Little Feat goes DIY and still comes up with twists and turns



By Steve Newton

Bill Payne has been singing and playing keyboards in Little Feat since the band’s inception in 1969, but he’s still learning new things about the music biz—like how to do the business yourself. Recently the group launched its own label out of North Carolina, Hot Tomato Records, through which it just released two double discs of previously unreleased live tracks and demos, Raw Tomatos Vol. 1 and Ripe Tomatos Vol. 1

“We’ve been thinkin’ about [starting our own label] for quite a while,” explains Payne, on the line from a tour stop in Keystone, Colorado. “The economics and perspective of when and how to put it together slowly presented themselves over the years. But what finally got us goin’ is we hit the wall with traditional record labels. So we said, ‘Well, if they’re not gonna promote our records, let’s do it ourselves.’ ”

The new CDs cover the years 1971 to 2001 and include many rare bits by the band’s legendary guitarist, Lowell George, the ex–Mothers of Invention member who died of a heart attack in 1979 at the age of 34. “We came up with a lot of good stuff,” claims the 53-year-old Payne. “There’s one track with Lowell and Bonnie Raitt playin’ ‘Sailin’ Shoes’, for example, that was recorded in ’73 at Paul’s Mall in Boston, and there’s an original demo of [the Lowell George classic] ‘Fat Man in the Bathtub’. The Grateful Dead people helped us with regards to the transfer from some of the tapes, which were reel-to-reel.”

Payne notes that the band will likely feature material from the new releases when it plays the Whitehorse Mountain Classic Rock Festival in Washington on Saturday (August 17) and the Commodore Ballroom on Sunday (August 18).

Or maybe not.

“It’s kind of a surprise what we do every night,” he contends. “[Guitarist] Paul Barrère throws in some things, occasionally I’ll make some suggestions, and then there’s a lotta stuff that just gets turned around when we’re up on stage. But the band’s playing beautifully. It seems hard to believe that after this long of playing that we would still be able to find new alleys and twists and turns to come up with, but we seem to be able to do that.”


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