A fortuitous meeting in Montana between a local musician/promoter and music legend Bill Payne led to Fury’s Publick House in Dover being one of only five East Coast venues to host a unique evening of song, story and photography. Little Feat co-founder Payne is also a writer, photographer and session player who’s appeared on hundreds of albums during nearly 50 years as a professional musician.
Payne has appeared on records by the Doobie Brothers, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Donna Summer, Bonnie Raitt, Bad Company and Pink Floyd’s final studio album. His touring credits include the Rolling Stones and Jimmy Buffet.
For his New Hampshire appearance, he’ll receive support from Truffle, a Seacoast band that owes no small debt to the American roots rock music that Payne helped popularize. Hosting the event is writer Dennis McNally, longtime Grateful Dead publicist. Payne spoke with the Hippo this summer backstage at Blue Ocean Music Hall in Salisbury Beach, Mass., waiting for Little Feat to take the stage.
What prompted you to put together a retrospective?
That’s a good way to frame it. … it’s a combination of telling stories — gosh, 43 years I have done this, I had better share this story before I forget what the hell I’ve been doing. … I never really thought of the story of this life as being that different until quite a few years ago. I kind of always thought, doesn’t everybody do this? Doesn’t everybody get a call from the Rolling Stones to play, or U2 — but you can’t because of a dinner party?
Among your many sessions, what stands out?
Of course, playing with the Doobie Brothers ... it’s always great to get a call from folks like that. One time I got a call to play with Art Garfunkel, for example, and I just got this idea: If people are calling me, they must know who I am. In the beginning, literally every call I got, whether I knew who they were or not, I was like oh, that’s cool. ... It seemed a little unreal to me.
What about offbeat pairings?
Then conversely I guess, Hugh Hefner and his girlfriend, Barbie Benton — who was a very nice lady. I thought that was a little odd, but she was a good singer. I did a record with Engelbert Humperdinck. He was a little off to the side, very cool. I had a couple weeks or so of being really jaded but I snapped out of that very quickly. I don’t have any right other than to come into the session of whoever calls me and deliver nothing but the best, as opposed to trying to judge people on what they were writing or who they were or who I thought they were.... It’s a privilege to play on people’s records.
Let’s talk about the photography aspect of your upcoming show.
The name of this program is Tracing Footsteps, which is a Little Feat reference ... but the real reason I called it that is for the camera and the photos. You hear a song from when you were a kid and it makes you remember the sock hop.... Music takes you to a different place. My photography does that for me.
Which of the producers you’ve worked with stand out quality-wise?
Well, Ted Templeman was certainly one. Mutt Lange — I did one session with him, Robin Hood. … Ted Templeman would spend an inordinate amount of time making sure the rhythm section was laid out perfect, and I thought that was a cool thing.
How did the collaboration with Robert Hunter happen?
A couple of summers ago, [former Grateful Dead Manager] Cameron Sears brought Robert in through my side door. He said, “I would like to write some music with you guys.” ... Then he sent some lyrics over and I looked at them and said, “Oh, this is interesting.” … He is a very cinematic writer, I am a very cinematic writer myself of lyrics and music, and he marries up very well with a lot of people. It is not lost on me that he wrote a lot of wonderful tunes with Jerry Garcia and Bob Dylan. You’ve got to pinch yourself writing with someone like that. ... It’s OK to be a fan, but you’re there to do a certain thing. Make sure you get that done, too.
I had a hard time coming up with a word to define this show of yours.
It’s the Wayback Machine. It’s all about how you put together things; how they manifest themselves in what you are doing right now. ... This sort of approach … I saw elements of people doing it, but not quite the way I have done it. They didn’t have the photography, they weren’t able to combine a poem in the middle of the show and have a song that they actually played and constructed.
You learn a lot more than just about me at the end of it. You learn about the circles that I’ve been involved in … it’s almost like a Dickens tale.
Is there one record you played on that makes you smile when it comes on the radio?
Certainly “Hollywood Nights” with Bob Seger, that’s one I put the foot on the pedal a little more than normal … “China Grove,” Jackson Browne from The Pretender; I played on Bat out of Hell with Meatloaf, too. It is a long list. I can’t hold a job!