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Craig Fuller: Years with Little Feat Were the Most Meaningful

Craig Fuller has played and sung with Pure Prairie League, American Flyer, Little Feat, and more.

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.”

That's really strange. A few years ago I would go to 10 or 15 concerts every MONTH. Doesn't Craig appreciate other musicians? What's the deal? It also seems strange that he thinks his work with Little Feat was better than PPL. Many would disagree.  

 

Saw Craig and his son in Indianapolis a couple of years ago...very good show...saw the Dukes of September show he mentions too...I hate that venue, but the show was great...Fagan, Boz Scaggs, Mike Mc Donald...the Little Feat Band he speaks of I saw a couple of times...they were great live, Richie Hayward was still alive then...they still did a number of Lowell's songs though...Fuller sang those songs pretty well but Lowell George is Little Feat...PPL, despite replacing Fuller with Larry Goshorn and then Vince Gill, never really produced anything that felt as good as that second PPL record with "Amie".  American Flyer's first record...a couple of great moments...the collaboration with Kaz was pretty good too...

When I saw this posting I immediately thought of American Flyer since that's the group I associate Craig Fuller with since I was never a Pure Praire League fan, not out of any animosity towards them but simply because I was never introduced to their work. I've always really liked that American Flyer album and wondered why they broke up.

As far as not attending many concerts himself, isn't that true of a lot of working musicians who just don't have time to go to concerts in between their own?

"As far as not attending many concerts himself, isn't that true of a lot of working musicians who just don't have time to go to concerts in between their own?"

That's true, and thanks for your thoughts. However, I sure see a lot of musicians at the better shows here in St. Louis...and something tells me Craig has not been booked solid for the past 35 years. 

Pokey LaFarge and the Bottle Rockets are pretty busy, but they get out a lot.  I used to see Johnnie Johnson at shows all the time.

Just personal preference, I guess.  Myself, I think it inspires creativity and open-mindedness to experience the work of other musicians.

I would agree Tommyleenotjones that it would seem like working musicians would also like to attend concerts and be inspired by others and many of them do as this contributing blogger shows with these postings but occasionally the musician he interviews claims to not go to many concerts and so I suspect there are some who would not rather spend there free time witnessing others doing their jobs.

I'm sure many players would love to see certain concerts, as would I, but they and I just can't afford them. I try to keep my shows affordable (which is sometimes a real balancing act as it pertains to whom I book, but that's a different topic), but so many shows today are just not affordable, understanding that in today's wealth-distribution-dichotomous society the term is relative. We have an "Americana" club here, a relatively small venue, that charges what the number that will fit into it can pay, and in my opinion that group tends to have adequate disposable income for such activities, unlike many of us, certainly including many of the musicians I book.  

Yes, Will, the cost of tickets these days is certainly part of it too. For instance I would love to see Van Morrison again but the last time he played in Seattle several years ago tickets began at $150. That's just insane in my opinion especially when excellent artists who aren't superstars (i.e. Peter Case, Chuck Prophet, Greg Brown, Garland Jeffreys, Dan Bern, Jackie Greene, etc. etc.) can be seen for around $30 to $40!

With you there too Will...lately my concert going is most all small venues and house concerts...typical house concert suggested donation is $20...Indy Acoustic Cafe Series is typically $18-22, with $1 ticket fee...small venues in Indianapolis like the HiFi, where I've seen Lydia Loveless, Aoife O'Donovan, Mark Erelli, Willie Watson, Parker Millsap, John Moreland, Bottle Rockets and Marshall Crenshaw in the last year or so, capacity is 92...ticket price is $10-20 and less for excellent regional artists...they are closed for expansion...Otis Gibbs and Amy Lashley reopen it on January 20...$15 bucks...Elizabeth Cook is there soon also $15...Wayne Hancock and his band 2/2...12 bucks...Margo Price is there in May...$17...again with just a small ticket fee...

Musicians can probably afford some of those...the Dukes concert that Fuller referenced was $75-100 for a good (not great) seat, plus Ticketmaster's ridiculous fee and the venue charges everyone a parking fee whether you drive in or not, not many working musicians are doing that...and you literally are stuck in the parking lot for an hour after the show getting out...Klipsch Music Center...a shed, overall concert experience sucks beyond words, even when you have seen an amazing show...save for that show, which I went with a friend who had a cancellation, I haven't done anything large venue in years.

