Celebrating 50 years of Little Feat
A conversation with founding member Bill Payne
Interview: Tom Craig
LITTLE FEAT WILL BE PERFORMAING AT THE DODGE CITY CENTER IN PEMPROKE PINES ON MARCH 22ND. YOU CAN PURCHASE TICKETS HERE
On the 50th Anniversary of Little Feat we had a chance to speak with founder Bill Payne. Bill is considered by many to be the piano player’s pianist. The keyboardist/songwriter has collaborated and recorded with a virtual who’s who of musicians which include The Doobie Brothers, James Taylor, Bob Seger and Linda Ronstadt to name a few. He is a musician’s musician, a writer, a photographer, a creative. He is Bill Payne and we hope you enjoy our conversation with him as much as we did.
Bill Payne: Hello.
SFL Music: Hi, is this Bill?
Bill Payne: Yes, sure is. Hey.
SFL Music: Hi Bill, this is Tom Craig with SFL Music Magazine. How are you today?
Bill Payne: I'm doing good, Tom. Down in St Louis visiting my wife's mom and it's nice and rainy down here. So yeah.
SFL Music: Yeah, well, we've got sun down here in Florida today so-
Bill Payne: Oh, good man. I was in Hawaii a few weeks ago so it's all good.
SFL Music: Ah, well, I greatly appreciate you taking the time to talk with us about the upcoming tour. It's been a few years since Little Feat have been down here in Florida and we're sure looking forward to seeing you guys again.
Bill Payne: Well thank you. Yeah, we are too.
SFL Music: Have you guys got anything special planned as far as a set list for your 50th anniversary?
Bill Payne: We're just going to try the tried and true and we'll throw in some surprises, even to us I'm sure. So, I'm not exactly sure what we're going to be doing to be honest with you. But we'll probably expand the set list slightly from what we've been doing the last few years.
SFL Music: Is it hard for you to believe that it's 50? I mean, I know there was a break in there but-
Bill Payne: Yeah. You know, it's not really. It's, I mean ... having lived through it ... and the breaks, like you said. But yeah, I'm working with the Doobie Brothers these days as well, so. And their 50th is coming up in 2020. But yeah, you look back over the years and I've done that through doing interviews and writing and whatnot anyway. So, it's not a surprise but it is a humbling thing to realize all the years and tears that have gone down, the laughter and some good times as well. So, it's a privilege to still be playing music first and foremost. And getting to play it with guys I've grown up and known for more than half my life. So, that's a good thing.
SFL Music: Yeah, yeah. Well I've always been a big fan of the band and seeing you guys several times and really looking forward to this one. The last few years, you guys have pretty much only done about a dozen shows or so. And I know you've been busy with the Doobies since 2015. And I know and looking online on your website that the Doobies are pretty much booked out this summer. Do you guys have any plans to maybe do a fall leg of the tour since it's your 50th?
Bill Payne: We probably will. We're also playing in ... let's see, well there's May into June, there's some dates on the west coast area. And I think we get into the interior as far as Salt Lake City and Denver, takes us up through I think it's May 24th through June 7th. And the Doobies start rehearsals whenever that's going to be and then we're out with Santana. So yeah, it's a busy year going back and forth. I think this is going to be our 16th year in Jamaica which will be at the tail end of March with Little Feat.
So, I'm looking forward to that. I missed it last year because I was out with the Doobies in Texas playing some dates. But Johnny Gros from Louisiana came down, Brian Mitchell who plays with Larry Campbell's band, the two of those guys sat in with Little Feat in Jamaica last year. And everybody had a ball. But I was in Tyler, Texas sort of going, "Well I love the Doobie Brothers, but it isn’t ... Tyler, Texas is not Jamaica."
SFL Music: Well you know, that was going to be one of my other questions in the last few years, it's kind of been popular for people to have residencies in different places. The Beacon Theater and different places. But you guys have been doing pretty much a residency in Jamaica for 16 years. How did that come about?
Bill Payne: Well, we actually polled our fans at one point to see do you want to be on a ship, or do you want to be on dry land? Because there was a lot of cruises and there still are. I mean, the Blues Cruise and I don't know. We went on a Lynyrd Skynyrd cruise some years back. Those are very popular. But our fans said, "You know what? We would prefer just to be on dry land." So, Jamaica was a destination for a whole lot of reasons. We draw a lot of people from the east coast, obviously. A lot of folks were coming down from Europe as well, though, so it was just a good meeting point. And it hit and everybody just became a comfort zone for everyone. So that's the way those things have staying power et cetera.
