Best Feat forward; Legendary band Little Feat returns to Indian Ranch.
It's no mean feat for a rock band formed in 1969 to release a new album in 2012 with original material and receive appreciative reviews.
Little Feat's "Rooster Rag," its sixteenth studio album, came out six weeks ago and surprised some people, said original member, keyboardist, vocalist and songwriter Bill Payne. From as far away as England, Little Feat's American roots 'n' roll as exemplified in "Rooster Rag" received renewed praise. "Most of the beloved Feat features are featured: sprung grooves, allusive lyrics, conducive vibe," said a review last month in the Guardian newspaper of London. Closer to home, Boston.com called the album "a versatile tour de force."
Little Feat will be real close to home Saturday when they come to Indian Ranch, Webster, for a show at 2 p.m. that may well showcase old favorites including "Hate To Lose Your Lovin,'" "Oh Atlanta," "Day or Night," and "Time Loves a Hero," as well as numbers from "Rooster Rag" such as the rollicking title number and the surprisingly poignant "Church Falling Down." Singer-songwriter Amy Lennard opens Saturday's musical proceedings.
"It's one of those recordings you make where, if I gave people $100 they would say `I like it,' but I'm not paying anybody and they're saying nice things about us," Payne said of "Rooster Rag."
Payne for one isn't surprised. "It has to do with the honesty with which we play," he said.
Actually, "Rooster Rag" was initially intended to be a blues project, and has blues numbers. But then ... "It started off as a blues album and turned into a Little Feat record," Payne said.
Given that, an outsider might at first glance be surprised by the fact that Payne is the only original member still playing in Little Feat. The original and mercurial guitarist Lowell George died way back in 1979, while drummer Richie Hayward passed away two years ago. The band's original bassist, Roy Estrada, had quit following the release of Little Feat's second album, "Sailin' Shoes," in 1972.
"In the core of the band I take it to heart that we try to honor Lowell, and we do the same with Richie," Payne said.
But he pointed out that the current core goes back a long way, almost to the beginning. Of the current lineup, Paul Barrere (guitar and vocals), Sam Clayton (percussion and vocals), and Ken Gradney (bass) came on board over 40 years ago for the band's most successful album, "Dixie Chicken" (1973). Fred Tackett (guitar, mandolin, trumpet, vocals) joined in 1987 after Little Feat reformed following a period of inactivity, but had been around and about from the start as a longtime friend of Lowell George.
"I was there a couple of years before, but in the scheme of things these lines of lineage have been there since the beginning," Payne said.
The new member is Gabriel Ford on drums, who had previously been around for a couple of years as Hayward's drum technician. "I didn't even know he played drums," Payne said. "He's not Richie Hayward, nor should he be. He's Gabe Ford, and he owns `Rooster Rag.'"
One thing that has surprised Payne, however, is Little Feat's sudden burst of song-writing creativity in its fifth decade of existence.
Credit that, in part, to another relative "newcomer," Robert Hunter, longtime lyricist for the Grateful Dead who teamed with Payne in co-writing four of the 12 cuts on "Rooster Rag."
"Robert's contribution was a nice kick-start for the whole thing," Payne said. Meanwhile, Tackett wrote four songs for the album. Payne has seven left over.
"It's a really creative period for us," Payne said.
Asked what happened, Payne said, "I'm not super sure. I just got married last year, so I've had a new chapter in my life."
The easy-to-talk-to 63-year-old has other creative outlets as well including photography, poetry, and he's written quite a lot about rock music. He's also contributed to hundreds of records of other bands as an extremely well-regarded sideman.
"As for the band (Little Feat), we thought maybe we should do a record," Payne said simply. "It was just time to make record, and we did it. It was done in a kind of joyous manner."
So what about another?
"I think we could make one anytime," Payne said. Next year is a possibility. "We'll see what everyone brings to the table. We're sitting in a place we've never been before, which is to say we've got an excess of material."
But perhaps they key reason why Little Feat keeps lacing them up is that despite the discomforts of travel, Payne and the band still enjoy the many harmonies of playing live.
Little Feat has recently been both on the road and overseas, with performances in London, Switzerland and Tokyo.
"I love playing (live)," Payne said.
"You get on the stage and you're playing with your friends and you can really hear each other. And you say, `Man that was magical. I want to do that again.' "
Little Feat (Amy Lennard opening)
When: 2 p.m. Saturday - Doors open 11 a.m.
Where: Indian Ranch, 200 Gore Road, Webster
How much: $25; reserved tickets $37.50 and $32.50. Tickets are available at www.ticketmaster.com, all Ticketmaster outlets or call (800) 745-3000. Call the box office at Indian Ranch at (508) 943-3871 or go to www.indianranch.com
CUTLINE: Little Feat's newest album is "Rooster Rag." The band will be performing Saturday at Indian Ranch in Webster.