Little Feat brings blues to Sarasota

Bradenton Herald – For the past 18 years the Sarasota Blues Festival has featured some of the best blues artists in the country. This year is no exception with performances from legendary artists Little Feat to a jazzy little 13-year-old guitarist named Mojo.

The event, which is Saturday at the Ed Smith Stadium Complex, features a mixture of blues — Funk/ boogie. Rockabilly. Soul/jazz. Smooth R&B.

Maybe that’s why the festival has been well-attended for nearly 20 years.

“With this festival, I want young and old, blues legends, up-and-coming, black and white, horns and guitar,” said Barbara Strauss, who coordinates the annual fest.

Strauss is particularly excited this year because of Little Feat’s arrival.

Seeing Little Feat perform in concert has been on the wish-list of area blues fans since the Sarasota Blues Festival began. But schedule conflicts and other issues kept the band from turning up, Strauss said. Until now.

“This has been a huge coup,” she said in finally booking the band. “I feel that this is going to be the biggest festival in many years.”

Not that the festival isn’t big already. The event has attracted thousands each year. Last year, 7,000 people attended the day-long event.

The main event

With songs like “Cat Fever,” “Dixie Chicken” and “Got No Shadow,” the 40-year-old band Little Feat has continued to jam in the way it knows best: With honest music — funky blues, California rock and dabs of country and soul.

“At the heart of what we do it’s American music,” said Little Feat keyboard player and founding member Bill Payne. “We have world influences in a lot of what we do as well.”

In fact, the band’s music has helped pave the way for other artists such as Jimmy Buffet and Dave Matthews, who performed with the band on its 2008 album “Join the Band.”

“The influences go both ways,” said Payne, 60, whose biggest influences are Elvis Presley (as heard on the band’s tune “Oh Atlanta”), the Rolling Stones, Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Miles Davis and many others.

Little Feat includes Payne, Paul Barrere, Fred Tackett, Richie Hayward (who is suffering from liver cancer), Kenny Gradney, Sam Clayton and interim member Gabe Ford. Over the years, they have stay busy either on the road or working with other bands on projects. But no matter how far music takes them separately, they always come back together as Little Feat. The love for what they do as musicians keeps them together.

“The root thing is that you should have music that you like to play, that you sound good at playing,” Payne said. “That will transcend all the different metamorphosis that a band will go through.”

Looking back 40 years, Payne is amazed at how far Little Feat has come. When he and Tackett were in their 20s, they used to sit and think what they would be doing at age 38.

“I said, ‘Well, we’d probably be on Las Vegas backing Anne Margret,’ ” Payne said. “We didn’t have a clue what was going on back then. People rarely do.”

In between playing the blues with Little Feat, Payne has toured as a drummer with high-profile acts such as James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, Stevie Nicks, Bob Seger and others. Clayton, the band’s conga player toured with Jimmy Buffett, as did Payne.

As a musician, Payne has always wanted to work with many great musicians. After nearly a lifetime in the music business, he’s got his wish. That and his never-fading love of music that has kept him young at heart.

Payne said as long as the passion for music is alive, anyone can make a living out of being a musician. Though they don’t necessarily have to be in a band. Music can be enjoyed for simply what it is.

“We look at music in such a pop culture lens oftentimes that we forget what the simplistic beauty and magic of music really is,” Payne said, who is working with the band on its next album.

That’s maybe one of the biggest reminders of the Sarasota Blues Festival.

One of the opening acts is “Mojo” Myles Band featuring 13-year-old Myles Mancuso. He’s performed with guitar legend Les Paul, Levon Helm and a host of others. Though Mancuso is backed by an adult band, he is versatile, playing the guitar, keyboards and sax. And he does vocals.

Strauss calls him nothing short of brilliant.

On the flip side of up-and-coming Mancuso is four-time Blues Music Award-winner Duke Robillard, named a legend of his own time.

He sings, writes music, produces and plays a mean guitar full of funk.

Besides the blues, the Grammy-noimated Robillard spins jazz, swing and big band tunes with his band Roomful of Blues.

His music will transport fans back in time on a journey that dips into the 1970s to as far back as the 1940s. Ever versatile, his name has been linked with Bob Dylan, John Hammond and Tom Waits.

“He’s a blues music icon,” Strauss said.

published Oct. 22, 2009

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