SFL Music: That's awesome that it was a fan driven decision. That's great.
Bill Payne: Well we set up a grassroots organization. I had a pretty good hand in doing that quite a few years back. And I thought we need to rely more on our fans to help us let people know when we're coming into town. I realized that the internet, although it connects us to everyone, I can be in touch with somebody in Sydney, Australia as easily as I could Oxnard, California. But the truth of the matter is that even with that contact, I would call it boots on the ground. The people that actually live in Ventura, Oxnard are going to know a lot more than the fellow in Sydney and vice versa to what's local and what's going on. So, we made use of it in a pretty good way and it sustained our band for many years. So, we were no longer working, at least I wasn't, working in a vacuum. Which a lot of artists back in those days did. You know, there was very little contact with fans other than at the shows themselves.
SFL Music: Right. That makes good sense. And I've always felt like Little Feat fans were very, very loyal. Even maybe had the grassroots network before you started it.
Bill Payne: They didn't, not in the way we put it together, because they didn't know each other. And that was one of the things that surprised everyone. And mainly they ... when they would setup a meeting to ... they'd go, "Oh, you're such and such." So, they might have been in contact with one another but there wasn't really an organization put together. Red Miller, who had the Hoy Hoy Digest, that was a way for people to talk to one another. But the real action began when they actually met each other, let's say in Boston, for a gathering and it just solidified that the Little Feat tribe, I guess, in today's vernacular.
SFL Music: Do you guys have any plans to release any new material?
Bill Payne: Well, I'm going to be seeing Larry Campbell week after next I think. We'd like Larry to produce it or co-produce it or whatever we're going to work out. But Paul and I have been talking about doing some songs. I don't know that it'll happen, but I’d like to record, you know, anywhere from four to six songs if we can muster up 10, maybe we'll have an album. We'll see. But yeah, it'd be nice ... I'd like to do it. I know Paul would like to as well. So, we're aiming at that. I'm not sure of the timeframe as to when and how we'll do it, but at least it's in the want to do list.
SFL Music: That's be great, yeah, because it's been ... what's it been, about seven or eight years since you all release something new?
Bill Payne: Yeah, we had Rooster Rag was the last recording we put out. I don't even know when it was. So yeah, I've got a couple things that I'd like to try out and I know Paul does. So, I mean, I've written 20 songs with Robert Hunter so I'm not ... and that's just Robert. I mean, I've written a bunch of tunes with other people. Paul Muldoon, who's a Pulitzer Prize winning poet. We've written four or five tunes. Et cetera, so and so. We'll see. I'd like to ... I think we're talking more of a rootsy kind of album. Keep it fun and not light but keep it fun and explore some more of that avenue. And I think that'd be a good thing to put out.
SFL Music: Yeah, absolutely. Are there any plans to record any of these shows for the 50th and maybe bring on some special guests at any of the shows?
Bill Payne: We will be having some people here and there. It's actually pretty loose at the moment and we don't have any plans as of yet but it's highly conceivable that we could do that probably later in the year.
SFL Music: Well that would certainly be great for the fans as well.
Bill Payne: Yeah, yeah.
SFL Music: You've been a part of the Doobie Brother's touring band since 2015. That's had to be a lot of fun, hadn't it?
Bill Payne: Well I've known these guys, boy, almost as long as I've known or been in Little Feat honestly. I started playing with these guys on not their first album, but it was the first album that most people were aware of that had Rocking Down the Highway.
SFL Music: Right. I believe it was their second album. You've pretty much contributed to every album with the exception of a few.
Bill Payne: Yeah, there's a few, two or three, that I wasn't on. But yeah, I played on What A Fool Believes and Minute by Minute. Michael McDonald, who I met in the studio goes, "Here you play this." And I'm like, "What? The Minute by Minute?" He goes, "Play it for me and let's see." And so he did. I went, "No, listen, you're going to play everything today. I'll try some high string parts, I'll come up with a sound for What A Fool Believes on a CS Yamaha synthesizer and we'll take it from there."
But yeah, Michael still sits in with the Doobies from time to time and he is ... what a great guy. Obviously, he's a wonderful singer, beautiful player, great songwriter. But he's a really, really funny individual. Great sense of humor so it's a great guy to hang out with it. So to answer your question or to top it off, I'm in a band with Marc Russo from the Yellowjackets who I always loved as a jazz band. He plays horn. There's John Cowan on bass who's just an amazing bass player and a really dear friend these days. Of course, Tommy and Pat Simmons ... Tom Johnson and Pat Simmons ... gosh, my good friend, a little spaced out today, John McFee.
