Even though the new Little Feat album, "Ain't Had Enough Fun," has only been out a few weeks, keyboardist Bill Payne says it's already being treated like an old favorite.
"A lot of people feel this is a return to Little Feat's roots," he says, over the phone from West Palm Beach, Fla. "One of the best comments we got was from Harry Shearer, who aside from doing all those voices for 'The Simpsons' is also the bass player in Spinal Tap. He came up to me the other night at a restaurant in New Orleans, after we were at the Jazz & Heritage Festival, and said, 'You know, when you segue from the old material into the new stuff, you don't lose anything. It just marries up perfectly.'
"I think that's about the best compliment anybody could have given us, because that was pretty much the target. A classic doesn't have to be an old song."
No, but it can be hard to come up with new songs that feel as familiar as the favorites -- particularly when your back catalog is as rich and deep as Little Feat's is. "I knew we would be in competition with our own stuff," admits Payne. "You know, the best of Little Feat."
But that only made the band (which performs Sunday as part of the Preakness U.S. Healthcare Music Fest) all the more determined to prove it really could recapture that original spirit. "I thought the challenge would be not only to write stuff that we could play on, but write great songs," he says. "Something that is integral to the legacy of this band.
"It's all about tunes, ultimately, and if you don't have really good -- material, all you have is jamming for jamming's sake. And people already know we can play."
In fact, the band was so sure about its musical reputation that it didn't worry if a few warts turned up on tape. "We were concerned more with performance and a lot less about perfection," says Payne. "That was the thing I kept driving home to people. Let's not scuttle a track because it rushed for a second, or I missed a keyboard lick, or whatever. Look at the overall thing, and let's see if it feels great.
"We did it that way and wound up with a record that a lot of people have responded to in a very positive way -- primarily because they feel that this is more the way we play live."
Of course, now that singer Shaun Murphy has replaced Craig Fuller in the band's lineup, Little Feat's sound isn't quite the same as it was. But Payne is confident that Murphy will convey the same sort of energy onstage.
"She's a road warrior as well," he says. "She's sung with Bruce Hornsby and Eric Clapton, Bob Seger -- who I met her with, playing on his records and on the road -- so she's been a working musician, too. So I think in that sense, what we're doing is keeping a tradition Lowell George was fond of, and that's introducing people to talent. In his case, it was Rickie Lee Jones and Emmylou Harris, to name but a couple, and in our case, we're getting a chance to show off Shaun Murphy."
To hear excerpts from Little Feat's album "Ain't Had Enough Fun," call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6228 after you hear the greeting.
What: Music Fest '95
When: Sunday, May 14, starting at noon
Where: Rash Field
Tickets: $10 for one-day lawn seating; $18.50 for one-day general seating; $22.50 for one-day VIP reserved seating; $35 for two-day general seating. $5 for children under 12; free for children under 6
Call: (410) 481-7328