By Michael Lello
While Little Feat is a Los Angeles band, New Orleans could be considered its second musical home, with a swampy sound and deep pocket that is NOLA to the core.
It’s natural, then, that Feat guitarist/vocalist Paul Barrere and multi-instrumentalist Fred Tackett have teamed with The New Orleans Suspects, a band featuring some of the Crescent City’s finest: drummer Willie Green (Neville Brothers), guitarist Jake Eckert (Dirty Dozen Brass Band), saxophonist Jeff Watkins (James Brown), bassist Reggie Scanlan (The Radiators) and pianist/organist C.R. Gruver (Outfirmation, Leo Nocentelli).
In between Little Feat tours, Barrere and Tackett had been touring as a duo, but after hooking up with the Suspects at the Wanee Festival last year, the two camps joined forces
The idea, Barrere recently said from his Los Angeles home, was “rather than just Paul and Fred shows, we’ll combine the two and make it a band kind of thing. That’s pretty much what it’s been since we got together. You never what’s going to happen, which is kinda cool.”
Barrere, Tackett and the Suspects will play at the Ardmore Music Hall this Thursday, May 15, and at Penn’s Peak on Sunday, May 18. The shows will feature an acoustic set by Barrere and Tackett, a set by the Suspects, and a set by Barrere and Tackett backed by the Suspects performing classic Feat songs and NOLA favorites.
After he got home from playing the New Orleans Jazz Festival with Tackett and the Suspects and before heading back down to play with Dead Feat, we chatted with the affable Barrere about Little Feat’s recent resurgence and how he has coped with Hepatitis C.
H81R: With the Suspects, have you rearranged the Little Feat tunes, or has it been more organic than that?
PB: It was really organically, basically, because the first few times we played together we never rehearsed; we ran a couple things in soundcheck. Now that we’re doing it more and more, we’re starting to feel different sections out. It’s not just a noodle fest, ya know what I mean?
H81R: Tell us a little bit about Dead Feat, which features Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann, Fred, you and Anders Obsorne.
PB: This was a brainchild of Anders Obsborne, who I think is just an amazing, amazing guitar player. So when he first approached us about doing it, we said ‘Yeah, that sounds like a kick. We’ll do some Feat songs and some Dead songs, and some of your songs, Anders.’ And this cat Billy Iuso from Long Island originally but he’s been in New Orleans for I think 20 years, he played with Big Chief Boudreaux for a long time, he’s one of these guys that knows every Dead song backwards and forwards, so it helps Fred and I, who are not real aficionados of that music, other than the fact that I played a whole summer with Phil (Lesh), so I got a taste of it, which is great. It enables us to put our own taste and flavor on Dead songs as well.”
And Kreutzmann is just a kick. He sits back there and beats the drums.
H81R: In 2008, Jimmy Buffet, Dave Matthews, Vince Gill, Bob Seger and other stars joined Little Feat on the album “Join The Band,” and Phish has been covering the band for years, culminating in covering the “Waiting For Columbus” album on Halloween of 2010. Has this increased exposure led to increased record or ticket sales?
PB: Not so much records because nobody buys records anymore (laughs). It’s a strange anomaly in our business, that portion of our income stream has really dipped heavily, and now with most people doing online sales, it takes a little while before you see the results from that stuff. And some of the things like streaming, you get pennies on the penny (laughs). You might as well be giving it away, which basically you are doing when you turn it over to digital format. But there was definitely an increase in a fanbase and people recognizing Little Feat.
H81R: Have you listened to Phish’s performance of “Waiting For Columbus”?
PB: Oh yeah, absolutely. It’s funny, Phish fans down in New Orleans came to the show that we did with the Suspects, they were saying that they got turned onto us by checking out Phish, and Phish has covered some of our stuff. I was telling them how just a couple months before Halloween that year, I was getting all these phone calls from (Phish bassist) Mike Gordon. ‘Can you tell me what kind of amps you were playing on?’ ‘What pedals were you using, by the way?’ I thought, something is up here. And then eventually they told us before they let the cat out of the bag. They gave me the link to the show. Me being a baseball nut, I had the World Series on TV with the sound off listening to the computer streaming the show.
H81R: Are there plans to record a new Little Feat album, following 2010’s “Rooster Rag”?
PB: No plans to do that at this point. Everybody is just kind of doing different things and kicking back from the grind of Little Feat. I personally really don’t want to go on the road for like weeks on end. Fred’s 67 and I’m soon to be 66, and it’s like, do we really want to spend the golden years of our life on a bus? But if the right opportunity comes through, we’ll be there.
H81R: Is working outside of Little Feat less strain on you physically?
PB: Oh, completely. There’s less stress, there’s less physical stress as well. We usually just do a weekend at a time, one or two a month, so we get to spend a lot more time at home. Home is a very healing place. Last summer was the first summer I spent at home in 23 years and said, wow, this is great.”
We stopped touring, a year ago March, because I was going to undergo Hep C treatment at that time, but when doctors kept putting it off and putting it off, I kept getting a little bit better and better just by not traveling all the time. So in December we finally started this new treatment that didn’t involve interferon, so I haven’t been so debilitated that I haven’t had to stop touring completely. So it’s been good. It’s working.”
H81R: If you don’t mind, could you tell us about your diagnosis and treatment?
PB: I was really diagnosed in ’93, then the big earthquake hit in Los Angeles, but I still kept up with my doctors and kept monitoring the Hep C and the liver functions and all of that stuff. Everything was going pretty well for quite a long time, and somewhere around age 61 or 62, it started to deteriorate. Cirrhosis was setting in and I’m one of the lucky ones with two genome types. I couldn’t get on any of the trial studies and my doctor didn’t want to put me on interferon either because my liver was compromised and he was afraid that the interferon itself would kill me.
So we just kept waiting, and eventually the new drug treatment came out and it seems to be a miracle fix for the Hep C. I’ve known quite a few people who did it who have been virus-clean for two years now. And I was after eighth weeks on the program – I was on a 24-week program so I got another six weeks to go – but after eight weeks there was no sign of the Hep C virus in my blood. My liver functions got better. The immune system is a little weak, which is another reason I don’t want to do a lot of traveling.