SFL Music: John McFee, yeah.
Bill Payne: Yeah. I mean, I've known these guys a really, really long time. Then we also have Mark Quinones who lived in Florida for a while.
SFL Music: Right.
Bill Payne: I think he's up in the New York area now, I'm not really sure, but he played with the Allman Brothers for many years.
SFL Music: Yes.
Bill Payne: So, he's playing percussion with the band. Ed Toth on drums.
SFL Music: Right, great drummer.
Bill Payne: Younger guy, really great player. So, I'm in a great band. The crew are wonderful, too, and the management are very cool people to work with and for. So, I'm in a very good place.
SFL Music: Yeah, you guys were down here late last year and played the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale and I got to photograph that show. And it was a fantastic show.
Bill Payne: Well, thanks. Yeah, I mean, the major difference between Little Feat and the Doobie Brothers material aside is that Little Feat, we take more chances, I mean, a lot of chances, and jam out on some stuff. The Doobies have more of a tight arrangement to their material. And that's one way to do it. I know the Eagles do that kind of thing. Bob Seger is another guy I worked with that does that kind of thing. So, it's just a matter of style. But the musicianship and quality of musicianship is very comparable.
SFL Music: You've written a lot of great songs over the years with Little Feat. Is there one of them that is your favorite or you're most proud of?
Bill Payne: Oh, man, that's a good question. I know a lot of people like Oh Atlanta and I do, too. I've got to say the one I was ... I don't know if I'm the most proud of it but it turned out pretty well, was Gringo. And we, The Doobies did that tour with Donald Fagen with Steely Dan last summer. And I talked to Donald a little bit about it and I said, "You know, when I was in New Zealand on a vacation one year, I was listening to a record that Steely Dan, you guys, had put out. It was Gaucho. And I was influenced by that record in terms of how I thought about putting Gringo together as a song."
And David Sanborn played on it. Robben Ford played some acoustic guitar on it. It was a very adventurous tune. Like a lot of my tunes, when I teach it to Little Feat or teach it to anybody, I do it in sections. Because there's a lot there to kind of put together.
But when you break it down into sections and people can learn it, you play it with a little more ease. But yeah, I love that tune. It's a good one. Everything else today in terms of what the meaning of the lyrics. So, it wasn't so much prescient as if we just haven't moved as far forward as I hoped we might have. But it's, blood is thicker than water, that kind of thing. People have pride anywhere you go and if we're a little more aware of that, we're not all going to get along but we can at least ... I mean, it would be nice just to agree to disagree. We can't even do that these days. So, it's kind of rough.
SFL Music: Yeah it is. And you're absolutely right. We can have differing opinions but still have respect for each other.
Bill Payne: That's correct. So, you know, we're plowing through it and it's what life is. I wasn't aware that Little Feat would ... I mean, how would you know, that Little Feat would have a 50th anniversary. But here we are and I'm just like I said earlier, it's a privilege to still be playing music. And not just playing it but really playing it as a high quality. So I've gotten into writing. I would encourage people to go to my website, which is BillPayneCreative.com and go to the writing section. I wrote about a 7,000 word essay on a friend of mine who's an activist in Montana. It's an interesting article that takes from Dan Sullivan's life. He and his wife, Carol, have a restaurant in Livingston, Montana called Mustang Food where I frequently go when I'm home which is not all that often. But Dan's activism started in Chicago and he sent me a photo that was with him and Jim Harrison and Doug Peacock. Doug's a grizzly bear advocate that Dan works with. And the other guy in the photo was Ed Abbey, Edward Abbey, who wrote Desert Solitaire and many other books.
So yeah, it was an interesting article to get into. It was a little more deeply informed than a lot of the stuff I've read.
SFL Music: I looked over your website knowing that I was going to be talking with you, and that was the first piece I read. Honorable Resistance. And it's truly great. And I'm glad you brought that up because I hope our readers do go on and read it, because it's a great piece that you wrote.
Bill Payne: Well thank you. And if they're readers, they should and they should also take a look at the article on Richie Hayward.
SFL Music: Yep.
