Bill Payne likes the idea of Little Feat being a big fish in a small pond. That's why he's happy that his band, which spent almost 20 years as part of the mammoth Warner Bros. stable, is now the flagship act of the newly formed Morgan Creek Records.
"Any Little Feat fan can tell you that Little Feat probably deserves a customized plan," he says, speaking over the phone from a tour stop in Portland, Maine. "They feel the group is unique -- and it is. There are not very many bands that can put a country/western tune right up against a jazz song and get away with it."
He hastens to add that Little Feat had no particular bone to pick with their old label. "We had a lot of fans at Warners," he says. "But we weren't getting the type of attention we needed, attention a company that size, quite frankly, cannot provide even if they wanted to."
Consequently, when a computer error left Little Feat temporarily without a contract -- "We were supposed to be re-signed, and somehow it slipped through the cracks," explains Payne -- the band decided to put out a few feelers to other labels. And one of the nibbles they got was from Morgan Creek (which, though based in Los Angeles, is owned by Baltimorean James Robinson).
Payne says he was immediately won over by the intimacy and enthusiasm of the label. "We virtually have our own record label," he says. "And I figure, you can't go wrong with that, because, in a sense, they have more to prove than we do."
Perhaps that's why "Shake Me Up," the band's new album (it arrives in record stores Tuesday) seems so low-key and self-assured. Although the album is diverse enough to slip from the New Orleans funk of "Spider's Blues" to the Memphis soul of "Things Happen," to the country balladry of "Loved and Lied To," its sound is not only consistent, but effortlessly enjoyable.
And that, it turns out, is the just the effect Payne (who co-produced the album) was after. "Shake Me Up," he says, is Little Feat's "shot at something that is straight down the middle, and yet has all the layers that Little Feat usually provides, so you can listen to it time and time again.
"I don't think there is anything wrong with our music that would preclude it from selling a certain amount of records in the United States," he adds. "I've played on too many albums to believe otherwise."
Ironically, one of the more recent sessions Payne played on was Bryan Adams' "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You," the love theme from "Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves" -- and the first Morgan Creek single to hit No. 1 on the Billboard singles charts.
"I was just there for a day," he says of the single. "I just popped in for literally 30 minutes to an hour, and then left. That makes it more of a spontaneous thing.
"But the downside to that is that when you walk away, you're not, like, humming the tune for weeks. And sometimes I'm surprised; I'll hear something on the radio and go, 'That sounds familiar . . . Oh, God, I played on that.' "
When: Sunday, Sept. 22 8 p.m.
Where: Pier Six Concert Pavilion
Tickets: $17.50 lawn (reserved seating is sold out)
Call: 625-4230 for information, 625-3100 for tickets