A Few Minutes with… Little Feat’s Newest Member, Scott Sharrard, Coming to The Egg Nov 16th
When Scott Sharrard played his first Little Feat show, the guitarist said, “I was the right guy to be there” – for the saddest possible reason.
Feat keyboardist Bill Payne told the crowd that longtime Feat guitarist Paul Barrere had just died. Standing in his spot was Sharrard, no stranger to grief at losing his heroes.
“I played guitar in Levon Helm’s band for his last show, in his house,” said Sharrard from his Harlem apartment last week. “I carried Gregg Allman on stage for his last shows.”
“The ones we’ve lost are close to us at all times,” said Sharrard. “As musicians, our job is to move energy…when we make sound sometimes I feel like we’re trying to talk to them or summon them…there’s a shamanistic quality to being a musician and that was a heavy shamanistic evening for the entire band.”
That moment, he felt, was meant to be. “We looked at each other at the end of the gig and we were like, ‘OK, this is the band now, obviously.’”
Sharrard plays with Little Feat Tuesday, Nov. 16 at The Egg, along with longtime members Bill Payne, keyboards; Kenny Gradney, bass; Sam Clayton, percussion; Fred Tackett, guitar; and new drummer Tony Leone (Ollabelle, the Midnight Ramble Band).
Before that first show, Sharrard told his new bandmates “You’ve lost a brother in arms who created this band with you and I’m going to help you guys carry this music across the finish line. We’re going to do it for him.”
“You can’t replace (departed Feat members) Lowell George (guitar), Richie Hayward (drums) and Paul Barrere (guitar),” said Sharrard. “These are three of the most brilliant musicians in American music history…What you do is honor them.”
Sharrard honors them through open, humble collaboration, but also tries to “kick some ass, and scare the shit out of people and give them a great time.”
Humility and kick-ass confidence powered Sharrard’s music-making from the start. “Going back to 12-years-old, my (inspirations) Beatles and Rolling Stones were the Allman Brothers and Little Feat,” he said. As a musician, Sharrard’s “twin journey” touches both bands.
Obsessed with Chuck Berry and Mad Magazine, Sharrard found “Little Feat somehow brought together these elements in their style.” He said, “I don’t know how one rock and roll band did that, but they did that – and beyond.” Awed by Jimi Hendrix – “I thought this was an alien from another planet…the greatest thing that ever happened!!” – Sharrard saw in Little Feat a more attainable model. “I thought Little Feat was some of the greatest music I had ever heard, but I thought, Hold on now – I could maybe put together a band like that and maybe I should try.”
After moving to New York with his band the Chesterfields, Sharrard’s Hudson Valley saxophonist friend Jay Collins introduced him to Gregg Allman who hired him in 2008 as guitarist and eventually musical director and co-writer in the Gregg Allman Band that toured when the Brothers were off the road. (Longtime member of Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble Band, Collins plays at The Egg in Little Feat’s horn section with Steve Bernstein, trumpet; and Erik Lawrence, saxophones.)
“Gregg and I just hit it off,” said Sharrard. “I jammed with the Brothers and we just really connected.” Sharrard said, “In his own (the Gregg Allman) band, he felt like that was his band, and the Allman Brothers was Duane’s band. (Gregg’s guitarist brother Duane died in a 1971 motorcycle crash.) So, with us, he almost felt like he was on vacation.”
Gregg welcomed collaboration and spontaneity and revered guitarists including his late brother, also David Gilmour of Pink Floyd and Wayne Bennett whose interactive call-and-response style in Bobby “Blue” Bland’s band inspired the Allman Brothers’ take on “Stormy Monday Blues.”
“One of my biggest influences in my life, besides Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Lowell George and Duane Allman is Glenn Gould, the great classical pianist,” said Sharrard.
Playing Bach, Sharrard explained, “He’s playing every single note that Bach wrote and he/s playing it in the style that it’s supposed to be played; but his feel in terms of tempo and the emphasis he puts on notes give him a signature of his own.”