Bill Payne: Which is a good piece as well. You know, I've been encouraged to write by some really, really fine writers. I always say that the worst thing you can to do me is to encourage me to do anything. I have a good editor, Gary Base, helped me on that one piece. But yeah, Michael Simmons who writes for Mojo Magazine, he's still a journalist for Mojo. But he said, "Before I was a musical journalist, I was a journalist doing news." And he said, "I know what it took to put that article together." And I'm very pleased to hear from that. Carl Hiaasen who's from your neck of the woods.
SFL Music: Yep, Miami Herald.
Bill Payne: He weighed in. Because I've met Carl a couple times and he said, "God, I've known Dan for 20-25 years. I didn't know any of this about him." And he enjoyed the article, too, so I got some really good feedback from it. So definitely thank you, Tom, for reading it. I appreciate that.
SFL Music: No, I read it. I read the one on Richie who you guys played at Pompano Amphitheater back in 95. And a good friend of mine Jeff Harrell who was a writer for the magazine I photographed for back then, we had back stage and I met you that night. And I don't even expect you to remember. And Jeff was friends with Richie, because Jeff is a drummer also. But that was a great piece. And also Richard Manuel's Piano.
Bill Payne: Yeah. That's a good one, too.
SFL Music: Have you considered putting some of these together in a book?
Bill Payne: I have actually. I've got some pieces on myself that I'm writing as well. So, it's in part a memoir. You know, when I was ... you know as a writer, Tom, it's like when you're putting something together, my desire is not to ... I want to be honest about things in life but I don't want to bury people with too harsh of brush stroke, if you know what I mean?
SFL Music: Yes.
Bill Payne: I don't think that accomplishes a heck of a lot. So, that kind of stayed my hand with regards to a memoir for a long time. But what I have in mind is something that's a cross between a memoir and something that puts in the social and historical strata of this life that we're playing on through together. And what the influences from, not just from music but from other aspects are. I did a rally, for example, a musical rally for Robert Kennedy in 1968. So, people can see how I was informed by that, not just that event but obviously I have a more liberal view of things. That's why and how I wrote a song like Gringo. But I was also in Baja and with our road manager Rick Harper at the time.
So, there's a lot I could write about and sort of bring people in to give a bigger account, a broader account, of not just who I am but what I'm influenced by which is the way you bring in other people. And when you're bringing in other areas, be it food, politics, you know, relationships, I mean I've had a career in the studio that people would kind of scratch their heads and go, "He did all those records?" Yeah. I just put my head down and there's an old saying. It may be an old saying, maybe I say it and I'm not sure. But I said if I'm going to fall, I want to fall forward. It gives the impression of progress.
SFL Music: Well, you know, you're talking about how many records you've played on. That was going to be one of my other questions. Is there someone that people would be surprised to know that you recorded with or a record that you were on?
Bill Payne: There's a couple people that might be surprised that I played with Paul Anka, with ... let's see. Julio Iglesias. Who's the other cat? Engelbert Humperdinck.
SFL Music: Really? Wow.
Bill Payne: Yes.
SFL Music: Interesting.
Bill Payne: Let's not forget about Butthole Surfers. But anyway, you know what I'm saying. I've played with anybody and everybody. But yeah, a record ... several records ... it wasn't so much the record that I played on but the person I played with. James Taylor. I was a huge, and still am, a huge fan of James.
SFL Music: Yes.
Bill Payne: I spent six years touring with James. We did a lot of gigs in Florida as well. But man, what a wonderful songwriter and just an inspiring human being.
SFL Music: He seems like he would be, just a kind soul. So, you toured with him for six years?
Bill Payne: Yeah, I did, and then I joined Bob Seger on a couple tours ten years apart. ‘86 and ‘96. The first album I played on was ... I played a Hammond B3 on “Against The Wind.”
SFL Music: On the recording?
Bill Payne: Yep.
SFL Music: Wow.
Bill Payne: I played on a lot of his records. I played Hollywood Nights piano, played ... what was it? Oh, Like A Rock. I played piano and organ. Played on a lot of things with Bob Seger. So it's-
SFL Music: Wow. Did not know that. That's very interesting.
Bill Payne: Jimmy Buffet's another guy that I really was proud to play with and worked on two or three ... I think it was two records with him. License To Chill was one of them.
I played all over that with Mike Utley who did a lot of B3 work on that particular record. And Michael's a good friend and Mac McAnally who I love. So yeah, I mean, Little Feat, Tom, is ... when Lowell and I discussed this band in 1969, it was like, "What kind of band do we want? How do we want to be thought of?" And we both agreed that the best thing that couple happen to us would be ... we didn't have to be the household name by any stretch, but we wanted to be well thought of within the collection of musicians, whether it was Bob Dylan or the Rolling Stones or anybody that we would be able to play music with, we would be inspired by, maybe we'd throw some inspiration and influence their direction, which happened.
