Little Feat, 40 years on, keep rocking Americana

CROPREDY, England (Reuters) - A day after the death of celebrated drummer and founding member Richie Hayward, the remaining musicians of iconic 1970s rock band Little Feat found themselves in a strange place.

Long-time Little Feat guitarist Paul Barrere rocks the crowd at Fairport's Cropredy Convention in Oxfordshire, England August 13, 2010. REUTERS/Jeremy Gaunt

Far from their American roots -- the southwestern deserts of “Willin’” or the Mississippi river banks of “Dixie Chicken” -- they faced instead a sodden, mud-covered field at Fairport’s Cropredy Convention in rural Oxfordshire.

More pies, beer and cigs than the weeds, whites and wine of Willin’.

Little matter. The band, which was founded in 1969, belted out a crowd-pleasing, rocking set that had all the energy of the early years plus a few new musical wrinkles that kept it fresh.

Most of the current line-up have some claim to being originals, including keyboardist Bill Payne, who was in at the very start with Hayward, who died after a long illness last Thursday, and Lowell George, one of rock’s talented young casualties, who died in 1979.

Guitarist Paul Barrere, percussionist Sam Clayton and bassist Kenny Gradney all joined in time for the 1973 release of the landmark Dixie Chicken album and guitarist Fred Tackett played on and off in the early days before joining full time when the band reformed in the late 80s after a hiatus.

But Barrere says it is not the membership of the band that matters all these years later -- it is the music that differentiates Little Feat from bands that had a few moments in the sun before fading.

“A lot of these bands had hits,” he told Reuters before taking the stage last Friday. “Little Feat had music. That is really the core of our existence.”

What Barrere means is that Little Feat had a sound, a kind of rock-blues-honkytonk-county-Cajun mix that is so hard to define that he now simply calls it “Americana.”

It was on display to great effect at the Cropredy festival, where songs such as “Fat Man in the Bathtub,” “Oh Atlanta” and “Sailing Shoes” morphed from the familiar into different tunes and styles with the flick of a guitar string.

The ‘60s and ‘70s were also alive and well with a roaring sing-a-long rendition of “Don’t Bogart that Joint.”

Nor is there any sign that a 40-odd-year history is about to ease, deaths notwithstanding.

Following on from “Join the Band,” an album of hits recreated with the likes of Jimmy Buffett, Dave Matthews and Emmylou Harris, the band is working on a new live album of songs from latter days gigs.

After that, Barrere says, it’s a project to take a look at world blues, both written by band members and possible covers. John Lee Hooker’s “Hump Me One More Time” and Little Richard’s “Rip It Up” are under consideration.

Americana it is, then.

Editing by Steve Addison