Fred Tackett: Coming Home
"A lot of people leave Arkansas and most of them come back sooner or later. They can't quite achieve escape velocity."
This has been true, if only temporarily, for the many famous musicians from Arkansas: Louis Jordan, Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, Levon Helm and Bob Dorough, all of whom escaped Hillbilly gravity to make their names, returning home from time to time. Add Fred Tackett to this group. The Little Rock-born multi-instrumentalist has been sharing guitar duties with Paul Barrère in the Southern California-based Little Feat for the past 25 years, formally joining the band in 1988 for its comeback recording, Let It Roll (Warner Brothers). Tackett recently returned to Little Rock for a Little Feat show, but not until he discussed "borrowing comic books," achieving Arkansas escape velocity, and how songwriting has changed for him over the course of 40 years.
All About Jazz: You grew up in Hillcrest. Did you have a look around today?
Fred Tackett: I've been driving around my old stomping grounds around Kavanaugh in Hillcrest...went over the The Afterthought next door to the Vieux Carre and had lunch. That was my hangout, Hillcrest, that little drug store right across the street from the Afterthought, I used to steal comic books in there. I was "borrowing them," I would take them and slip them under my shirt and take them home which was just a few blocks away and very carefully not crease the pages and read them and then bring them back and put them in the rack.
AAJ: Your mom was a prominent member of Little Rock society. What is your parents do?
FT: Well, she was a lawyer. She was the president of the Arkansas Bar Association, the Association of Women Lawyers and she worked real hard on the Constitution amendment to get Women's rights, the Equal Rights Amendment, which failed, it is Arkansas. My dad was an accountant across the river at the Cotton Belt Railroad and Trucking Line for as long as I can remember until he retired. I grew up in at 4815 B Street, right a block off of Markham.
AAJ: You graduated from Hall High School when it was still new, in the same class with Retired General Wesley Clark...
FT: Yeah, I used to play poker with General Clark, Wesley Clark at a friend of ours' house every afternoon, in my senior year in college, every afternoon after school we'd go and play cards and listen to [pianist] Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" album [Time Out (Columbia, 1959)].
AAJ: Where did you go to college?
FT: I went down to East Texas State University for a couple of years over in Commerce Texas and then transferred over to North Texas, which was a great music school but before I really got started there, I hooked up with this tenor saxophonist for a gig that I worked in Dallas and worked with him at a place called the Village Club. We moved up to Oklahoma City worked at a place, it was a really amazing time.
AAJ: What kind of jazz were you playing at the time?
FT: It was really wild. I played three instruments. I played trumpet, drums and I played guitar: rock and roll guitar, jazz drums, and classical trumpet and I didn't really ever mix up those three things. I mean, people I went to school with in Texas didn't know I played guitar; I would come home [to Little Rock] in the summer, and I would play with Tommy Riggs back in the day, and we'd play at the old Cimarron Club and just all kinds of places around downtown here.
[At home] I'd play in a rock and roll band and then I would go off to school and play jazz and I liked that, I learned playing along with Count Basie records and Woody Herman, big band records, I really loved the kick of a big band and then I got into Miles Davis, my father was a big Miles Davis fan and bought all of them [his records].
When I met this guy, Joe Davis, he was a show band guy, he found out, at least anecdotally, that I played guitar, he said, 'Wait a minute,' because I played drums in this quartet which was kind of like a show band and bossa nova was just getting started or popular here, and he said, "You got to like play the guitar and we'll do bossa nova, bossa nova shit." We would do all the Tijuana Brass stuff and he'd have me come up and play, he would go back a play drums. I would play "The Shadow of Your Smile" on trumpet as a trumpet feature. He was the one who had me bring it all together and do all of them, which was kind of a drag because I could never get off and go take a vacation to go home for Christmas because I couldn't find anybody that could sub on the trumpet, guitar and drums. He was the guy that brought it all together.
Before then it was very schizophrenic, I did classical music on the trumpet, I did rock and roll on the guitar, and I did jazz on the drums; and then it was like somebody did me like Mose Allison-stole my drums, and I never played drums again. [Mose Allison] played trumpet, if you listen to the very first Mose Allison records there is always a couple of cuts where he plays trumpet, a couple of standard jazz tunes. He said once somebody stole the trumpet, and that was it for the trumpet. Same thing with me and the drums.
AAJ: Mose Allison is another great Southern jazz musician.
FT: Mose Allison, he was one of the first singer/songwriters unless you go to Stephen Foster maybe, but Mose Allison was everything. You can't find a guy that is working around from our generation that wasn't heavily influenced by Mose Allison.
I told the story, while on the Lynyrd Skynyrd tour, that I used to carry this album around up in Hillcrest with a picture of Mose Allison, trying to get a Roman haircut; everybody had flat tops then and I go into the barbershop with this thing and ask, "Where am I gonna get a haircut like this," and I would come out of there with a flat top.
Another anecdote was while I was working Boz Scaggs, we were in the studio and he hired Jimmy Smith to play the organ to play on one of his tunes. And after he finished the cut they went into the sound booth and Jimmy Smith said, "Why do all you white guys sound like Mose Allison?" He was a great influence.
AAJ: How has songwriting for you changed since from [Little Feat's} Dixie Chicken (Warner Bros, 1973) to the last two albums you've done?
FT: We went through a period, when Dixie Chicken was recording, when I was working for [composer] Jimmy Webb. [Little Feat co-founder/guitarist/vocalist] Lowell [George] was a real good friend of Jimmy's. My wife and lived next door to Lowell and brought him over to Jimmy's house to play guitar. Well, Lowell at that point played only sitar and was studying at [sitarist] Ravi Shankar's school, and about three weeks later he was with the Standells and then he was with the Mothers of Invention and we became real good friends. I said, "This is a guy whose humor I can work with."
We were working on a soundtrack for the Naked Ape movies with Jimmy [Webb], and Lowell played some slide guitar on it. And at that time I gave him, I played "Fool Yourself" for him. Paul [Barrère] and all the other guys joined the band and Lowell said I am going to record "Fool Yourself." So that's how I started ... I was writing songs myself.
Then, in 1988, when we put the band back together our Idea was for me and Billy [keyboardist/vocalist Bill Payne] and Paul to collaborate, to experiment and we did that for a lot of albums. Paul and I wrote together and Billy, Paul and I wrote together and, for this last record [Rooster Rag], I had been working on a solo project [Silver Strings (R Cole Music, 2010) ] and Billy hadn't been writing anything and Paul was just getting started. Then Billy started writing with Robert Hunter and the album came together.
AAJ: Welcome Home.
Little Feat, Rooster Rag (Hot Tomato, 2012)
Fred Tackett, Silver Strings (R Cole Music, 2010)
Little Feat, Barnstormin' Live (Hot Tomato, 2005)
Fred Tackett, In a Town Like This (Hot Tomato, 2003)
Little Feat, Raw Tomatos Volume One (Hot Tomato, 2002)
Little Feat, Let It Roll (Warner Brothers, 1988)