But to be sitting in a recording studio with BB King and Willy Nelson and playing “The Night Life” with those two. And later having just a sit-down discussion like you and I are having now but it was just BB King and he was reveling me and a couple other people with some stories. But he and I had a very heart to heart talk about a lot of things that evening. I'll never, ever forget that night in the studio. He said, "I was praying for a session like this for a long time." And it was a really just heartfelt stuff coming from that man. And I was kind of in the same mode. It was a good place to be.
SFL Music: Wow. That had to be amazing. See there's some more writing for you to put down in a book. That story would be of interest to everyone, I think.
Bill Payne: I have a lot of those and of course, yeah, you're right. I've got a lot of these documented. I've got a pretty good start on it and it's just the doing, like everything else, is the thing.
SFL Music: Well it's not like you're busy or anything.
Bill Payne: I know. Well that's the good news is the busyness keeps my mind active. It's like ... I'll be 70 in, gosh, in March. So, there we go there. Thankfully my wife will be 44, so I met her when I was 60 and she was 34. So we've got a great relationship going on and she keeps me young or will kill me or both. But it's a very good relationship and she's very supportive of whatever I want to do. So it’s great stuff.
SFL Music: Well why not? I want to go back to your writing again. On two of your songs, one is always been one of my favorites. Red Streamliner, which I know you co-wrote. And certainly Oh Atlanta. Can you tell me the inspiration behind those?
Bill Payne: Yeah. Let's start with Red Streamliner. I was at my parent's house in Texas, down near Moody, Texas which is not far from Waco or Waco where I was born. And I heard a train that night and I thought, "What if I actually lived here and grew up here and had not gone too far from that area?" I started to romanticize about ... a few things about trains. One is they are literally a vehicle to take you someplace, take you far away from where you are. And so, adventures open up in this sort of thing. But I was also thinking about what trains used to be, and at the time where they were going was just that a lot of people weren't riding them. Tracks were in need of repair, which they still are. But having been to Europe and Japan, people take the trains all the time. They're a great mode of transportation. But there's a romanticism about trains and so it's an easy thing to sort of fill in the dots on how to write about it. So, that was the inspiration behind that tune.
Oh Atlanta was ... I should say lastly that the music and almost everything I write, I want the music to be as interesting as the lyrics. And Oh Atlanta is a ... Lowell and I got into an argument about who could write a hit song. Can, can't, can, can't ... back and forth. Oh God. So I wrote Oh Atlanta. But I had a poem that I'd written. The first time we toured, which was in 19 ... technically it was 1970. It was ... I think we arrived in Cincinnati on the 24th, we played gigs on the 25th and 26th, so Christmas and the day after Christmas, at a place called The Reflections Club. But when we landed at the airport, which is not in Ohio, it's in Kentucky, I was watching these people as we were riding away from the airport and they were watching these planes take off. And I think, "Gosh, that's all there is to do around here for entertainment is watch planes take off?" And I had these three birds on a wire and this sort of stuff.
So, I looked at it much later, like four or five years later whenever it was, but I took that imagery of the planes taking off. I just, again, oh there's a gal down in Atlanta I'd like to see and it just took off from there. So, I guess what I'm saying, and this includes Gringo, is imagery is a big part of the way I like to write the lyrics, of course, but also I like to have imagery in my music as well.
SFL Music: Wow. With Oh Atlanta I certainly picture all the different places I've been in Atlanta and things when I hear that song. So, was there actually a girl there?
Bill Payne: There was. Her name was Sherry and if you look at Hoy-Hoy!, there's a booklet in Hoy-Hoy!, that album we have. We're at a place in Atlanta called Ma Hull’s. Ma Hull’s was a boarding house where we used to go over there and have lunch. And they'd have everything from fried chicken to chicken fried steak to catfish, any kind of vegetables you wanted to get, any southern food.
SFL Music: Southern cooking.
Bill Payne: Just southern cooking. It was all laid out. Pa was out on the front porch and he'd have a cigar box open. You'd just put a couple bucks, $2.25 whatever it was, to eat there. But we took a photo of all of us while we were there with Ma Hull and Sherry's in that picture. And I'm pretty sure I was standing next to her so there we are. That's-
SFL Music: Last fall I was fortunate enough to interview Steve Lukather, who was quite the session guy like yourself. And one of the things he pointed out to me is those opportunities have kind of dried up to do the amount of session work that he used to do and I would assume maybe you, too. Do you feel that way?
