Jazz Fest is just around the corner and there are a host of amazing artists to look forward to. As we prepare for the double weekends of fun, we took some time to get to know some of the talented artists that will be playing in New Orleans. I recently had the chance to sit down with Fred Tackett, the guitarist for legendary rock band Little Feat. Tackett is a multi-talented musician who also plays mandolin and trumpet.
During Jazz Fest this year, Tackett will be playing two late-night shows in the Nolafunk Jazz Fest Series with with Bill Kreutzmann from the Grateful Dead, Anders Osborne, and Paul Barrere. The winning combination call themselves Dead Feat and you can find them at Republic New Orleans May 3 and 4. Talking with Tackett, I learned about everything from his songwriting process to meeting Lowell George to his love for music.
Fred Tacket of Little Feat
Did you come from a musical family? Were your parents musical?
My father and brother both played the trumpet.
You’re a multi-instrumentalist. What was the first instrument you learned to play?
My brother started teaching me the trumpet when I was 5. Then I took up the drums, and when Elvis came along, I got a guitar at 12.
How old were you when you wrote your first song?
I wrote an instrumental, “Zoroastrianism” for a concert in Little Rock, Arkansas when I was a senior in high school at 18 yrs old.
How did you first meet Lowell George?
My wife, Patricia, lived next door to Lowell in 1967 when I came to Los Angeles to work for Jimmy Webb, the songwriter. She brought Lowell over to Jimmy’s house to play sitar. Lowell was the only one playing sitar and studying at Ravi Shankar’s Kinara school.
How did you end up joining Little Feat?
Bill Payne and I were playing with Bob Seger on his “American Storm” album and Tour. Billy asked me to join after the Seger tour was over in 1987.
When Little Feat played on the Riverboat in the middle of the Mississippi, we knew we were part of an ongoing tradition, and it is a great honor.
How does your songwriting process work?
A lot of times, I come up with a title then I decide what kind of style and groove would be cool with the title. I usually write the words first these days and then compose music to go with the words, but my older songs including “Fool Yourself” were written music first, words second.
How did the song “Fool Yourself” come together?
There was a magazine, Evergreen, in the early 70s that was an arty mag. The actress who played Juliet in “Romeo and Juliet,” Olivia Hussy, was on the cover. It was sitting on the piano and I came up with the line, “Look out child you’re bound to change, You can’t ever stay the same.”
You’re playing late-night shows during Jazz Fest with Bill from the Grateful Dead. How did that show come together?
Our Dead Feat gig came from our friendship with Anders. Our promoter put the gig together and we communicate about songs via email and then we show up and jam. It’s really cool. We call it “guitarmaggeddon” among ourselves — four electric guitars and two drummers and a bassist.
What do you enjoy about playing in New Orleans?
When you play in New Orleans, you are aware of the musical traditions that you are participating in by preforming in New Orleans. When Little Feat played on the Riverboat in the middle of the Mississippi, we knew we were part of an ongoing tradition, and it is a great honor.
You tour a great deal. What have been some of your strangest moments on the road?
I went to Rio with Jimmy Webb and Bill Medley to represent the USA in an international song contest. The contest lasted about three weeks as a coup was going on simultaneously with teenage warriors in machine gun-manned barricades around the television stations and stadiums. We were there with the actor, James Coburn, and Our Man Flint and it was like being in one of his movies. Look for the book.
What are your hobbies outside of music?
I love to play and work in the garden.
Do you have a quote or motto that you live by?
My motto comes from Kid Ory and you might have heard it on Treme, but I heard it in the 60s: ” Straight ahead and strive for tone.”
What advice would you give to musicians just starting out?
My advice for new musicians comes from George Burns: “Take your wallet onstage with you and good luck to ya.”