Sharrard said, “To me, that’s the high water mark of playing any of these gigs is how you pay tribute to the style and the legacy and uphold it while also making your own mark.”
Sharrard made his mark in years of gigs with the Gregg Allman Band, also playing guitar in Gregg’s “Southern Blood” album. He co-wrote “My Only True Friend” with Gregg who was pleased when it won a Grammy nomination but confused that it was in the Americana category. Gregg asked Sharrard, “Americana, huh – is that what they’re calling rock ’n’ roll now?”
After the Gregg Allman Band ended with Gregg’s death in 2017, Sharrard organized several bands and played often hereabouts. “Rick’s place, the Cock ’N’ Bull, they’re like family to us,” said Sharrard who played the Galway restaurant and concert venue regularly for five years. “They’ve really been some of the most special shows of my life.”
While living in COVID quarantine at his mother in law’s home in Shokan near Woodstock, Sharrard supported his family by teaching songwriting, guitar and voice on ZOOM.
“During the pandemic, Rick’s (Sleeper, owner of the Cock ’N’ Bull) place was the first live action gig I did, outside at his place in the summer of 2020.” The Scott Sharrard Band wrapped what had become a monthly residency in October as Little Feat brought him aboard – challenge and opportunity deluxe.
“I had been playing all those styles of music that they pull from my whole life,” said Sharrard. “So to me it comes naturally to switch feels and genres the way they do because I learned to play music listening to them and other bands of that era.”
Looking back, he explained, “The Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, they’ve all got this incredible breadth of influence in what they do in music.” He then added The Band, Los Lobos and NRBQ to what he called “a special club of elite musicians who make amazing records and write amazing songs.” He added, “Those bands are all limitless. They use genres the way a painter would use colors.”
Sharrard played his first Little Feat gig with only 45 minutes of rehearsal after he’d learned 60 songs.
He recalled, “When Bill (Payne) came out and announced Paul Barrere’s passing, in the audience at that first gig there was an energy that went through that room that I can’t describe.” (Payne has since announced that he’s left the Doobie Brothers after touring with them for several years, to devote his energy full time to the revitalized Little Feat.)
The audience energy that greeted Payne’s announcement, Sharrard said, “made me want to play so bad.” He said, “When the band started playing, it was almost that moment that you dream about, when I was literally 12 years old in my room, tuning my white (Fender) Strat (-ocaster electric guitar) that I’m playing now in the band in open A (tuning) trying to figure out what the fuck Lowell (George) was playing.”
Sharrard marveled, “Now I’m onstage with them, and it was like being that kid, but actually being inside the record.”
Little Feat plays The Egg (Empire State Plaza, Albany) Tuesday, Nov. 16. Slide guitarist Jack Broadbent opens, at 7:30 p.m. $75, $59.50, $49.50. 518-473-1845 www.theegg.org
(NOTE: In Little Feat’s last area show – October 19, 2019, at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall – Larry Campbell filled in for Paul Barrere. Campbell also brought his Midnight Ramble band-mates, saxophonists Jay Collins and Erik Lawrence and trumpeter Steve Bernstein. These same horn players will perform with Little Feat at The Egg on November 16, 2021.
Before that 2019 show, I phone-interviewed Paul Barrere on the Little Feat legacy for the Daily Gazette.
Any band that rocks for 50 years faces many forks in the road. They either become human jukeboxes, like the Beach Boys who change players but play the hits the same way for decades. Or they evolve as self-renewing creative forces, like NRBQ who play new songs and re-imagine the old ones.
Little Feat lives on the creative side of that particular fork, celebrating 50 years of funky rock Saturday at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall (30 Second St.).
Founded the year “Abbey Road” hit (see Jukebox), the durable quintet features original keyboardist Bill Payne plus longtime guitarists Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett, bassist Kenny Gradney and percussionist Sam Clayton, plus new drummer Gabe Ford, replacing the late Richie Hayward.