Bill Payne: Well I got out of Los Angeles about 16-17 years ago. So, but yeah it did dry up as he said. But I still play on sessions and I get called to do things. I'm going back to, like I said, a week after next to work with Larry Campbell who's producing a Kinky Friedman record for example. And then we're going to go down to ... I don't know if Kinky's coming with us, but Larry, Teresa, and I are going down to New York to play the City Winery.
SFL Music: Awesome.
Bill Payne: So I get called in to do things from time to time. But it isn't ... Nashville is where all the action is these days. But I'm not in any ... I have no desire to work from 12 to 7 and 7 to 11 these days. It's all good.
It really got to the point honestly, Tom, where I was at Sunset Sound where ... this is something that could go into a book, too, obviously. But I'm at Sunset Sound, I'm looking at the albums when they made albums, they were up on the wall. And I took one down to look at it. It wasn't an award it was an actual album cover art. And I turned this record around and it had my name on it. I looked at the front of it, I go, "I played on that? I don't even remember playing on that. Oh my gosh." I know I'm working too hard when those-
SFL Music: When that happens.
Bill Payne: When that happens, maybe you're just like ... gotta slow down a little bit.
SFL Music: Time to ... yeah. Have you ever had the opportunity to record at Criteria in Miami?
Bill Payne: You know, I think I did. I probably did it with ... I think I recorded there with Bob Seger.
SFL Music: Ah.
Bill Payne: I think I did. If not ... that studio’s very famous. I would have-
SFL Music: Yes.
Bill Payne: I know Bob used to like to record in ... is that in Miami, correct?
SFL Music: Miami, yes.
Bill Payne: It's not in Hollywood Florida, so-
SFL Music: No Miami. Yeah. North Miami.
Bill Payne: So Miami. I'm not sure. You know, I probably did but maybe that slipped by. But I certainly knew about the studio.
SFL Music: Did you watch the Grammys last night?
Bill Payne: I did not. I heard, boy, I don't even know the person that won the album of the year. But then she won several other awards, too, but I thought-
SFL Music: I believe it was Kacey Musgraves
Bill Payne: Yeah, Kacey Musgraves. Exactly. I'm going to look her up and listen to what she does. I'd like to at least know or maybe you could tell me, Tom, what kind of music she performs or does.
SFL Music: She’s a country artist.
Bill Payne: Oh cool. That's good.
SFL Music: Yeah. It was-
Bill Payne: Is she the one ... I was reading in the New York Times that her ... was it her? That her music is popular, but country music won't play it because of her politics or something? Or was that somebody else?
SFL Music: I'm not sure. I didn't read that article. But-
Bill Payne: Yeah, I didn’t either. I just saw the headline, but nothing surprises me coming out of Nashville.
SFL Music: She's a fellow Texan.
Bill Payne: Oh good. Well, you know, I like country music and I like fellow Texans, too. I'll definitely check her out and see what all the fuss is about. And I bet it's about some good stuff.
SFL Music: The reason I added that question was I was watching our local news this morning and they had done a poll. Because you know it's all post Grammy coverage. They had a done a poll about who would watch the Grammys. And if they did, did they like it or did they dislike it? And 84% of the people that took their poll had not watched it. And I thought, "Boy, what does that say about the state of the music business?"
Bill Payne: Well, yeah, and that's a good way to put it. It's the music business that's compromised these days for a lot of reasons. And not the least of which is that all the popular shows that they shove it down ... look, I know, I want to make sure I articulate this correctly. My feeling about it is that when you have show’s where people ... one of the few things they can do to gain a quick and broad notoriety is to go on a television show and have people judge them. That's what they do. There's nothing wrong with that but on a national level, there's not a lot of opportunities for musicians these days. A few years back, I don't know if this is still the case, but some guys were ... and musician, guys and gals, were having where their bands actually pay the club owner in order to play in his facility. Pay to play kind of stuff. And again, I don't know if that's still going on or not. Hopefully it is not.
The one thing that's alive and well are the musicians themselves. Creative people are always going to want to create. The outlets for them, for other people to hear them, those things come and go. But their creativity doesn't. And I look at Little Feat in that regard. We were never a hit band. We just kind of stuck with it and did it because we enjoyed doing it. And we were given a platform that we didn't just have to write all rock and roll songs like Oh Atlanta or jazzy kind of things like Red Streamliner. So, we had that broad talent. I mean, Paul Barrere is a hell of blues guitar player. And writes great songs as swell with All That You Dream and Old Folks Boogie and on up and down, he's a ... I've often said you'd have to be in ten different bands to play what Little Feat played and came up with.
