Patter of Little Feat

Band veteran Bill Payne revels
in the ‘terror and joy’
of playing music live

Oh, the rigors of the road: "I only get a couple of days in Hawaii after the gig," reports piano-pounder extraordinaire Bill Payne of Little Feat. "Then I gotta go to the Florida Keys and hang out with Jimmy Buffett and play some tunes for a recording." Yeah, it's a tough life.

"Been doin' it a long time," continued Payne. "Some decades now, 80 to 100 shows a year. My oh my."

In concert

Little Feat with the Vince Esquire Band and special guests

>> 6:30 p.m. today at the Kilohana Plantation in Lihue, Kauai. Tickets $28 advance, $35 at the gate. Call 245-5608.

>> 7 p.m. Friday at the Kakaako Waterfront Park. Tickets $28 advance, $35 at the gate. Call 732-6699.

>> 5:30 p.m. Saturday at the Kona Brewing Co., Brewhouse Oasis, Kona, Big Island. Tickets $28 advance, $35 at the gate. Call 334-1133 or 334-2739.

>> 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Castle Theatre, Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului. Tickets $28, $33 and $38, reserved seating. Call 242-7469.

Call: For mail order or information on specific ticket outlets on each island, call (808) 896-4845.

It was a drizzling gray afternoon in central New Jersey, where he was, and he asked about the weather in Hawaii, where he was headed for a series of interisland gigs.

"It's outside, right? First time we played in Hawaii, when Lowell was with us, was at the Diamond Head Crater Festival in 1972. Great gig, but man, sure was windy."

Lowell is -- was -- Lowell George, sizzling slide guitarist and dark-of-night Dixie visionary who founded Little Feat in 1969 with Payne and drummer Richie Hayward as an afterschool project from Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention. The guys clicked, and their progressive mix of rambling, joyous boogie, soul-train funk and snappy jazz made them the funkiest white band on the planet.

Little Feat derailed for a few years when George died in 1979, but they've moved on to cut a memorable groove across the American musical landscape. Most of the band has served for more than three decades -- Payne on keyboards, Hayward on drums, Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett on guitars, Sam Clayton on percussion and Kenny Gradney on bass -- and the "new kid" whose been singing with the band since 1993, Shaun Murphy.

"I love playing live," continues Payne. "Touring's arduous, sure, but I get to go to a lot of nice places and entertain great people. The only straight job I ever had was as a paperboy. Talk about lucky -- most people have to take real jobs to support their musical habit. I found my niche, and it's been a nice long run.

"Musicians are a bunch of characters, and we've played with an impressive list of people, but you don't take anyone for granted. I'm a musician, not a pop star. Don't worry about the bulge in my pants, or if my corset looks good. I have a lot of friends who aren't musicians, and they've influenced me. A lot of musicians get cut off from regular folks who have different passions, and that isn't healthy."

WHAT ABOUT the nuts and bolts of the job?

"We probably should rehearse more," admitted Payne. "It's the way you work out stuff like what NOT to do in a song, where the handoffs go, when I can take a break while the others work. Even when you're playing five or six shows a week, every musician needs to rehearse. And most people don't like to rehearse! But it's a function of being a professional. It's like sneaking up on a glass of water to get a drink -- you don't know why you have to do it, but you do."

For the most part, Payne travels with his own keyboard, sponsored by Korg.

"I really like them, fine instruments. And you know what you're getting. A poor workman blames his tools, and I'll play whatever they give me. When I was working for Bryan Adams on the 'Robin Hood' soundtrack, with Mutt Lange producing, they had this funky piano with one note, right in the middle, that would stick, and nobody seemed to notice. So I just played around it. Skipped that note. I was up there recently, and Mutt's piano still had that sticky note. Never fixed it."

Got that? Billy Payne will play around the sticky note if it gets in the way, all for the excitement of creating music.

"That's what I love about playing live -- you never know where it's headed. You jump up and go for it. Little Feat is good about building in lots of twists and turns in the music, so it's never the same, night after night, mile after mile," said Payne, and his smile was apparent, even long-distance. "It's exhilarating, that ... psychic handshake! ... that occurs on stage, that unspoken communication when everything clicks. Every day, it's an experiment in terror and joy."

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