Craig Fuller: Little Feat Years Were the Most Meaningful
Craig Fuller is best known worldwide for singing the lead to Pure Prairie League’s biggest hit, “Amie.” Yet, his years with Little Feat in the late 1980s and early 1990s were the most meaningful to him.
Musically, Little Feat means the most “because of the musicianship and the legacy,” Fuller tells me. “In the early ’90s, we were one of the best live bands out there, and that was thrilling.”
Fuller was a midterm addition to Little Feat, joining the long-running band 20 years after it was formed, and before that was one of the co-founders of Pure Prairie League. He was the principal songwriter on Pure Prairie League’s first two, and best, albums — a self-titled 1972 release and 1973’s Bustin' Out. The group was one of many that expanded country music’s audience, bringing country rock to the mainstream for a younger generation fixated on rock and roll.
“I think ‘Amie’ resonated with a lot of people at a certain point in their lives, when they were young and having experiences that they would look back on as the greatest times of their lives,” Fuller says. “And a lot of college stations played the song.”
After Fuller left Pure Prairie League, he, Eric Kaz, Steve Katz, and Doug Yule formed American Flyer, which the media trumpeted as somewhat of a folk-rock supergroup. Kaz had played with Happy and Artie Traum, was a member of the Blues Magoos, and had written songs popularized by Linda Ronstadt and Bonnie Raitt. Katz was in Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Yule played in the Velvet Underground.
American Flyer charted two albums but never fully broke through commercially. Legendary Beatles producer Sir George Martin produced their first album.
“American Flyer was more of a project than a band — the idea of management more than anything else,” Fuller says. “We signed a deal to make two records and fulfilled the contract. If the records had been more successful, I’m sure we would have gone out (on the road) behind them.”
In 1978, Fuller recorded Fuller Kaz with Eric Kaz. Ten years later he joined Little Feat, assuming the vocal duties of the group’s founder, Lowell George. Fuller co-wrote eight of the 10 songs on Little Feat’s Grammy-nominated 1989 album, Let it Roll, and co-wrote songs on the band’s next two albums, Representing The Mambo and Shake Me Up.
What are the best songs Fuller has written?
“I think Eric Kaz and I wrote some very good songs — ‘Dear Carmen,’ ‘Annabella,’ and ‘Let the Fire Burn All Night,’” he says. “I liked a couple of things from Little Feat — ‘Listen to Your Heart,’ ‘Livin’ on Dreams,’ ‘Hangin’ on to the Good Times.’ I think the songs are strong lyrically and melodically, which is my strong suit.”
Fuller, a father of four, now plays 25-30 shows per year, mostly with Pure Prairie League or solo. He sometimes is joined by his son Patrick and occasionally plays with Little Feat.
“I was semi-retired until last year, when my youngest daughter graduated from college,” he says. "For the first time in many years, I actually have enough time to breathe a little life into my career."
At the City Winery in Nashville one night last June, Fuller, Tempchin & Young made its debut. Fuller was joined by Jack Tempchin, who wrote many songs recorded by the Eagles, including “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” and Poco’s steel guitar wizard and multi-instrumentalist Rusty Young.
“It was an agent’s idea, sort of a glorified writer’s night,” Fuller says. “The crowd sang along on every song, and we all had a great time. If we can get some interest from PACs (fund-raising groups), we’d like to do more.”
The songs of Tempchin and the musicianship of Young, who was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 2013, are adored by many music fans. Fuller says he has his own idols: Bob Dylan and Sandy Denny “because of songwriting,” Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder “because of musicianship,” George Jones and Ray Charles “because of singing ability,” and Donald Fagan “because of all of the above.”
Surprisingly, Fuller says he has attended few concerts of other musicians..
“I don’t think I’ve been to more that 10 or 15 concerts in my life, but I think the best concert I attended was just a couple of years ago in Indianapolis,” he says. “I saw Dukes of September on the last show of their tour at an amphitheater close to downtown.”
Fuller says he also was inspired by a concert about 10 years ago in North Carolina.
“Seeing Pino Palladino, Steve Jordan, and Robbie McIntosh with John Mayer at the big outdoor venue in Raleigh was pretty impressive,” he says. “I went because of my son but was mightily impressed with the performance.”
Fuller, 67, says he wants “to be productive” as a musician for a few more years.
“I think that means writing a few — 10? 20? 30? — more songs that come from my well of creativity and are probably written for me to sing. Performing, at least the traveling part, is not easy nowadays, or at my age.”