SFL Music: I would agree with you there.
Bill Payne: Thanks, man. It confused the hell out of an audience sometimes and labels as well, because they were like, "How do we promote you guys?" I said, "Well how about promoting it on music as musicians?"
SFL Music: What a concept?
Bill Payne: Yeah. Exactly.
SFL Music: I found it interesting last night while I had the Grammys on and was kind of finalizing questions for you that it was on the internet that I had found out that Greta Van Fleet won for rock album and that Buddy Guy won for blues album. No mention of it on the program. And I'm like, "What is wrong with this picture?"
Bill Payne: Right. Well, again, it's just people's perception. The hierarchy's perception of what people want and what they can absorb. Bill Flanagan who's a wonderful music writer pointed out to me a few years ago, he says, "You know, the music that Little Feat, that Jackson Brown, Bonnie Raitt, The Allman Brothers, Grateful Dead, and many others played has lasted at that time it was for 40 years." And that had never been done before, where it just kept crossing generational lines three or four times in a row. Well now it's five generations in a row. There's something about that music. It's not that the kids can't write today. I mean, Connor Kennedy who will probably join us up in New York is 22 or 23 years of age. I met him when he's 18. He's an incredible musician. He was sitting there with Donald Fagen with Steely Dan last summer.
SFL Music: Oh wow.
Bill Payne: But he'll join us on stage at The Beacon I'm sure. So again, I know that music and musicians and creative people, whether they're musicians or not, it's alive. It's not vibrant in the sense that there's the avenues there. But those avenues can be created and hopefully it will. But they're going to play and be heard on whatever basis they need to. Stravinsky used to say, "I don't create because I want to. I have to."
SFL Music: Right. Right.
Bill Payne: It wasn't just to make money. It was because that-
SFL Music: That fulfilled the drive.
Bill Payne: It has to come out.
SFL Music: Who were your influences on piano when you were learning?
Bill Payne: Well, I would start with Ruth Newman, my piano teacher, who allowed me to play both by ear as well as read. She was a huge influence first and foremost. Beyond that, I would say that Fats Domino, certainly Little Richard on the rock and roll side of things.
SFL Music: Okay.
Bill Payne: Later, God the cat that played with the Rolling Stones ... Nicky Hopkins.
SFL Music: Oh yeah, Nicky was ... yeah. And with Quicksilver.
Bill Payne: Yeah. He enjoyed what I was doing, too. But yeah, I've been listening to him for a while. And you brought up Richard Manuel earlier and Garth Hudson. Those two guys were ... I was influenced by them. And lastly, I could probably go on and on, Ray Charles, et cetera. I want to in the influencers was the guy that I actually personally thank and shake his hand over it. When I was in Australia, we did a tour with Leon Russell.
SFL Music: Ah, Leon Russell.
Bill Payne: This was with Little Feat and I got a chance on the last day in Melbourne, we were heading out. I think he was, too. He was sitting in the back of the van alone. And I wasn’t in his van but I walked over and said, "Excuse me, I'm Bill Payne and I just wanted to say to thank you if you've got a second for the really early influence on me and Little Feat and I wanted to shake your hand because of that." He was very, very gracious and cordial about that and that was cool.
SFL Music: Wow. Awesome. As a photographer, which I am, I found it interesting that you were I believe doing Cielo Norte and your son had a camera and that's how you got your start into photography?
Bill Payne: Yeah, he did. I think it was only a four pixel camera, maybe even two. I think it was four pixels. And I said ... I had asked him to take some photos of me. He's a really good photographer, Evan. And I said, "Hey man, can I try that?" And when I pressed down on the shutter button, it was like hitting middle C as a child. I went, "Oh no." I was hooked immediately, and I just started taking photos after that.
SFL Music: Well I went through your portfolio on your website and there's some fantastic work there. I hope that one day you'll put out a book because I would certainly buy it.
Bill Payne: Well yeah. I think that the book I'd like to put out would include photography in it. I want to bring people into the realm of surfing. I wasn't a top-notch surfer by any stretch but I did surf a lot as a kid. And I think to just let people know where you're coming from as a person, as a creative person, as a fellow human being. How do we ... I'm just in this day and age, I just think how did we arrive at this place where we're so polar opposite of one another on certain levels?
