The roots of Americana music run deep and wide and many of the early originators and influencers are now approaching or are in old age. To recognise and celebrate recently lost artists AUK will start publishing obituaries in 2020 in our The Song Remains section reflecting the fact that while an artist may have died their music, art and spirit remain with us through their recordings. To kick start this new section of the website there is a Rollcall of some of those artists lost in 2019 with a full obituary of Paul Barrere guitarist with Little Feat. Our readers’ thoughts on this new section will be very much appreciated.
Steve Ripley Guitarist, Producer, Lead Tractor and Fully Fledged Okie Born 1950– Curator of the Tulsa Sound having worked with Leon Russell and J J Cale found commercial success with The Tractors died 3 January.
Reggie Young, Legendary Guitarist Born 1936 – Member of American Sound Studio house band he worked on countless sessions in Memphis and Nashville including Elvis Presley, The Box Tops, John Prine, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings and J J Cale died 17 January.
John Starling, Bluegrass Singer and Songwriter Born 1940 – A key architect of the progressive bluegrass genre in the 1970s with The Seldom Scene subsequently returning to the medical profession with periodic returns to the music business died 2 May.
Leon Redbone, Singer, Songwriter, Guitarist and Actor Born 1949 – Championed by Bob Dylan and specialising in early musical styles, switching from ragtime to the country music of the “Singing Brakeman” Jimmie Rodgers to the jazz of Fats Waller and the blues of Robert Johnson and Blind Blake died on 30 May.
Roky Erickson, Godfather Of The Austin Music Scene Born 1947 – With his band 13th Floor Elevators he put Austin on the musical map before Willie and the cosmic country scene of the seventies and influenced generations of musicians died on 31 May.
Dr John, New Orleans Icon Born 1941 – Artist and songwriter he kept the spirit of New Orleans alive and as a session musician he brought his gris-gris influence to many Americana albums including those by Rodney Crowell, Doug Sahm, Levon Helm, Willie Nelson, Maria Muldaur, Hoyt Axon, Van Morrison and Kinky Friedman died on 6 June.
Jeff Austin, Mandolinist Born 1974 – Founding member of neo bluegrass band Yonder Mountain String Band died on June 24.
Russell Smith, Lead Singer with The Amazing Rhythm Aces Born 1949 – Born in Nashville he had a solo career after The Amazing Rhythm Aces disbanded and found greatest success as a songwriter died on 12 July.
Bob Frank, Cult Acclaimed Songwriter Born 1944 – Memphis songwriter who it has been said was the greatest songwriter that nobody had ever hear of died on 18 July.
David Berman, Poet and Musician Born 1967 – Lynchpin of American indie rock band Silver Jews with his renowned literary approach to songwriting and who formed Purple Mountains in 2018, releasing their eponymous debut album in 2019 which made many best of year lists died 7 August.
Neal Casal, Roots Guitarist, Songwriter, and Cardinal Born 1968 – One of the go to guitarists and songwriters of his generation who worked with Ryan Adams, Chris Robinson, Willie Nelson and members of the Grateful Dead among others, at the same time as maintaining a solo career died 26 August.
Donnie Fritts, Legendary Alabama Leaning Man Born 1942 – Early architect of the Muscle Shoals sound, renowned songwriter and Kris Kristofferson’s keyboard player for over 40 years died on 27 August.
Jimmy Johnson, Muscle Shoals Guitarist Born 1943 – Founding member of Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section with David Hood, Roger Hawkins and Barry Beckett of whom Jason Isbell, who grew up in the Shoals area, tweeted “A lot of my favourite music wouldn’t exist without him” died on 5 September.
Robert Hunter, Grateful Dead Lyricist Born 1941 – A founding father of Americana through his songwriting partnership with Jerry Garica and subsequent work with Los Lobos, Jim Lauderdale, Little Feat and others died 23 September.
The Song Remains: Paul Barrere Singer and Guitarist with Little Feat 1948 – 2019
Following a diagnosis of liver cancer in 2015 Paul Barrere succumbed to the disease on 26 October ending a career that first achieved lift off when he joined Little Feat in 1972. He had originally auditioned for Little Feat at their inception as a bassist but he is quoted as saying “As a bassist I made an excellent guitarist” and he finally joined the band at Lowell Georges suggestion as second guitarist with additional new members Kenny Gradney and Sam Clayton completing the classic Little Feat line-up.
While Lowell George was the star of Little Feat with his distinctive slide guitar and idiosyncratic songwriting their sound was that of a truly integrated band who could play an eclectic blend of music including blues, boogie, country, folk, New Orleans R&B, rock and roll and jazz. As Lowell George’s personal problems increased Paul Barrere’s contributions to the bands recordings increased and with Bill Payne, he was responsible for the bands move in a more jazz fusion orientated direction on ‘The Last Record Album’ and ‘Time Loves A Hero’. Paul Barrere’s compositions were heavily featured on ‘Waiting For Columbus’ one of the great live albums of the 1970s.
Despite the critical success of ‘Waiting For Columbus’ Lowell George’s influence in the band was waning and when he died while touring to support his solo album ’Thanks I Will Eat Here’ Little Feat finished recording ‘Down On The Farm’ and then disbanded. Paul Barrere released two solo albums before Little Feat reformed with Craig Fuller, ex Pure Prairie League, on vocals and Fred Tackett on second guitar and mandolin. ‘Let It Roll’, the first album without Lowell George, was also one of their most successful going gold in 1989. Paul Barrere wrote or co-wrote 7 of the 10 songs and was now lead and slide guitarist. The album gave the reformed Little Feat the impetus to build a second career that lasted to the present day.
Paul Barrere and Bill Payne were the leaders of latter-day Little Feat and the band had a dedicated live following while also maintaining their celebrity supporters. There is a story that Eric Clapton brought his band to a reformed Little Feat show because he wanted them to hear a proper band. While with Little Feat, Paul Barrere also recorded and toured as a duo with Fred Tackett and released an album with Roger Cole. Little Feat issued ‘Rooster Rag’ in 2012 following the death of original drummer Richie Hayward in 2010. This album proved to be their most high profile since ‘Let It Roll’ containing as it did lyrics by Robert Hunter and a new Paul Barrere song co-written with Stephen Bruton, the famed Austin based guitarist and songwriter, and covers of old blues tunes.
Bonnie Raitt, one of Little Feat’s greatest fans and who also worked with Paul Barrere on her own recordings, provided the perfect remembrance calling him “a cornerstone of one of the greatest bands of all time”.
“Time Loves A Hero” from ‘Time Loves A Hero
“Feats Don’t Fail Me Now” from ‘Waiting For Columbus’
“Let It Roll” from ‘Let It Roll’
“Just A Fever” from ‘Rooster Rag’