: So, speaking of bad sound systems and weird environments, what about when you played the putting green at a PGA event in the rain?
PB: Oh, geez.
JamBase: That was just — I felt terrible for you guys.
PB: That sound company had no clue as to what they were doing. I mean, they didn’t even ground the stage.
PB: All I wanted to do was play the golf course.
JamBase: And did you?
PB: The next day.
JamBase: What do you listen to these days?
PB: Oh, gosh. I’m listening to — well, right now I’m brushing up on a lot of Dead songs to do these Dead Feat shows that Fred and I do with Anders (Osborne) down in New Orleans. But there’s, man, there’s all kinds of good stuff out there. It’s funny when you have kids — they’re like in their early 20s, and I’ve got a daughter that’s also 18 — because they’re throwing names at me and I’ve never heard of these people, you know? And they’ll play me some stuff and I go, “Oh, that’s cool.” But as far as new stuff, I don’t really seek it out a whole lot, other than like on production levels and stuff.
There was that song that Adele did, “Rolling In The Deep,” which production-wise was just like unbelievable. I mean, that’s a thing that was produced really well. And she’s got a great voice. But I really don’t seek out stuff, you know? Maybe just a cut here, a cut there. So I kind of go back to my old standbys. I mean, I got — I got four or five playlists on here [points to his phone] that go from Al Green to — oh, God — Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, early Dylan … You know, just old standbys.
JamBase: What are your thoughts on Bill Payne playing with The Doobies?
PB: I think that’s great for him. Because I’m not physically able to do Little Feat on a consistent basis, so I’m glad to see that he’s, you know, he wants to work. He loves being on the road. I’m at the point now where it just takes it out of me.
JamBase: It’s hard when you’re feeling well?
PB: Yeah, it is. It’s hard when you’re feeling well. So when you’re not feeling well, you know, the playing aspect kind of makes you feel good, but you pay for it the next day.
JamBase: So you have a handful of Little Feat shows set for later this year.
PB: September, yeah.
JamBase: What’s the bigger picture, if there is one?
PB: Just do those shows and then go do Jamaica again in January. But there’s no real thinking about, you know, putting the band back together. I mean, if there’s somebody who wants to throw a whole lot of money to us to go do a festival, then we probably make it into another three-day run.
That’s pretty much how we came up with the last year. And it worked out so well, they put something together for this year. You know, managers and booking agents, they want you to work, but it’s like a double-edge sword because there’s so many old bands out there and I’d hate to be the kind that went out and just played the hits and played them exactly like it is on the record.
People were raving about Dave Gilmour’s shows that he did in L.A. recently, very innovative, new twists on songs and stuff. So, I mean, if you can do that then that’s one of the things that Little Feat did — one of our strengths. Night to night, we don’t know the tempo from one song to another.
JamBase: Do you think there were times when the band sort of fell into that mode or no?
PB: We were — yeah, we were trying to do 25-song sets and stuff and it was like, “Okay, we’re playing it like it is on the record,” you know? There’s room in here to have some fun.
JamBase: It struck me that this was the case right before Richie (Hayward) passed away. Little Feat played in Fort Lauderdale and it just seemed that maybe it’s because of his health at the time that it was like, “Let’s get through the show.”
PB: Yeah. And that’s, you know, I mean, Richie was such a force behind the drums and so forth. And, you know, if he’s not feeling well, well, it’s going to take it out on the whole set. The rest of us, we can cover for each other. There’s no covering at drums.
JamBase: You live in L.A.?
JamBase: What’s L.A. like these days musically?
PB: Well, there’s a few little pockets where you can go see some music. But for the most part, unless you’re the big, big names and you’re playing the big, big venues — it’s pretty strange, although there are a lot of new places opening downtown. I went and saw Anders at a place downtown. I can’t remember the name of it, but it was very cool. It was like this little old theater, you know, off of Grand Street. And I thought, “Wow, this is cool.” I’m glad to see this is happening.
JamBase: That’s all my questions.
PB: Thanks, brother. I’m gonna eat some gumbo.