Bill Payne and Little Feat: Masters of Musical Fusion and Timeless Innovation


From the Mothers of Invention to Little Feat

Though they had all the trappings of a Southern-fried blues band, Little Feat were hardly conventional. Led by songwriter/guitarist Lowell George, Little Feat were a wildly eclectic band, bringing together strains of blues, R&B, country, and rock & roll. The band members were exceptionally gifted technically and their polished professionalism sat well with the slick sounds coming out of Southern California during the ’70s. L ittle Feat weren’t conceived as a straight-ahead blues-rock group. George and Estrada were veterans of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention.

The Success of Dixie Chicken

George and Estrada formed Little Feat in 1969 with keyboardist Billy Payne. Neither their eponymous first album in 1971 nor 1972’s Sailin Shoes were commercial successes, despite strong reviews. As a result, the group temporarily disbanded, with Estrada leaving music to become a computer programmer. The group reconvened later in 1972 and the music was given a funkier feeling, as demonstrated by 1973’s Dixie Chicken. The band toured heavily behind that record, building a strong following in the South and on the East Coast. Nevertheless, the group remained centered in Los Angeles, since the members did a lot of session work on the side.

Cult Status

The band began to earn a cult following but Lowell George’s increasingly erratic behaviour and drug abuse worried its members. The band continued to  blend of various genres and they were constantly  experimenting with sound. It was this willingness to incorporate different musical elements and styles into their work that not only defined their unique signature but also contributed to their longevity and influence in the music industry. 

""Bill Payne is the greatest pianist in the world" - Sir Elton John

In interview, Bill Payne shares how the band wanted to create a unique sound that didn’t fit into any specific genre or category. As a result, Little Feat’s music developed a distinct identity that captured the attention of fellow artists and critics alike. The evolution of their sound throughout the years can be credited to Little Feat’s open-minded approach to music-making, which other musicians have certainly learned from. Bill Payne’s keyboard playing style is a defining element of Little Feat’s sound. Their  albums showcased the band’s eclectic mix of genres and established them as a force in the rock music scene. Hits such as “Dixie Chicken” and “Oh Atlanta” helped solidify their reputation and expanded their fan base.

Lowell George's death - 1979

Following 1974’s Feats Don’t Fail Me Now, Bill Payne became the the band’s main songwriter and were primarily responsible for the jazzy fusions that followed. Little Feat continued in that direction on Time Loves A Hero (1977), Waiting for Columbus,  (1978), and Down on the Farm (1979). Lowell George was becoming increasingly frustrated with this new direction so recorded a solo album which was released in 1979. Following its release, he announced that Little Feat had broken up and he took off on a solo tour. Partway through that tour, he suffered a fatal heart attack.

The band continued on with new members. Over the years, Little Feat has undergone various lineup changes, but Bill Payne has remained a constant presence. His contributions to the band’s sound and his collaborations with other musicians have solidified his reputation as a respected keyboardist in the rock music world. Their 1988 album Let It Roll went gold. Little Feat continued to tour, losing members along the way. 

Little Feat and Bill Payne today

Today, Little Feat continues to perform and tour, with Bill Payne playing a key role in the band’s ongoing success. Their music continues to resonate with audiences, blending a wide range of genres into a unique and enduring sound. In our interview, Bill Payne discusses how Little Feat’s music inspired and influenced not just their fans, but also fellow artists such as Robert Plant, Led Zeppelin, and The Rolling Stones.  To learn more about the talent musician (who also specialises in photography) head for Bill Payne’s website here.

45th Anniversary tour

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