Guitarist Jimmy Page's Favorite American Band Is Coming to the Capitol Theatre
Little Feat singer and keyboardist Bill Payne discusses his long-running rock band and upcoming projects.
Photo by Polly Payne
Cofounding and performing alongside Little Feat — whom legendary Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page once called his favorite American band — is just a fraction of Bill Payne’s jam-packed career.
A touring member of the iconic Doobie Brothers, Payne is also an on-and-off keyboardist for Leftover Salmon, as well as a songwriter, photographer, and aspiring memoirist. For Payne, none of these bands need to take precedence over the others, since they are all in service of the same thing: music.
“My home is with any of these guys. It’s sort of like the old adage, Home is where I lay my head at night,” he says with a laugh. “It’s not exactly like that, but since I hadn’t been doing a lot of dates with Little Feat over the last few years, I was very grateful that Leftover Salmon included me in their scene, and I have known the Doobie Brothers forever, so to be playing with those folks is a real treat, and we are a family, as well. I have these extended families. A lot of it is just being a musician and being part of that big family, which is a pretty cool thing.”
This doesn’t mean that Payne isn’t hotly anticipating his 50th anniversary tour with Little Feat, which will be bringing him to Port Chester’s Capitol Theatre on Oct 18. With five long decades under his belt, including the 1979 passing of close friend and Little Feat cofounder Lowell George, Payne is largely introspective about the upcoming shows.
“It does feel different, and I am excited about it,” he says of the tour. “I am not 100 percent sure where it is all going in the future, but 50 is a hell of a marker. I hope to write something by the end of the year about what this anniversary means to me. I still reflect on the tenets of what Lowell and I thought back in 1969: What kind of band did we want? How restrictive were we going to be with regard to who was in the band? What does Little Feat mean in terms of this living, breathing apparatus? It was a wild ride, and it still is.”
To keep his work fresh, Payne says he has been listening to a great deal of varied music and reading a virtual avalanche of books. Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and Chopin are just a few of the artists Payne says he has been enjoying, while nonfiction tomes on former secretary of state George Marshall and the scientific value of Greenland currently populate his nightstand.
“If someone is playing music, it is what they are. It is our life; it is our language; it is our love. We not only share it with others, we share it with ourselves.”
According to the rocker, his reading has also spurred in him a mix of fear and hope for the current state of the world. “All of these things are eye opening,” Payne says. “I am a child of the ’60s, and I never thought I would see darker days than we saw in 1968, but these days are darker, in the sense that they are so convoluted as to what people actually believe. It’s frightening. I have two granddaughters, 11 and 5, and I worry about them. Because if you read about World War I or World War II, it doesn’t take much to set people off on a course of madness, and we are on a course of madness right now.”
Yet, through creativity, Payne also has hope. “So, the music I am playing is a refuge. Music is not the benign feature that a lot of people believe it to be. If all you are listening to is pop, you aren’t going to think of the fact that music can exalt one’s soul or damage it. So, I take the stuff seriously, but I don’t take it so seriously that I lose that aspect of having fun while doing it.”
Indeed, it is almost impossible to imagine Payne ever not reveling in creativity. He is stewing on a possible follow-up to his successful 2005 solo album, Cielo Norte, and has already produced five songs with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon, as well as a handful with the late novelist Richard Wheeler.
“I also wrote a few songs with my son and did one called ‘Carnival Ghosts,’ with Joe Henry, which I want to use as the title of my book,” says Payne, who hopes to someday write a memoir and who has yet another intriguing musical project on the horizon. “I can’t mention the artist’s name yet, but it’s someone I’ve always wanted to work with,” he teases.
Now 70 years old, Payne’s touring schedule is as intense as ever, but the reason for his hard work remains eminently clear. “I feel like I am still expanding,” he says. “If someone is playing music, it is what they are. It is our life; it is our language; it is our love. We not only share it with others, we share it with ourselves, and we are all just so fortunate to have music.”