Little Feat: Time Loves A Hero (Relix Revisited)
Today, in the wake of drummer Richie Hayward’s passing due to liver cancer, we offer up this piece from the Relix archives, which originally ran in April 1989.
They weren’t looking for a reunion. It just happened. That’s the way Paul Barrere puts it when recalling the events that led to the revival of one of the hottest bands of the ‘70s, Little Feat.
When the band split up in ’79, after Lowell’s death, we never thought this would happen, getting back together,” he says during the recent debut tour of the new Little Feat.
Lowell, of course, was Lowell George, who founded Little Feat in 1969 after leaving Frank Zappa’s Mother of Invention. George is generally credited as being the chief creative force within the original Feat, his quirky songs, funky rhythms and sneaky slide guitar lines having provided much of the band’s character. It was no wonder that the others thought they wouldn’t go n without him. So when George died of a heart attack during his first solo tour in 1979, the others packed it in and Little Feat went walking into the history books. It took nearly another decade before they realized what many of their fans already knew: Little Feat could exist as a band even without Lowell George. And they could still be great.
The reunion came about following a jam session which included the five surviving original members: guitarist/vocalist Barrere, keyboardist Billy Payne, bassist Ken Gradney (Bobby & the Midnites), drummer Richie Hayward and percussionist Sam Clayton. They’d been invited to perform at the opening of a rehearsal studio in L.A., one of whose rooms had been dedicated to George and included several choice items of Feat memorabilia. All five made it down, had a great time and…nope, you’re jumping ahead.
“It really was the farthest thing from our minds,” says Barrere about any thoughts of reforming the band that may have crossed their minds that night. “We didn’t walk away from that [jam] thinking, okay, this is what’s happening, we’re gonna put the band back together. But what that did was show everybody that we could still play together, that there’s still an energy there that’s unlike any other band.”
Energy is as good a word as any to describe Little Feat’s particular magic. Combining the blues with a New Orleans rhythm, acidified lyrical scenarios with good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll, a bit o’ country with an uncanny knack for taking a jam to stellar heights. Little Feat was an organic oasis in the processed, slick ‘70s. Falling somewhere between the Dead and the southern-fried blues-rock of Lynyrd Skynyrd and their like, the Feats were proof that there’d always be a place for world-class musicianship. Live, there were very few that could beat them, and although some of their records were flawed, all are still quite listenable today. And now, with the release last summer of Let It Roll (Warner Brothers), there’s a new slab of vinyl offering assurance that their decision to reform wasn’t a wrong one.
Some time after that 1987 jam session, it began to occur to the members of Little Feat individually that yes, getting together on a more permanent basis was an idea whose time had come. The surviving five each agreed to do it, and set about looking for new members to fill Lowell George’s considerably large shoes—even if the band was named for a set of peds that markedly offset his bulky frame.
The first man recruited for the job was Fred Tackett, a guitarist who was no stranger to the band, having worked with them on the Time Loves A Hero and Down On The Farm albums in the late ‘70s. The big question was who could possibly stand in George’s place, who could sing for Little Feat? The band considered big-name friends like Bonnie Raitt and Robert Palmer, both of whom go way back with them. But that was an unreasonable idea, as both had thriving careers of their own and couldn’t commit to a full-time gig with Little Feat even if they were interested.
Auditions were held but none of the contestants were right. Finally, Craig Fuller asked to try out. A One-time member of Pure Prairie League, Fuller had met Little Feat in 1978 when, as part of the Fuller-Kaz Band (with Eric Kaz), he opened for them on tour. Fuller had even written a song with Paul Barrere at the time, “Hate to Lose Your Lovin’,” which finally surfaced as the single on last year’s reunion album.
When Fuller came down to audition, however, most of the band members hadn’t even heard him sing, so they were skeptical. Once he opened his mouth, though, there was no doubt about it: this guy was the new Little Feat vocalist. Fuller snag enough like Lowell George that Bill Payne called it “eerie,” yet he had his own distinctive style as well.
Barrere remembers being unsure whether the others in the band would choose to hire Fuller. “The other guys in the band had to vote on whether he could be in the band or not, and the first couple of rehearsals you could see tears in their eyes. It was frightening. The first couple of times we played there were some old roadies and friends and they were spooked.”
Bill Payne was one who liked him, but it wasn’t until after the band told Fuller he was in that Payne realized some of the band’s fans might question their motives in signing on a singer who could be accused of being a Lowell George imitator. “It didn’t really dawn on me till later,” he says. “I’m kind of slow at some things. I guess for some people it doesn’t work but they’re small in number.”
Indeed. The excellent sales of Let It Roll and the sell-out crowds throughout the tour eased the band’s mind considerably. If there was anyone who didn’t think Craig Fuller belonged in Little Feat, they weren’t very vocal about it. Most of their older fans, it would seem, were glad to have them back and rocking in any form. The fact that they turned out to still have everything they had in the old days was a genuine plus. Another was that Little Feat was attracting a whole new audience made up of younger fans who missed them the first time around. Payne and Barrere believed that a good part of that crowd is comprised of Deadheads who’d heard about Feat but never got to experience them live.
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