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Shine's CatchUp with Bill Payne of Little Feat with stories of playing with Streisand, Dolly, and more

Little Feat's Bill Payne
Polly Payne
Little Feat's Bill Payne

Welcome to Shine's CatchUp where WFPK host Laura Shine catches up with musicians about their music, new albums, or whatever they've recently been up to.

Wow. Just wow. I've been a fan of the California boogie, funk, jazz, rock and everything-in-between band Little Feat for the majority of my life. Never did I dream I'd get to speak to one of its members and especially the great Bill Payne! Bill is literally one of the greatest rock keyboardists there has ever been. Not only is he one of the band's founding members since 1969, but one of the most sought after accompanists there is. He's played with everyone from Pink Floyd to B.B. King to Cher, Dolly Parton, and Barbra Streisand! I caught up with him before Little Feat and Leftover Salmon play at Iroquois Amphitheater on July 13th here in Louisville, KY. The band has also re-released 1972's album Sailin' Shoes and 1973's Dixie Chicken as deluxe editions with several previously unreleased tracks. Check out our conversation and a special performance of their classic "Dixie Chicken" below!

You've been playing in Little Feat since 1969. What does it take to survive a rock-n-roll band for that long? What advice would you tell a young band who hopes to remain together for a long time?
Little Feat has had its share of breakups and reunions, especially in the early years. What I’ve found to a band lasting or not is how committed they are to the music they play. Is that gravitational pull strong enough to weather the disagreements, financial upheavals—through success or bouts of failure, along with the natural inclinations of time that tend to pull people further from one
another? IF your music is your refuge, then take advantage of that. It will be there for you should you want it and are flexible enough to engage with it.

You all have a rabid fan base who loves to hear your signature songs of the past. How do you introduce them to new songs? What newer song are you particularly excited about?
We have a collection of songs fans want to hear. Within the set list we include as many of those songs as we can, which allows us to bring in either newer songs or songs less familiar. We have a few blues songs that Sam Clayton is singing that we’ll include in the set. We’re working on a Blues E.P. featuring Sam. He is the real deal, believe me! As to other songs, we will begin to work them up this year. As of now, we don’t have them ready quite yet. There is a song Vince Herman and I’ve written about New Orleans that I can’t wait to dive into. Charlie Starr from Blackberry Smoke and I have a couple of songs, too. Soon!

The list of artists you have played with over the years is staggering in its breadth of amazing musicians such as Pink Floyd, Doobie Brothers, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, even Barbra Streisand and Cher! Do you have a favorite story you could share about playing with one or any of these artists?
I was asked to help Barbara Streisand come up with keys to songs she would be recording. I was asked to go to her home. There were candles throughout the living room with a high ceiling. A grand piano occupied a portion of the lovely room. I was a bit nervous going there to work with her, to be honest. I was warned she could be tough to deal with. She could not have been nicer. One of the songs we went over was Neil Diamond’s “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.” It took a brief moment to find the right key for her. She was sitting very close to me just off to the right of the piano. She then sang the song to me as I played. She was amazing. It was one of those moments I thought, I’m going to call my mom and let her know what happened. A really touching moment.
Another person I’ve worked for is Dolly Parton. She, like Streisand, is the consummate pro. She really doesn’t need to rehearse much of anything. She comes prepared. The project was the one of the two albums I played on with her, Emmy Lou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt. I’m afraid I don’t remember the song, but I was not feeling 100% that day. The arrangement on the song had just Dolly and me performing the first verse, as I recall. She was standing in back of me for the run through. I knew how she worked and was afraid it would take me awhile to get my part together. I just concentrated with everything I had and fortunately it worked out fine! She went to the vocal and the recording went very well. Dolly is a beautiful person in every respect of the word. I’ve always enjoyed being in the studio with her. That is true of Emmy Lou and Linda, as well.

What is something you'd like to do in your life that you haven't done yet?
An excellent question. I don’t really have an answer. What I hope is that the future will allow me to continue with my creative endeavors, while providing opportunities to work (and play) with others of a like mind. The art of doing is what opens the doors to things beyond our imaginations.

On July 13 when you play here in Louisville, KY. at Iroquois Amphitheater, Leftover Salmon will be opening the show. You were part of that band for a time. Will you be playing with them?
I certainly hope so. I love playing music with them. The door is open for them to sit in with us, as well. Always fun!

Video: Dixie Chicken/Tripe Face Boogie (Live) - Little Feat's Waiting For Columbus - 45th Anniversary Tour

Laura is the afternoon host from 3-6 pm weekdays. Email Laura at lshine@lpm.org