“Everybody in the band is so accomplished that we can manage to fit in with six guys playing all at once,” said Barrere by phone the same August night Payne played SPAC with the Doobie Brothers. Barrere explained how skill and space power the band past breaks (or break-ups). Little Feat survived the deaths of Hayward (2010) and founder Lowell George (1979), then the short-term tenures of singers Craig Fuller and Shaun Murphy. “We have a way of creating space that allows everybody to have a voice,” said Barrere. Recalling how the late, great Art Neville explained the Nevilles’ “secret groove” to me years ago, I asked, “You mean: what you don’t play?” Barrere said, “That’s exactly right.”
In 1972, “I was brought in to play second guitar, mostly,” he said, “rhythm and some lead stuff, and do some background vocals.” This supporting role didn’t last long, as leader and main writer Lowell George “told me and Billy we could become more prolific and write more, sing more and play more.” Until then, Little Feat had been very much George’s band. “He wrote some great, great songs,” said Barrere, “but that can only go on so long because it’s a real weight on your shoulders; and he realized the potential Billy and myself had as writers.” He added, “That’s an amazing thing, when leaders can pull something like that off and not let their ego get in the way.”
Also in 1972, Lousiana-born Gradney replaced founding bassist Roy Estrada; like George, Estrada played in Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention. Now the band cruised L.A.-style but also grew a new beat like a Mardi Gras parade or a late set at Tipitina’s. They arena-rocked through the 70s as funky new tunes from their classic “Dixie Chicken” (1973), “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now” (’74), “The Last Record Album” (’75), “Times Loves a Hero” (’77) and “Waiting for Columbus” – one of rock’s greatest live albums – followed early George-penned faves including “Willin’,” “Trouble” and “Tripe Face Boogie.”
Even the hiatus after George’s death didn’t feel permanent. “We had already had so many break-ups, literally,” said Barrere, who soon recorded two solo albums. “I got the Dixie Dregs as my backup band, and that’s not a bad thing,” he understated. “Unfortunately, as Lowell used to say, that stuff was too hip for the room, and the records didn’t sell.” Several Feat players, including Barrere, also guested on jazz giant drummer Chico Hamilton’s “The Master” album.
Barrere said, “After Lowell’s passing, we had gone our own separate ways. But every time one of us would play – Billy was playing with Linda Ronstadt or Jackson Browne (and Hayward toured with Joan Armatrading) and I was tromping around the south on the chitlin circuit playing the blues – people would yell for Little Feat (songs). So we had this neat jam session and out of that came the idea of putting the band together and we made ‘Let It Roll’” (’88). They added singer Craig Fuller (ex-Pure Prairie League). “He had a haunting feel,” said Barrere. “He sounded at times so much like Lowell.” They played the Palace that year, a compelling comeback, then returned with singer Shaun Murphy to play the Empire State Plaza (’99), then The Egg (’17), among other hot local shows.
However, cancer struck both Barrere and Hayward. “When my health went downhill – I first had Hep-C, then that went into cancer and I had treatment for that – I couldn’t tell the guys not to go out with other people,” said Barrere, noting side gigs by Little Feat members, especially Payne. “Bill lives in hotels,” laughed Barrere. “I’ve never seen a man go on the road so much!” Barrere added, “Once I started feeling better, I started doing duet stuff with (Feat guitarist) Fred (Tackett), and we even played (the Van Dyck) in Schenectady.”
When Hayward died in 2010, Little Feat found a replacement in their own crew. “We just really needed to make sure that whatever drummer we got can cover all the bases,” he explained. “Gabe fits that bill perfectly. When he was our drum tech, he would sit right there behind Richie and see how all those parts were played. He plays the parts, but he also brings his own feel to it.”
Meanwhile, Little Feat songs and whole albums (16 studio releases and 17 live sets) keep rolling on their own. Barrere said Phish playing the Feats’ entire “Waiting for Columbus” album is among his favorite covers. “It’s nice having all these jam bands, like Gov’t Mule, Phish and Widespread Panic play a song or two of ours here and there because it kind of revamped our careers. Their fans became our fans.”