After co-founder Lowell George left the band Paul Barrere became co-leader of Little Feat with keyboardist Bill Payne. A lifelong fan of New Orleans music, Barrere often plays with Louisiana musicians, and his slide guitar work has a rhythmic subtlety and sophisticated funk that reflects his New Orleans influences. Little Feat’s latest album, Rooster Rag, features some of Barrere’s most inspired playing. It’s the first album the band has recorded since the death of original drummer Richie Hayward.
You wrote the song “Just a Fever” with the late Stephen Bruton.
Stephen and I hooked up years ago. We were playing in Austin and we went to an AA meeting together, back in the days when I was still going to meetings. So here we are years later, still sober individuals and glad of it and so forth. We had a conversation that went sort of like this: “Why is it that aging musicians, whenever they have a conversation, it turns into an organ recital? So we decided, let’s write a song about rock and roll that describes the pitfalls of it while at the same time being locked into it. And how can we fit the term ‘delirium tremens’ into it?” We had this concept musically and lyrically and we just kind of toggled it off together. We use the fever as a metaphor for substance abuse. I really enjoyed Stephen and working with him, he was such a gentle person.
I’ve known the Rads forever. I think the first time I met them was when Catfish Hodge and I were bumming around as the Bluesbusters. We did shows with the Radiators. Dave Malone and I, I think we’re brothers from another mother. We always hit it off pretty well. I’m a big fan of so many of the New Orleans musicians. The music scene in New Orleans is mind blowing to me when I come down to do my little things for Jazz Fest. Those cats do three, four gigs a day. They go from one gig to another. Eric Bolivar has been playing with Anders Osborne these last couple of years, Fred and I come down to do a thing with Anders. He’s always running off after our gig to do another gig. Then he’s got another one coming up at 5 a.m. Where do you guys get the stamina to do this?
When you joined Little Feat the story goes that the band turned in a direction more towards New Orleans music. Does that ring true to you?
Little Feat before myself and Sam (Clayton) and Kenny (Gradney) were very cerebral. If you listen to the first two records there’s some incredibly diverse music on there. But the one thing that they didn’t do really, really well… I hate to bust ‘em on this, but they didn’t boogie. When you listen to the original “Tripe Face Boogie” it sounds pretty stiff. I think what happened when Sam and Kenny and I joined was we brought in some funk. It just got a little more soulful, and I think they all appreciated that.
Had you been listening to the Meters?
I’d been listening to just rock ‘n’ roll. I was always an enormous fan of Fats Domino. Little Richard was my favorite. When I was 11 years old and I heard “Tutti Frutti” on the radio I grabbed a dollar out of my little cigar box stash money, went down to the corner, got on a bus at Sunset Boulevard, went down to Sunset and Vine to Wallach’s Music City, found the 78, got it, and got on the bus back home. Got a pretty good ass whipping from my dad for taking off like that but I had “Tutti Frutti” and “Slippin’ and Slidin’ on 78. That was the first record I ever bought. I said this is the shit! If you can sit still while listenin’ to this kind of stuff with that drum beat…
Well you know those records were recorded in New Orleans with New Orleans musicians.
Absolutely. When I finally started getting serious with the guitar and I was really into the blues, it just kind of took me to New Orleans where a lot of that stuff happened. Before that, when I was even younger, my father was such a huge fan of Louis Armstrong we’d be listening to Satch on the Victrola all the time. How can somebody be that funky?
So Louis Armstrong taught you lessons about phrasing and rhythm even before you began playing?
I can hear that in your playing.
I have my parents to thank for that.
When you come to town who do you want to sit in with you?
We always ask John Gros to come sit in with us. And whatever guitar players are around. It’s funny they have this thing down in Virginia called the Bayou Boogaloo, down toward Norfolk, where we met Trombone Shorty — who’s a great guitar player, by the way, in addition to his trombone playing. Hopefully Bonerama might show up. We were playing somewhere out in Montana with them and the generator went out in the middle of our set. We were playing some kind of funky thing so Dave just kept playing his funky beat and Fred was playing his trombone, and the next thing I know all the cats from Bonerama are up there on stage with their horns and they’re blowing with Fred, then they started doing a second line through the audience. People were going wild.