But we can agree on certain music, which is good. And that's cool. That's a binding force. But how can we look at something like a song like Gringo and people that knew that I wrote it for example ... I don't know if they liked it but they ... and we have this situation where we're separating families from one another at the border. We're taking this guy that I can barely call a president word that there are people coming up from Central America like Genghis Khan to invade this country. We're a much better country than that. We're a stronger country than that. We're stronger people than that. But we're even stronger when we combine forces with people that bring their take on what this experiment of America is.
I just am appalled by what's going on and yet this is what we're dealt. So it's easy to ... as Benjamin Franklin said, "Any jackass can kick down a barn. But how do we build it?" So let's take it from there. But we have people that are not interested in building anything, that are not especially energetic when it comes to exercising their imaginations other than in a quite a negative way, cast in a negative way. They don't, I mean ... I think we mentioned the idea of readers.
A lot of it is what you read. And this is on both sides. This is not a slam against the far right. They deserve every bit of history that's going to be printed about them. But the far left can be just as puzzling sometimes.
Sometimes they all meet up at the center, you know? So, without getting anymore deep into that, I just think that it's okay to try things, to think about things, but when it comes to thinking of human beings, I just wish we were a little more cognizant of the road. When you start to denigrate people to the point where they are subhuman.
Where they don't have the same feelings and aspirations that we do or love of family or fear of failure. Or all the things that make us human, and we denigrate them, then we are really trotting on some shaky ground. And that's exactly where we are right now.
SFL Music: Yeah. And the sad part I believe, Bill, is the fact that you've not taken the time to get to know them well enough to make those statements.
Bill Payne: Well exactly. And that's where communication comes in. And if you go in throwing rocks at one another, even in our own country where we can't talk to one another ... I don't get into those arguments with people. Occasionally if I get cornered or I've done it one or two times. It's just ... it doesn't happen very often because I'm just ... I don't think it doesn't serve any real purpose because then you're too upset and angry to actually formulate anything that's an intelligent response to what you're hearing. You're not going to turn people over to your side. That's not the object. I think you brought up the point earlier that the very least we can do is try and understand one another but have a modicum of respect for each other. That's where we're coming from. I want to know why somebody that's a serial liar ... unless you're watching Fox News, because Sean Hannity is a serial liar as well then.
SFL Music: I greatly appreciate your time and anything else you'd like to say to the fans for your shows down here in Florida?
Bill Payne: Well, I mean, the obviously which is we're looking forward to getting back into Florida. It's a great crowd down there. And not so much through Little Feat initially but through the Doobie Brothers, oddly enough, is where I learned that Florida had a great crowd. And then later that was cemented with Little Feat, with James Taylor, through a lot of people that I've played with. But yeah, it's ... I just want to thank people for sticking with us. It is a two-way street. I don't create for myself. If I wanted to do that, I'd lock myself up into my piano room and just play music which I do anyway. But to share it with people, that's what we're supposed to do. And we love our fans. If you want to bring some people that maybe haven't heard Little Feat, please do so. Bring them into the fold. We'd love to see that.
SFL Music: Will do. Well we'll do our best to get as many to the show as we can with this and I can't thank you enough, again, and I hope I'll get to meet you at the show at Pembroke Pines and shake your hand and just say hi.
Bill Payne: It'd be nice to see you again, Tom. Please do so and I look forward to seeing you there.
SFL Music: One last thing. Real quick.
Bill Payne: Sure.
SFL Music: I bet you have to really be excited. Little Feat has played Jazz Fest in New Orleans I think if I'm correct five times and you guys are signed up to play the 50th this year. So the 50th anniversary of Little Feat, the 50th anniversary of Jazz Fest. And then you're going to be doing double duty playing with the Doobies.
Bill Payne: Yeah. Yeah, I sure am. That'll be the first weekend so it's ... you know. And we're playing Cinco de Mayo with Little Feat so there's another five in there, I guess.
SFL Music: Oh, I know. That would be the show to be at right there.
Bill Payne: It's all lining up to be a very, very interesting year. Yeah, who knew?
SFL Music: Well I'm sure you know this, but I bet that one would be a good one to record.
Bill Payne: Yeah it sure would. I don't doubt that there'll be some recordings of it.
SFL Music: Well very good stuff and again, safe travels Bill. Thank you for the time and look forward to seeing you down here in south Florida.
Bill Payne: Sounds good, Tom. We'll see you at Pembroke.