Bill Payne is currently working on a Little Feat and Friends CD for Jimmy Buffett’s label. He’s been Little Feat’s keyboardist for 35 years. Little Feat is to Dixie what The Band was to Woodstock and The Dead are to San Francisco. On his own, Payne has recorded with hundreds of artists who are the cornerstone of what’s best about American pop music, from Otis Rush to Steppenwolf, from Dolly Parton to Brian Adams, from Maria Muldaur to Donna Summer. He also has a solo album on Hot Tomato Records called Cielo Norte.
Jorma Kaukonen was one of the founders of Jefferson Airplane, where his distinctive guitar playing was integral to the group’s sound and success. He also introduced the pop music world to the Piedmont style of acoustic blues guitar by adapting Rev. Gary Davis’ style of picking to loud variations on the theme in his band Hot Tuna, which is still active today after he and fellow Airplane member Jack Casady formed the group in 1970.
Elmore: What are you listening to now?
Kaukonen: I’m pretty much lost in bluegrass now: Blue Highway’s Marvel Town. I’m a big Patty Loveless fan.
Payne: Glen Gould, Chalino Sanchez, Elades Ochoa, Alicia de la Rocha. I did a radio program up in Montana, and I started off with the Olympics’ “Big Boy Pete.” I went into some pigmy rain forest music for 20 or 40 seconds, and it went into some old Zydeco of the very early stuff which sounds like calliope.
Elmore: What’s the first record you ever bought?
Kaukonen: The first several were: Chuck Berry LPs, the first Bo Diddley LP, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, and that whole Chess stuff.
Payne: I don’t remember to be honest with you. My sister bought the Elvis Presley “Hound Dog” record, and I remember going down to the record shop. I was mesmerized by the idea of a disk playing music, and with this little dog on the label, of course.
Elmore: What’s the first instrument you ever played?
Kaukonen: I took piano lessons as a kid. I’m a failed violinist and clarinetist. I discovered the guitar at 15, and that’s all she wrote, as they say.
Payne: Piano, then I went to my pipe organ at a Presbyterian Church.
Elmore: Who would you like to write with that you haven’t?
Kaukonen: I’ve been dabbling with some writing with Jim Lauderdale. I really love his stuff. We haven’t finished anything yet. So, I think he’s at the top of my list right now.
Payne: Donald Fagen, I guess. I’ve played with everybody else, but I don’t write with a lot of people anyway.
Elmore: What brought you to the instrument that you now play?
Kaukonen: My dad was working for the Department of Labor in the ’50s, and he had a secretary who also happened to be married to one of his friends. Her name was Delores, and she was from Puerto Rico, and she played the guitar. She brought a nylon string guitar over. It wasn’t so much the music that got me because I immediately started playing and went into American music, but there’s something about the instrument that I really, really love.
Payne: For a short time I played viola, and for an even shorter period of time clarinet. Then, I did percussion in some kind of orchestra. I just didn’t gravitate to any of them. My viola teacher wanted me to drop piano and just study viola and I was like, ‘Get out of here!’
Elmore: Who would you like in your rock & roll heaven band?
Kaukonen: I think I’d like to play with B.B. King sometime. His thing is so different than mine, it would really be a lesson in taste and restraint.
Payne: It would be a gas to play with Howlin’ Wolf. We’d have to have Lowell (George) on guitar, too, of course.
Elmore: What’s your favorite album of all time?
Kaukonen: Joan Baez’s first album and Steve Earle’s Guitar Town.
Payne: Rubber Soul
Elmore: Where do you buy your music?
Kaukonen: Usually I buy it through our store at Fur Piece Ranch because I can get it wholesale, but when I can’t, if I happen to be in a Wal-Mart on the road, they usually don’t have a lot of stuff that I want, but I buy a lot of stuff on line.
Payne: Barnes & Noble. If I’m in a town and there’s a cool little record shop,maybe I’ll pop in there.
Elmore: What was the song that made you realize you wanted to be in music?
Kaukonen: “My Wild Irish Rose.”
Payne: None, really. I didn’t join a band until I was 15, but the idea of playing in a band actually never occurred to me for whatever reason.
Elmore: What musicians influenced you most?
Kaukonen: Probably Rev. Gary Davis even though I don’t really play like him.
Payne: My music teacher Ruth Newman. She allowed me to play by ear as well as learn to read.
Elmore: What’s your desert island CD?
Kaukonen: How about one of those Alan Lomax Sounds of the South collections?
Payne: I’d say the Alicia de la Rocha recordings or the Mozart sonatas.