45 years in the making, jam band tour no small feat

Band: Little Feat: “Waiting for Columbus Tour”
Date: Wednesday, March 23, at 8 p.m.
Location: Saenger Theatre, 6 S. Joachim St., asmglobalmobile.com
Tickets: $34.50 to $79.50, available through Ticketmaster

Forty-five years ago, Little Feat released the band’s first live album, “Waiting for Columbus.” Recorded over seven shows, “Waiting for Columbus” set new standards for jamming in the live environment, which have been embraced by bands over the decades.

Little Feat will return to Azalea City to celebrate the release of this iconic live collection. Crowds can expect this legendary jam band with a jazzy twist to fill Joachim’s gem with “Waiting for Columbus” cuts refreshed with ever-changing jams that will make every leg of the tour a unique experience. Little Feat founding member/pianist Bill Payne discussed the past, present and future of “Waiting for Columbus” and Little Feat with Lagniappe editor Steve Centanni.

Steve Centani: You’ve prepared for this “Waiting for Columbus” anniversary tour. How does it feel to revisit this tracklist and prepare it for the live environment?

Bill Payne: Well, luckily, we play a lot of that on our show anyway. There wasn’t much to really examine. We went with something management asked us to consider doing in November, and we did. We did “Little Feat by Request”. So we were playing a lot of songs that were outside of that realm, which in its own way made it easier when we got back to “Waiting for Columbus.” We are not here to reproduce it. Some do these live albums note for note. We don’t do that. It wouldn’t be Little Feat if we did.

We’re going to take those songs and do a different set of jams every night. We might have guests from time to time. We have a horn section, which is always cool. Some nights I might have Jay Collins, the saxophonist, play at the end of “Oh, Atlanta” and one night, maybe not. We’ll keep it fresh and might even cover some of these songs as acoustic numbers later in the year. I want to keep it full of surprises. We’re all going to keep the encore section open to play either songs from the extended version of “Waiting of Columbus” or “Let It Roll” or “Long Distance Love.” We will have a free zone there to see what we want to do. Overall I want to keep it fresh.

Centanni: What do you think of some of these songs that make them so timeless?

Paid : That’s a very good question. First and foremost, I think the songs themselves are timeless in the sense that they don’t necessarily represent a period of time, do they? “Dixie Chicken” could have been recorded last week. It’s not like a hit song someone recorded where someone goes, “That’s cool, but it sounds dated.” I think that’s true on most of these songs.

Centanni: With the original release, you went through seven shows to select the tracks that would become your first live album. What do you think is your favorite night and why?

Paid : I’d be lying if I could tell you the answer to that [laughs], because it’s been 45 years. I can’t remember what my favorite night was, to be honest with you. We had a great nights sleep at the Lisner Auditorium [in Washington, D.C.], where many of these songs come from. We were almost in the realm of rock stars in London. It’s not who we are, but when you got the Rolling Stones and Jimmy Page [Led Zeppelin], I don’t even know if they were at the concert, but we know that these people really liked us. This kind of worship is truly amazing. I ran into Keith Richards [Rolling Stones] two years before that. I was like, “Oh, my God! It’s Keith Richards! He was like, ‘We’re all of the same cloth.’ It was his way of saying, “Hey, you’re one of us. I was like, “Wow! How cool is that?” It’s on track.

We are not a jazz band, but we have a jazz band mentality. We’re going to rehearse something, record it and play it. Then, six months to a year later, we might say, “Hey, let’s try that with this arrangement.” Some people just get stuck in, “This is how we recorded, and this is how we’re going to play it.” It is also a way of approaching music. It was never the way Little Feat approached it.

Centanni: That’s one thing I’m looking forward to with this tour. It goes hand in hand with your music. Speaking of jamming, I listened to the reissue of “Fatman in the Bathtub”. Can we expect more reissues?

Paid : There are starting to be reissues of most of our Warner Brothers albums that are in the works right now. So Warner jumped on board with us to re-release a lot of stuff, including “Waiting for Columbus.” In line with the recording, I wrote 20 songs with Robert Hunter, including four on the album “Rooster Rag” in 2012. There are 16 more, and we are not going to record them all, but we let’s do a song or three that we wrote. I wrote with Paul Muldoon, who is a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and just edited Paul McCartney’s lyrics book [“The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present”]. He’s a great guy.

John Leventhal and I have written one song so far. I could dive with another if he wants. He is married to Rosanne Cash and is a great producer and a wonderful performer and obviously a great songwriter. Then there’s a guy you might know, which is Charlie Starr from Blackberry Smoke. Charlie and I wrote two songs, and they’re really good. We’re doing a PBS special in March. Charlie, Rosanne and John all do it with us. That’s not why I invited them to write. I didn’t hear about the special until much later.

We have a very good management company, Vector Management in Nashville. Ken Levitan is the leader. Then there’s a guy named Brian Penix, who’s our daily [manager]. We have some really great people supporting us. It makes things so much easier, as you can imagine, when trying to chase a trajectory with a group. It’s being musicians and reaching an audience. How do you do it yourself? You need people to knock on doors, be answered, and then be able to walk into the next room. That’s been the beauty of working with Vector so far.

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