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Bill Payne & Gabe Ford of Little Feat with special guest Robben Ford
December 01, 2012
Little Feat founding keyboardist Bill Payne in a duo set with drummer and Little Feat bandmate Gabe Ford
Saturday, December 1
8pm $25 & 10pm $15
For the past four decades, Bill Payne has spent more time on the road, in studios, and working with rock n’ roll hall of famers than most of that rare group of musicians who can pay the bills with their talent and endurance. He’s one of rock’s most talented keyboardists, a legitimate legend among peers. A founding member of Little Feat, he’s appeared on hundreds of studio albums and toured with the likes of Jimmy Buffet, James Taylor, and the Doobie Brothers. Most people in the music industry or familiar with rock’s meaningful past know this amazing musician’s songs and recognize his chops instantly. Countless musicians have shared time with him in the studio or onstage. More would like to, because he makes most musicians better.
Born in Waco, Texas, on March 12, 1949, he was raised in Ventura, California, where he began his journey as a musician from the comfort of his Mom’s lap in front of an old upright piano down in the basement. By the time he was five, he was taking classical lessons with music teacher Ruth Neuman. He continued for 10 years, fueled by a growing desire to interpret, play and create music. Then he took off on his own, playing in garage bands and strengthening his skills.
As Bill learned to master those black-and-white keys, he also was broadening and heightening his perception and grasp of a once-conventional America that was no longer black-and-white. His lifestyle – in fact his very existence in the ‘60s – had an immediate impact on his artistic vision. He made a brief detour to San Francisco before an abrupt turn south to Los Angeles with the idea of meeting Frank Zappa. That meeting eventually took place, but not before Bill was introduced to Lowell George, whom Frank had asked to start his own band after hearing his song “Willin’.”
What brought Bill to Los Angeles and introduced him to Lowell George produced one of the most enduring and eclectic bands of the seventies, one that continues four decades later: Little Feat.
While a member of Little Feat, Bill managed to become one of the most sought-after session players in the seventies in the Los Angeles studio scene. Lowell George’s death in 1979 opened up yet another chapter in Bill’s life as a touring musician. The same status he acquired as a session player applied to his time traveling the world playing with other artists.
The reformation of Little Feat took place in 1988 with the release of Let It Roll on Warner Brothers Records. The band’s latest release, Rooster Rag, has Bill co-writing 4 songs with legendary Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. They have, of this date, 11 songs, many of which Bill is playing in his newly started solo shows.
Always a collaborative musician, it took Bill many years to think in solo terms. Finally, in 2005, he produced his first solo album, Cielo Norte (“North Sky”), an elegant, often delicate soundscape, a musical equivalent of impressionist painting.
In 2004, while on a photo shoot for Cielo Norte in Corral Canyon near Malibu with his son, Evan, Bill discovered that another artistic outlet resonated within him: photography. His work there has emerged quickly into a formidable body of work (see www.billpaynecreative.com), and has become an essential aspect of his art as a whole.
All of this came together in 2012, when he debuted his solo show, “Tracing Footsteps,” which combines tales of the road, photography, and solo piano/vocal performance. Like the rest of his art, it’s uniquely Bill Payne. The year also saw him debut a different sort of solo show, a duo with Gabe Ford.
Gabe Ford has been part of the Little Feat family since 2007, when he became Richie Hayward’s drum tech. Part of a musical family – his uncle is Robben Ford, and Gabe’s father Patrick and other uncle, Mark, have been major players in the Bay Area blues scene for many years. They provided a path for young Gabe to learn the craft of being a consummate musician from early on. It definitely runs in the family. When Richie’s health failed, Little Feat discovered that they had a superb percussionist on hand, and Gabe stepped into the drum seat to applause from critics, fans, and band members alike. The combination of Bill’s music with Gabe Ford is a wonderful handshake.
Bill is an artistic gambler who is willing, in fact obliged, to take the untraveled path and to live and thrive in the gray area that divides black and white. He is not a musician of habit, nor one who needs his ego stroked regularly to inspire his creativity. His talent, resourcefulness, longevity and penchant for exploration define Bill’s artistic endeavors. His laid-back demeanor provides a perfect camouflage for the intensely passionate artist he shelters within. He lives and breathes to create. He is an artist. It’s what he’s always been about.