Little Feat Guitarist Paul Barrere 1948 – 2019
Little Feat guitarist Paul Barerre has died due to complications from medical issues. Barrere’s Little Feat band mates confirmed the news in a statement posted on the group’s website. Paul joined the legendary rock band in 1972, three years after he failed an audition to become Little Feat’s founding bassist. He was a member ever since and either wrote or co-wrote such beloved compositions as “All That You Dream,” “Old Folks Boogie,” “Time Loves A Hero” and “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now.” Earlier this month, Barrere wrote a note to fans explaining his decision to forego the band’s fall leg of their 50th Anniversary Tour – which concludes with shows on Saturday in Huntington, New York and Sunday in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania – due to complications from liver disease.
Paul Barrere was born in Burbank, California on July 3, 1948. The guitarist attended high school with Lowell George, a musician who would soon go on to perform with Frank Zappa’s Mothers Of Invention. George left Zappa’s employ to form his own group in 1969 with keyboardist Bill Payne, another Mother, Roy Estrada and drummer Richie Hayward, who was a member of Lowell’s past band, The Factory. The band known as Little Feat, purportedly named for a comment Mothers Of Invention drummer Jimmy Carl Black made of George’s “little feet” put out an eponymous album in 1971 and followed with Sailin’ Shoes.
The band blew up before entering the studio for their third album and out of the ashes a new Little Feat lineup formed. George, Payne and Hayward recruited Lowell’s old pal Paul Barrere as a second guitarist, swapped in Kenny Gradney for Estrada and added percussionist Sam Clayton. Little Feat changed not just their lineup but their music as well thanks in big part to Barrere’s contributions and the sextet remained intact through mere weeks before George’s tragic death in 1979.
“Sooner or later, every committed rock ‘n’ roller finds his or her way to Little Feat, which has been described as everything from ‘bluesadelic’ to ‘funky Americana,’ and all of which really means an eclectic bunch of styles that long ago melded together in a bluesy, boogieing, baked-smile stew. Their influence is wide — not least on Phish, moe. and many other stalwarts of the jam scene.”
The above was written by JamBase contributing writer Chad Berndtson in the intro for what turned out to be one of Paul Barrere’s last interviews. Little Feat are a musician’s band that has counted Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, The Allman Brothers Band, the Grateful Dead, Jimmy Page (“my favorite American group,” he told Rolling Stone in 1973) and The Rolling Stones as fans.
Phish appreciated the band’s music so much they covered Waiting For Columbus, Little Feat’s 1978 live album, on Halloween 2010 in Atlantic City. The Playbill given to Phish fans for one of just three albums by other artists the band has covered in the past 20 years was filled with quotes from the members of the group praising Little Feat such as guitarist Trey Anastasio revealing “We were playing Little Feat by week two” and Mike Gordon adding, “Little Feat were a big influence, since the beginning of Phish I want people to know that.”
Barrere and the other surviving members of Little Feat finished work on Down On The Farm following George’s death and then focused on solo endeavors as part of a career in which Paul recorded and performed with such luminaries Jack Bruce, Robert Palmer, Carly Simon, Helen Watson, Taj Mahal and Eikichi Yazawa. In 1987, the surviving members of Little Feat put the band back together and recruited Craig Fuller and Fred Tackett to join. Little Feat released Let It Roll in 1988, a studio album which actually scored the band a hit. The group also returned to the road and have toured and recorded ever since. Barrere also took part in a number of 1999 and 2000 Phil Lesh & Friends tours.
Health issues continued to be a problem for Little Feat as Richie Hayward died in 2010 and Barrere was diagnosed with Hepatitis C in 1994. Little Feat toured without Paul for a full year in 2013 so Barrere could focus on his health. Two years later the guitarist confirmed he had been diagnosed with liver cancer. “I went through the whole Hep C thing, got through that, and then came cancer. My doctor was very funny, actually, he said, ‘You’ve beat the little c, now you’ve got the big C,'” Barrere told JamBase earlier this year. “I’ve been treated twice now with radio embolisms, which are so un-invasive it only takes me about a week to rebound. But with all of that going on, any long-term plans have been kind of hard to set up, and to mobilize the whole band to do much beyond some weekend runs has been close to impossible.”
However, Little Feat wanted to celebrate their 50th anniversary this year and decided to embark on two multi-week tours. Barrere came through the first but didn’t make it to the stage for the second. “My last scan showed another little spot they’re going to zap. They use high-frequency microwaves, so this is the third one they’re going to zap, and that’ll put me out of the game for about a week,” Paul explained earlier this year. “But there’s no chemo, no radiation, they do it and they tell me I’m good to go. Hey man, I get up in the morning, I read the obituaries, and if I’m not in them? I’ll make myself a coffee. [laughs]” Paul Barrere was 71.
Read a note from the band posted on LittleFeat.net:
It is with great sorrow that Little Feat must announce the passing of our brother guitarist, Paul Barrere, this morning at UCLA Hospital. We ask for your kindest thoughts and best wishes to go out especially to his widow Pam and children Gabriel, Genevieve, and Gillian, and to all the fans who were his extended family.
Paul auditioned for Little Feat as a bassist when it was first being put together—in his words, “as a bassist I make an excellent guitarist”—and three years later joined the band in his proper role on guitar. Forty-seven years later, he was forced to miss the current tour, which will end tomorrow, due to side effects from his ongoing treatment for liver disease.
He promised to follow his doctor’s orders, get back in shape, and rock on the beach at the band’s annual gathering in Jamaica in January 2020. “Until then,” he wrote, “keep your sailin’ shoes close by…if I have my way, you’re going to need them!”
As the song he sang so many times put it, he was always “Willin’,” but it was not meant to be. Paul, sail on to the next place in your journey with our abiding love for a life always dedicated to the muse and the music. We are grateful for the time we have shared.
Yours in music,
Little Feat: Bill Payne, Sam Clayton, Fred Tackett, Kenny Gradney, and Gabe Ford