One of rock’s greatest improvisational bands, Little Feat regrouped in the eighties after disbanding for a short interval in the wake of the death of founder and titular leader Lowell George.
Little Feat have since nurtured their fanbase and watched it expand as their open-ended approach to making music found favor with the jamband audience. Little Feat have not only maintained a recognizable style over the years, but also injected further credibility into their own legacy by working increasingly independently to introduce a series of archive recordings as well as their own record label.
The latest fruit of their labors is Join the Band
(named after a tune the group once use to harmonize upon at the opening of their shows). A collection of Feats originals and covers, a panoply of guests appear, ranging from instrumental wizards like Sam Bush and Bela Fleck to redoubtable vocalists including Emmylou Harris, Bob Seger and Chris Robinson, The new album should appeal to long-time fans of the band and those of more recent ilk whose curiosity will no doubt be piqued to see jam icon Dave Mathews as a featured performer alongside contemporary country stars Brooks and Dunn.
Little Feat’s Richie Hayward
took a few moments to discuss Join The Band
as well as other activities with which he fills his time personally and professionally. It was a conversation as good natured and unhurried as the music of the group for which he is drummer and founding member.I was excited to be able to talk to you because I am really enjoying the new Little Feat album Join the Band.
I’m glad you like it!
I wanted to talk about that, but I want to talk about you for a minute if you don’t mind. I know how busy Little Feat are, but I wanted to ask what you do when you’re not on the road and not recording? Do you have solo things going on? Do you still do sessions?
I do some sessions now and then and there’s a little band at home and we play gigs occasionally: it’s a bunch of friends. But usually I like to hang out with my family.That must feel pretty good after a lot of years on the road all the time. I have a friend who’s a drummer who wanted to make sure I tell you what a fan he is; he actually saw you three or four years ago when you were on the road with Bob Dylan: how did that experience come about and how did you find playing on the road with Dylan?
Playing with Dylan was wonderful. I’m a huge fan of Dylan so the chance to play with him was exceptionally good—it was really really cool!How did that arrangement to go on the road with him come about?
I guess he wanted to try two drummers for awhile and he called Jim Keltner and he couldn’t do it and Keltner recommended me, so (Dylan) called me.That‘s pretty high compliment to have Jim Keltner give you a vote of confidence!
Yeah that was very cool. I appreciated it very muchI understand Dylan can be pretty challenging to play with live because he changes up arrangements and calls out songs not everybody may be familiar with. Did any kind of stuff like that happen when you were with him?
Oh yeah…It was “on your toes!” I kept some of the setlists because they were all such great songs---one right after the other.Speaking of great songs, that’s what initially impressed me when I first listened to Join the Band: how great the Little Feat tunes like “Fat Man in the Bathtub” and “Sailin’ Shoes” sound after all these years. Can you tell me how the selection of songs actually came about?
I don’t remember it being like a sit-down meeting. We were just in the studio suggesting songs. Mainly Bill (Payne, Little Feat keyboardist) and Paul (Barrere, Little Feat guitarist/vocalist/songwriter) were the ones who had the plan and there were some songs that were suggested and tried that we didn’t use.Bill gave a pretty detailed account of how the project actually came about (see liner notes to album) with Jimmy Buffett’s support etc. I’m interested not only in how the song selection came about but how the participants in the project got invited and how the final lineup evolved.
We talked to a few of them like Dave Matthews and Bob Seger and a few others and said, “We’re going to do this (project), would you be interested?” When they said yes, we kind of picked some songs and designed them around what we thought they might do.
We figured it wouldn’t be so clever to just go out and re-record them the same way we did before. We tried to reinterpret them a little bit.“Sailin’ Shoes” is a great example of that. I love how Emmylou Harris sings the first part so slow and laid-back, but then it vaults into this bluegrass hoedown with Bela Fleck and Sam Bush going crazy on it. Was that prearranged?
That was Sam Bush’s arrangement. He kind of took parts of Robert Palmer’s arrangement (from Sneakin’ Sally through the Alley) and then added the hoedown in and that’s what it turned out to be.When you contacted people like Bob Seger and Dave Matthews to participate, did they suggest songs that they wanted to do?
I don’t think so, Bob doesn’t even do a Little Feat song, it’s someone else’s.But it sounds like a Bob Seger song with you guys playing Chuck Berry riffs and throttling right along. Did he bring that in himself?
No, (Mac) McAnally (co-producer of Join the Band) brought that in.How much input did MacAnally have in the whole project?
It was pretty subtle, but I think it was quite a bit, not a lot of it in post-production, but in the tracking.Dave Mathews does a great job on “Fat Man in the Bathtub.” I’m not crazy about his voice usually, but the vocal he did on that song is absolutely terrific. Did artists like Dave or any other the others do different songs, than you guys picked one that particularly shone?
No, that was the only song Dave got and that was the only song Bob got. Everybody got just one song. Chris Robinson (of the Black Crowes) got the (“Oh) Atlanta” one because he’s a Georgia boy.
I wanted to ask about the Little Feat appearance later in September at the Bill Clinton Presidential Center. You must be pretty excited about that. How did that come about?
Well, we’re pretty-dyed-in-the-wool Democrats in this band (laughs). We played both his inaugurations.Did you really? That must’ve been sweet! Did you hear about the possibility the remaining members of the Grateful Dead are going to get together and do a benefit for Obama? The suggestion is that, if this event goes well, there will be a tour next spring with those guys and perhaps some other musicians involved.
I hope they call us!What have you got planned for the rest of the fall?
The record’s only been out for a few days, so it’s a blank slate right nowHave you gotten pretty good response to it?
What I’ve seen is the reviews have all been pretty good, which could be the kiss of death (laughs).You guys have a really great website by the way: it’s full of great features and it’s easy to navigate. You seem to have worked your way quite easily into the jamband scene and the younger audiences seemed really open to you.
Back in the Seventies, we used to jam all the time…before there was that term “jam band.”It must feel great for you guys, having done that back then --and all the time for that matter—and finding younger audiences respond to that.
That is true. When we played Bonnaroo this year, we got a much better response than we expected. It was really good!MORE LITTLE FEAT!!!!
Head on over to Glide's Hidden Track
for an exclusive interview with Little Feat keyboard wizard, session legend and founding member Bill Payne