Little Feat are slowing down.
"We cut back to doing about 80 to 85 shows, from our usual 120 to 125 shows [per year]," says Paul Barrere, longtime guitarist, singer and songwriter for the venerable, ever-popular rockers. But those extra weeks on his calendar are not spent idling; instead, Barrere and band mate Fred Tackett are using some of those empty dates to return to the road, revisiting favorites and other tunes as an acoustic duo.
"We don't do Feat songs the way Feat does them, obviously, because there are no drums and bass and keyboards, and it's not as loud," Barrere says by phone from his Southern California home. "It's more like a highlight on the songs themselves, how the songs were originally written before all the arrangement stuff takes place. It's very folky, very bluesy and down-home. And the neat thing is, I get to tell the stories about where the songs come from and how they were created. And sometimes," he adds with a dry chuckle, "those stories are even true."
With rock 'n' roll auteur Lowell George at the helm, Little Feat were already an established band when Barrere came aboard back in 1972, just as the group released its second LP, Sailin' Shoes. He laughs that he's "been playing 'Dixie Chicken' ever since." That song, along with the other Little Feat signature song "Willin'," remains an essential part of the two-man set lists. But beyond that, Barrere says, almost anything goes.
"There are a lot of Little Feat songs that the band just doesn't do, a lot of Lowell songs like 'Trouble' and 'Roll 'Em Easy' that the whole band will do maybe once a year, so we like to include those because people love to hear those things." Beyond that, both Barrere and Tackett have issued solo records over the years, which serve as sources for additional material, along with "our own likes and dislikes in the music world," the former including tunes from such contemporaries as Mose Allison and the Band.
Although he wasn't actually part of the outfit, Tackett was a frequent collaborator in Little Feat's early years. "Sometimes we would bring him in to do acoustic guitar or some really tricky neat electric guitar," Barrere says, "so he was always like the auxiliary player for Little Feat."
When Lowell George was abruptly struck down by a fatal heart attack in 1979, the group wrapped up a final record and then "just kind of parted company," Barrere recalls. But six years later, "we had an impromptu jam session and had so much fun. That's when the seed was planted and started to germinate for putting the band back together."
Someone was needed to round out the band's dual guitar sound, and keyboardist Bill Payne had a suggestion. "Billy said, 'What would you think about having Fred be the other guitar?' And I said, 'Man, that'd be perfect.' It was just a natural fit."
The current incarnation of Little Feat has, by now, long outlived the original sextet's reign, and the Barrere-Tackett duo dates are an unintended consequence driven by local radio stations along the way. "When we'd be on the road with Little Feat, they'd ask a couple of people to come in with guitars and do a couple of songs and an interview to promote the show. So Fred and I started doing that," Barrere explains. There followed a showcase date, at which a Japanese concert promoter invited them to tour his country for a couple of weeks, an offer that was accepted with alacrity. "So it just kind of sprung up out of nowhere," Barrere concludes.
Even though they've been doing the duo shows for "close to 10 years now," Barrere and Tackett have yet to release a studio recording in that format; a live album, Live from the North Café, is currently out of print. However, several performance clips are readily viewable on YouTube, including an appropriately haunting version of "Long Black Veil," recorded live and semi-surreptitiously just outside the stone circle of Stonehenge. "When the guy saw us with the instruments and asked us what we were doing, we said, 'We're going to go play for the stones,'" Barrere recalls. "I couldn't believe we got away with that."
Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett perform Friday&–Saturday, Feb. 27&–28, at the Hopmonk Tavern, 230 Petaluma Ave., Sebastopol. 8:30pm. $40. 707.829.7300.