In an interview with Local Spins, the legendary keyboardist talks about the “Waiting for Columbus” tour and Little Feat’s special place in rock history. Plus, watch a video from the anniversary tour.
SCROLL DOWN FOR VIDEOS AND FOR A NEW LITTLE FEAT RECORDING OF ‘FAT MAN’
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For a highly revered band with an impressive half-century legacy, Little Feat continues to move forward while keeping, well, one rather immense foot planted in the past.
The rock band that weaves everything from country to jazz to blues into its repertoire is celebrating the 45th anniversary of its acclaimed “Waiting for Columbus” live shows in London and Washington D.C. with a tour that stops Saturday at Kalamazoo State Theatre.
And the keyboardist, singer and founding member who’s experienced the gamut of the Little Feat experience since forming the band in California with the late Lowell George in 1969, remains just as excited about revisiting the band’s classic tracks as he is about leading a fresh lineup of this ensemble.
“I just feel freedom in this band that I haven’t felt in a long time and I’ve also enjoyed watching the reaction of fans,” Bill Payne told Local Spins in a recent phone interview.
“It makes perfect sense: Let’s put ourselves up against one of the most iconic live records in history. We’re not going to be able to replicate it note for note, but we will play every song in the order that it was recorded on that record. You just see them (fans) melt in their seats and the joy on their face says it all.”
At 72, with a legacy of his own that places him with Elton John, Chuck Leavell and Leon Russell among the best rock keyboardists of all time, Payne has survived and thrived through varying Little Feat lineups not to mention 16 studio albums and numerous live recordings and compilations.
“I’ll be 73 in March, but I’ve got the attitude of a much younger person when it comes to playing and the enthusiasm you have to have for rock ’n’ roll,” he said. “It’s great to have that leverage as a musician and to be able to use it.”
These days, after a grueling pandemic, Payne is using his leverage as a purveyor and protector of Little Feat’s lauded tradition and esteemed status in the pantheon of rock, unfurled on this tour in classic songs from 1978’s “Waiting for Columbus” such as “Fat Man in the Bathtub,” “Oh Atlanta,” “Dixie Chicken,” “Willin’” and “Sailing Shoes.”
LISTEN: Little Feat, “Fat Man in the Bathtub” (New 2021 Recording)
He’s doing it with a stellar roster of players, including longtime band members Fred Tackett on guitar and trumpet, Sam Clayton on percussion and Kenny Gradney on bass, with guitarist Scott Sharrard (who joined in 2019) and drummer Tony Leone (a member since 2020).
“They can do just about anything,” Payne said of his bandmates and their “amazing” chemistry. “The band sounds terrific.”
The tour rolls out a two-hour set without an encore focused on either extended versions of “Waiting for Columbus” songs or adding “a few that were not on the original album. We can play anything we want. … We’ve got a lot of genres covered in a tight space of time. It just really works. Sonically, it’s a great sounding record.”
Tickets for the 8 p.m. Saturday show at State Theatre — only the second show on the band’s 2022 tour — are $49-$79 and available online here. The band also offers VIP ticket packages. British Americana/folk duo Ida Mae opens the show.
WRITING NEW MATERIAL WHILE ‘JUMPING FROM LOG TO LOG’
Little Feat is not just about looking back.
Payne said he has a large sheaf of new songs written with lyricist Robert Hunter and poet Paul Muldoon, and he’s working with producer/songwriter John Leventhal on a PBS special that will be recorded at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. And other band members are creating new music, too.
“There are just a lot of good things going on,” insisted the Texas native who also spent several years touring with The Doobie Brothers as their keyboardist.
The same could be said for most of Payne’s illustrious career, with the keyboardist mastering everything from barrelhouse blues piano to soulful Hammond B3 licks while also writing poetry and embracing photography.
Inspired as young lad by everything from The Olympics doo-wop group to the classical music of Bach, Chopin, Lizst, Mozart and Beethoven, Payne claims he still has all of the sheet music he’s ever acquired over the past 60 years.
“I still sit down and play it the best I can,” he said, reiterating his belief “in the nobleness of the arts” while being “mindful of the challenge and the importance of what we do.”
That belief has kept him rolling through the ups and downs of the music business.
“The point of failure is to pick yourself up and find a way to get past that: Jump over the fence or get underneath it. You can’t give up,” he said. “It’s a lifelong search for who you are as a person and what you want to share with people. … We’re stubborn people. We do what we do because we love doing it.”
For Payne, keeping Little Feat alive and thriving in particular has been a satisfying, energizing mission – from bringing in new faces to maneuvering through a difficult pandemic.
“I’m pretty good at jumping from log to log,” he conceded. “I’ve done the best I could to make sure this journey could continue. I’ve always based it on the music and the people that support our music.”
VIDEO: Little Feat, “Time Loves a Hero” (Live 2022)
VIDEO: Little Feat, “Spanish Moon” (Live 2022)
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