Little Feat provided some of my happiest musical memories of the late ’80s. Paul Barrere, who has died at the age of 71, was a big part of that.
I was introduced to the band by Steve Farmer, a very cool family friend, who also passed on a load of other good stuff: Talking Heads’ ’77, Joni’s Wild Things Run Fast, Sadao Watanabe’s Maisha, Steve Martin’s Wild & Crazy Guy, Steely’s Katy Lied.
I was instantly smitten with Feat’s The Last Record Album though, possibly picking up on something Ry Cooderish, whom I already liked and seen playing live in London.
Barrere’s stinging leads, tasty rhythms, decent vocals and excellent songwriting were a massive part of Little Feat’s middle and later periods – the eras that really grabbed me – and he toured with the band right up until near his death, I finally saw them live in 2000, during the same week I also saw Steely Dan for the first time…
Barrere joined Little Feat in time for the release of ’73’s classic Dixie Chicken. As Lowell George’s influence waned in the band’s middle years (and critics mainly derided the band’s embracing of prog, jazz and fusion alongside the blues, country and rock’n’roll), he contributed more and more.
As a teenager, Little Feat’s music fascinated me. There’s an oft-quoted maxim, attributed to Joe Zawinul, about Weather Report’s modus operandi: ‘We always solo and we never solo’. It could also be applied to Little Feat. Nothing was quite as it seemed. Barrere and George’s ensemble guitars meshed with Bill Payne’s keys to make a beguiling brew, sitting atop the brilliant rhythm section of Kenny Gradney (bass), Richie Hayward (drums) and Sam Clayton (congas).
Barrere was born on 3rd July, 1948, in Burbank, California, the son of Hollywood actors Paul and Claudia Bryar. He wrote or co-wrote many Feat classics, including ‘Skin It Back’ from Feats Don’t Fail Me Now, ‘All That You Dream’ from The Last Record Album, ‘High Roller’, ‘Keepin’ Up With The Joneses’, ‘Old Folks Boogie’ and ‘Time Loves A Hero’.
The band originally split after Lowell’s sad death in 1980, but reunited for 1988’s Let It Roll, which I bought at the time and need to investigate again (wish I still had it…). I also recall a great gig broadcast live by Radio 1 from the Town & Country Club around that time.
Sadly it’s often a great musician’s death that leads one to explore the nooks and crannies of their recorded legacy, and Barrere is no different: he worked with Bob Dylan and unbeknownst to me also recorded three solo albums in the early ’80s. I’ll be investigating further but have already taken a shine to the below.
Paul Barrere (3rd July 1948 – 26th October 2019)