On Saturday evening I woke up from a nap in a Denver hotel room. A quick rest before gearing up for a night of music at The Ogden. I reached over for my phone and turned my alarm off. Then the notification from a friend “Just saw Paul Barrere passed. I know you guy’s were friends.” Sometimes you fall sleep and the world is one thing and you wake up and it’s something else.
This is not the first time I received this kind of news inadvertently but this one caused me acute pain. A sharp tension in my chest and then tears. It was just something I wasn’t expecting. I know this was probably naive because Paul had spent a lot of time battling health issues the last few years, but I was shocked. The last time I spoke with Paul was earlier this month when we coordinated a meeting to visit him in LA after Christmas. “I’ll be home in December, call me when you get to town.”
Paul and I spoke for the first time in 2017 when he obliged me with a conversation. I learned that he started playing music when he was six. He was taking piano lessons but had decided he needed an instrument that wasn’t stationary. He didn’t want to have to practice in his living room. When he was 13-years-old he picked up a guitar but at that time he actually had considered trying to play baseball, he was good at it. When he was 16 he decided playing music professionally could be “a cool gig”.
Right before joining Little Feat in 1972 he was playing in a garage band in Laurel Canyon, CA. Lowell George really enjoyed their “sensibilities” as Paul put it. When Lowell asked him to join the band in ’72 he said “Absolutely, I am ready to go, gotta get out of this garage at some point.” We are all sure glad he did.
I asked Paul about his first show with Little Feat and he told me about the Crater Festival in Oahu “It was like, join the band then go headline a crater festival.” According to Paul “most people over there had kind of heard of Little Feat but there we were in Diamond Head Crater playing for probably about 4,000-5,000 people.” From there they booked a tour. Leave the garage, go to Oahu, book a tour.
One thing Paul did well when we spoke – was his emphasizing the differences between what it was like then and what it is like now. He made me nostalgic for a time that I would never get to experience, and I really loved him for that. When I was a kid listening to Little Feat I never thought I’d have a chance to get to know someone in the band. I never in a million years thought I would have the opportunity to learn about the seventies from his point of view. He had stories about Europe and The Rolling Stones, and big names that I really wanted to know more about – not to print but to have.
I can’t really put into words his spirit, but I always felt it, even over the phone. He was cynical in some ways. He talked to me a lot about new technologies and the downfall of the music industry as related to that. He really believed that the music was about the people. “You get this appreciation from people and it just lifts your spirits and let’s you know that the music is the important thing.”
I wish I had known Paul when he was in Laurel Canyon because I would have seen the version of him I grew up with in my head, a fresh-faced Paul before health issues and life took over, but I wouldn’t replace the strange friendship we formed for anything.
I will leave you with one last Paul story because it’s the one I want to remember. It was the Summer of 2018 at Peach Festival. Paul was there with Little Feat and Moe. and I was there with my fiancé who is also a professional musician. Back stage at Peach Fest is basically a giant parking lot. There is a catering tent and an artist lounge and people wonder around behind the main stage dodging golf carts and conversing between tour buses. It’s a pretty cool place to get to hang out. Anyway, I am standing in the chaos and to the left of me is Chris Robinson and a few people hanging outside one of the buses. Scott Metzger was in the catering tent and I saw Neal Casal back there too that day. As you can imagine, in places like this it’s hard to feel like you’re the coolest person in the joint – sometimes it’s hard to feel like you’re in the room at all.
Well, I am standing there looking around and I see a familiar outline in the back window of the bus that was center in the lot. It looked a lot like Paul. I thought about giving him a call but I hadn’t wanted to bother him. Everyone was waiting for the Little Feat + Moe. set and I figured he was busy. By the time I got done thinking, Paul was outside that big ole bus and hugging me. Pretty cool when you’re standing out back feeling like an intruder and then out walks the welcome committee to tell you, “You’re okay you belong here.” I’ll never forget that. He probably didn’t even know what was going through my head that day. It was rainy and we parted ways and I saw him play on that big stage with all those musicians and I was proud of him. It felt different than just being a fan. That was the first and last time I would ever see Paul take the stage.
To Paul’s family and friends and the fans who loved him so deeply – share your stories and his music and keep his memory alive in your hearts.
“Tour Stories: Alright, after fifty years of Little Feat and a whole lotta life lived what’s your greatest accomplishment? What are you most proud of?
Paul: I’d have to say my family. To actually have had the opportunity to make a decent living and to have raised three good kids, a loving wife, who stuck with me even though I spent most of the first twenty-three years away. That to me is a real sense of pride. There’s really no accomplishment like having a family that is functioning and not dis-functioning shall we say.”
(Tour Stories, Little Feat and Pastrami 2019)