With Rooster Rag, Little Feat go back in the studio for the first time since the passing of Richie Hayward. 

Photo of Little Feat and Paul Barrere
Little Feat with Paul Barrere (fourth from the left)

Rooster Rag is Little Feat's first studio album in seven or eight years, and its first without drummer and founding member Richie Hayward. It wasn't the first gig with a new drummer. Gabe Ford came on in 2009 with the blessing of Hayward, who was suffering with the liver cancer that took his life in 2010 . "Richie co-signed the whole deal," guitarist Paul Barrere says by phone from his home in Los Angeles. "At that point, we thought Richie's going to get better and Gabe's just going to hold down the seat. But Richie didn't get better." 

His time on the road with Little Feat gave Ford the assurance that when it finally came time for him to hold things down in the studio, "He played great" according to Barrere. "He's got a very funky groove, though he comes from a very funky family with an uncle like Robben Ford. His sensibilities are like ours, only younger. He's also got amazing focus. Richie was incredible. He would play these things and we'd say, 'Man, can you play that again?' and he go, 'Play what?' Gabe--you go, 'Hey, I dug that part. Can you do that again?' 'Yeah, no problem.'"

Little Feat plays Tipitina's Saturday night. Regular and VIP tickets are on sale now.

You've got a lot of touring ahead with the new album. Do you try to tour in shorter bursts, a few weeks at a time?

Yeah, we try to do three weeks on, a week off, so that everybody can recharge their batteries and nobody goes too crazy being away from home too long. We're all old.

I was about to say, I'd imagine there was a time when it was easier to pack up and go for months.

Sure, back in the days before people had families and stuff. 

Rooster Rag's your first new studio album in seven or eight years. Why so long?

There are quite a few reasons, really. Back in those days, we were touring 120 shows a year, and by the time you were done touring, the last thing you wanted to do was go into the studio. The emphasis really wasn't there. We also in that time made that record for Jimmy Buffett called Join the Band, where we did different arrangements of a bunch of Feat songs, and we had Dave Matthews and Jimmy Buffett, Bob Seger. Brooks and Dunn didn't "Willin'." So there was a project in the middle of that, but nothing new. During that time, I started writing a bunch of songs for a solo project that I just finished the tenth song for yesterday. Hopefully that will come out either by the end of this year or by the spring of next year.

We really hadn't thought about doing a Little Feat record and it was time. We decided back in February 2011 when we went in the studio we were going to do a blues record, hence we wound up doing "Candyman Blues" and "Mellow Down Easy." But we'd also cut "Brickyard Blues," "Slippin' and a-Slidin'," and a couple of other songs that made it on this record, "Church Falling Down," "Blues Keep Coming" and "One Breath at a Time." We had those eight songs, so our management said let's shop this around and see if there are any takers, and it didn't get a great response to say the least. We started playing those songs on the road, so we decided when we went back in the studio in September to re-record some of those because we had been playing them on the road and found the grooves for some of them. At that point, Billy [Payne] had been in contact with Robert Hunter and wrote a couple of songs with him. Fred [Tackett] had a couple of songs and I had a song I'd written with Stephen Bruton, so we said, "Why don't we make a Little Feat record? Forget this blues idea." Then all of a sudden, people were going, "Oh, that's different."

Tell me about writing with Stephen Bruton. [Bruton was an Austin-based guitarist and songwriter who died from complications due to cancer in 2009.]

It was great. It was just before he really got sick. He was such a great soul. He had a lot of sense of humor, and it was tough when he went. 

We wrote a couple of songs, one that's going to be on my solo project called, "Why You Want to Do Me Like You Do Me When You Know You Should Be Doing Me Right?" It's a little long for a title [laughs] and more tongue-in-cheek than "Just a Fever" [from Rooster Rag], although "Just a Fever"'s pretty tongue-in-cheek. When we started out on that, he had this idea, "How can we get 'delirium tremens' into a song?"

Is that how a song starts these days? You set yourself a challenge?

Yeah, a word, a phrase, a lick on a guitar. It's amazing what can spur on a song. I came down there last March or might have been after Jazz Fest and hung out with Anders Osborne for a couple of days and we wrote a couple of songs. He dragged me over and did that show for the Wetlands [The Voice of the Wetlands] Festival] which was guitarmageddon with me, Tab [Benoit], Camile [Baudoin], Dave [Malone] and Anders--did I miss any guitar players? It was a hoot.

Tell me about working with Anders.

It was great. For the past couple of years, Fred and I have come down to New Orleans and done this thing with Anders and Bill Kreutzmann and Anders' band. It's a fun jam. He thought it would be cool to write a couple of songs. He's doing so good now. I just listened to his whole album [Black Tar Galaxy] and it's amazing how eclectic it is. He's really branching out. 

Are the songs you wrote going to be on your new record?

With Anders? No. One I'm saving. Fred and I have been talking about doing a studio project since we go out and do our little studio duet things all the time. We're gathering the songs together at this point. There will be some covers. I want to cover Mose Allison's "Days Like This," and there's a version that we do of "Tears of Rage" that is real nice. He's got a couple of songs and I've got a couple songs that loan themselves to the guitar/mandolin thing we do.

Are you a fast writer?

I can be, yeah. Sometimes it takes years, and others fall right in place. At one point, gosh, about 10 years ago, I used to keep a pad and pencil by the bed because I'd wake up in the middle of the night with a line running through my head. That doesn't seem to happen as much anymore. Maybe my brainwaves are slowing down. 

How did Robert Hunter get involved?

Our managers used to manage the Dead. Cameron [Sears] had sent me and Billy an email saying, "Would you like to write with Robert?" I had a track that had some lyrics, so I sent that to him. He sent me back the lyrics, and I wrote him back saying, "Some of these are cool. Do you mind if I mix and match?" He really wanted to have complete control over the lyrics, so I said fine. No harm, no foul. But Billy just had some music with no lyrics, so now they've started this bond and have written 10 songs together or something.

It's cool writing with other folks. I like branching out these days. It's nice. The last studio record we made, Fred and I sat in his barn and wrote a lot of the stuff we did just sitting around picking. But he's got this little granddaughter now and she's got him wrapped around her finger [laughs]. Amazing how life can get in the way.

It's nice to get to a point where life can get in the way. It's sort of a sign of success. 

Yeah. Lord knows, I never thought I'd get to be 64. I just turned 64 a week ago. Back when I was in my 20s and 30s, it was going to be live fast, die young. Fortunately, I got smart in my late 30s. 

I was about to ask--when did you make a decision to not go that way?

I was 35, and I was starting to go down that dark road one more time. I had brother who'd gone through rehab and he started taking me to some AA meetings. The very first meeting I went to, the guy who was speaking was this cool old vato from East L.A., and I thought ,"Damn, this sounds very familiar. You mean there is a way to get off this shit? Alright!" [laughs]

  

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