Little Feat veterans Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett to headline Adams Avenue Unplugged, eight months before their band turns 50 (2024)

If Little Feat could have turned the praise of other musicians into gold, the members of this near-legendary, almost-famous Los Angeles band might have put the contents of Fort Knox to shame.

During their heyday in the 1970s, Mick Jagger hailed Little Feat as the best band in America. Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page declared them the best rock band in the world.

“Even though we’re not rock stars, at least we never had to wear Spandex!” quipped Paul Barrere, who on Saturday headlines the 2018 Adams Avenue Unplugged festival with fellow Little Feat guitarist and singer Fred Tackett. “The music lives on.”

That it does, in an array of ways.

Little Feat’s 1973 song, “Fool Yourself,” has been sampled on more than 80 recordings, including by Alicia Keys, Tupac Shakur, Sade and A Tribe Called Quest.

Garth Brooks recorded Little Feat’s rollicking “Dixie Chicken,” the song that gave the Dixie Chicks their name. Van Halen recorded Little Feat’s “Apolitical Blues.” Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris sang on the band’s 1974 album, “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now,” and joined them in concert to do backing vocals.

So did Robert Palmer, for an entire tour. Along with Raitt, Palmer was one of the leading contenders to be Little Feat’s new lead singer when the band reunited in 1987 after an eight-year hiatus. Little Feat guitarist and singer Lowell George was prominently featured on Palmer’s 1974 debut solo album.

“I think Robert toyed with the idea,” Barrere said. “Then he realized that stepping into those shoes was probably not as good as filling his own, which were starting to grow exponentially.” .

Linda Ronstadt, briefly the paramour of of George, lovingly recorded several of the group’s songs, including “All That You Dream,” “Roll Um Easy” and “Willlin’.” A classic ode to long-haul truck drivers, “Willin’ ” was also recorded by The Byrds, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Jackson Browne and — shortly before his 2017 death — Gregg Allman.

Little Feat broke up and regrouped several times prior to the the drug-fueled death of George in 1979, just hours after his 34th birthday. Acclaim had been plentiful, but fame was always just out of reach for the band, which reunited in 1987 and has continued with varying lineups ever since.

“It was a double-edged sword,” acknowledged Barrere, who joined Little Feat in 1972. “But there’s an enormous sense of pride in being held in high esteem by so many musicians. It was always a nice merit badge.”

The 2008 Little Feat album, “Join the Band,” features guest performances by a slew of the group’s high-profile admirers, including Harris, Bob Seger, Brad Paisley, Jimmy Buffett, Vince Gil, and Brooks and Dunn.

Tackett joined Little Feat in 1987, a decade after playing on 1977’s “Time Loves a Hero,” the second to last album released by the band before George’s death. The group’s sinuous blend of intensely syncopated blues, rock, country, funk and New Orleans-styled R&B remains a singular treat.

Little Feat will play a series of concerts this summer. The band will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year by doing between 25 and 30 shows. A new CD box set may also be in the offing for the group, whose percussionist and deep-voiced backing singer, Sam Clayton, is a North County resident.

‘A cottage industry’

Tackett and Barrere first teamed as an acoustic duo in 1988, but only to promote the band’s shows in the studios of local radio stations. They went public in 1999, when the two performed at a Bay Area concert for Gibson Guitars’ 100th anniversary. They opened for blues giant John Lee Hooker at the NAMM Show in Anaheim a year later. A Tokyo concert promoter heard them there and invited Barrere and Tackett to do a Japanese tour.

“What started as a cottage industry is now my main focus, since Little Feat isn’t touring as much, mainly because of my health,” Barrere said. “I had Hepatitis C and then I was diagnosed with (liver) cancer in 2015. I just had my third scan and am clean. I’m happy about that. To go out and play acoustic dates with Fred is easy — a couple of guys in a car.”

The duo’s concerts mix Little Feat gems — 14 at their Jan. 28 show in San Juan Capistrano — with such favorites as “The Weight” by The Band and “Candy Man Blues” by Mississippi John Hurt.

Barrere and Tackett’s Adams Avenue Unplugged headlining gig Saturday is the only performance for which tickets are being sold at the otherwise free festival. The duo will appear in the Normal Heights United Methodist Church — at 4650 Mansfield St. — the former home of the Acoustic Music San Diego concert series.

“When Fred and I toured England, we played in quite a few churches and they sounded great,” Barrere said. “It’s always strange when you are up on the pulpit — I try and keep my language a little more clean!

“This is a fun way to highlight the music and it’s a lot more intimate. I can tell stories. And most of them are funny!”

One of those stories finds Barerre recounting to audiences what happened when he went to perform for a solo acoustic set for his daughter’s third grade class.

As he launched into the Little Feat classic “Sailin’ Shoes,” he realized the song’s reference to a “cocaine tree” was not suitable for such a young group of listeners.

“So I changed it to ‘pecan tree’,” Barrere recalled. “At the end of my little performance, the teacher came up and said: ‘You know, I have that record at home. Thanks for revising the lyrics.’ My daughter, by the way, is 26 now.”

The triumphs and travails of the band were chronicled in the 2015 biography, “Willin’: The Story of Little Feat,” which was written by former Rolling Stone editor Ben Fong-Torres. The book told part of the group’s story, according to Barrere.

“I did read it.” he said. “Nobody really wanted to spill the dirt, shall we say. So it’s kind of a light read for me, knowing the real history of Little Feat. But none of us wanted all those stories to come out, especially with some of us having young children.”

Given the benefit of hindsight, and his debilitating history of Hepatitis C, does Barrere have any regrets about the lyrics to Little Feat’s “China White,” a longing ode to a particularly powerful strain of heroin?

“No, none whatsoever,” he said. “You know, that was a time in our lives when — not the whole band, but certainly three of us in the band — partied and partied pretty hard.

“It wasn’t the keyboard player (Bill Payne), bassist (Ken Gradney) or conga player (Clayton). So you can figure it out. They used to call us ‘McHale’s Navy,’ because we would surrender at a moment’s notice. I look back and laugh. Then I think: ‘God, I made it through.’ So, yeah, there have been regrets — and that’s a good song.

“When Fred and I do (Little Feat’s) ‘Old Folk’s Boogie,’ I say that I wrote this song when I was 23. I had no idea I’d still be playing it now, when I’m almost 70.”

2018 Adams Avenue Unplugged

With: Paul Barrere & Fred Tackett of Little Feat, Gregory Page, Veronica May, Joey Harris, The Shawn Rolf Band, Sara Petite, Robin Henkel, Nina Francis and more

When: Noon to 10 p.m. Saturday

Where: At 24 indoor venues on Adams Avenue, between Marlborough Drive and 30th Street.

Tickets: Free, except for Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett ($15) and the 21-and-up VIP beer and food package ($19)

Phone: (619) 282-7329


Twitter @georgevarga

Little Feat veterans Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett to headline Adams Avenue Unplugged, eight months before their band turns 50 (2024)
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