 

I feel that this is a huge unaddressed issue in this realm. As many here can attest, the number of legendary bands I saw at our philharmonic hall here for $5.50 first row (yes I know about inflation) back in the day is huge. I'll just stand on the further responses that have been given, with which I agree. Note: you could have seen Sturgill Simpson, Lydia Loveless and a bunch of others now climbing such as Whitney Rose (Raul Malo), etc., at one of my shows for $10 each, along with six other bands in one night! But they are now priced out of what I've been trying to do over the past nine years. Which perhaps I'll be to re-evaluate for year 10 as my whole deal of traveling to book what I see as incredible but unknown somewhat local acts is becoming very costly for me!

You have a connundrum there Will, and one that is shared by at least one guy I know, the guy who books the Acoustic Cafe Series I go to religiously...in the last few years I've seen that Barrere Tackett show I mentioned, Chris Hillman/Herb Pedersen, Shawn Mullins/Chuck Cannon, David Wilcox, Beth Neilsen Chapman, David Lindley, Radney Foster, Ellis Paul, Tom Rush, Rory Block, Brooks Williams, John Gorka, Eliza Gilkyson, etc...none of those shows cost more than $20, and all listening room quality venues, but keeping the cost down is a struggle, and sounds like he's charging more than you are...the venue in this area he's competing with is charging 2-4 times as much depending on the artist, plus 7 bucks a beer, but he's offering artists higher guarantees, etc, so the question is how do you keep getting the artists...and then there's house concerts...I've seen several of those too and the ones I've been to have been great...we have another small theater here called the Vogue that is an amazing venue...seen everyone from Johnny Cash and the Carter Family to Buddy Guy, Todd Rundgren, Richard Thompson, Paul Westerberg, Sturgill Simpson, subdudes, Lake Street Dive, Parliament Funkadelic, Brothers Landreth, Dumpstaphunk, and tons of others, like Counting Crows and Gin Blossoms before they really hit big...those shows were all 6- 20 bucks, small ticket fee...one of the best shows I ever saw there was Del Amitri...cost 5 bucks...first time I saw the subdudes, 6 bucks...incredible

I'll pay to see the people I really want to see, but there aren't many of those...Jackson Browne seems to be it these days, and my wife loves him as much as I do, maybe more...I paid a lot more to see Stugill Simpson the recent tour, $35 or $40 bucks I think...mostly I don't do that anymore...If I can see Eric Brace/Peter Cooper/Thomm Jutz or Will Kimbrough in someone's living room for $20 with a great sound system, pitch in dinner and my own beer, why would I?  But I would go see a show like the ones you book...and you do probably have to reevaluate...the question is, where is the saturation point cost wise for "incredible but unknown" acts?   I don't know the answer...and you haven't quite figured it out yet either obviously...but I sure do admire and respect what you are trying to do and I hope you can figure out a way to keep doing it...

I don't know how your friend does it at that price point. I had Brace/Cooper/Jutz for about the same price last year with six other quality bands. As you may know, I seek out quality talent that in effect are "undervalued." But I need to figure out how to cover my costs and pay them something, and that may end up being a non-starter on my 10th years. Thanks for your comments.

That was a house concert for Brace/Cooper and Jutz, rather than a concert venue...he has an e-mail list and that's it, if you aren't on the list you don't know about the show...he has played in bands in the past, but he's done pretty well in whatever his "real" job was I'm guessing...has a great sound system (seriously, probably has 50K in the system) and a living room large enough to seat 35-40, and a house in the woods...it's a great setup, but sort of a one of a kind thing, and the artists come out pretty good in that set up...they eat and drink free (though those guys didn't drink at all to my knowledge), the recommended donation is 20 bucks (several people threw in much more than that) and they sell a ton of CD's too...several people bought 4-5 CD's...so it's a different set up than yours.  I guess I'd turn your comment around...I don't know how you are doing what you are doing at your price point...you can't be covering your costs and paying them much...so you are probably paying them what you can and not covering your costs in many instances...that sounds like that "road to hell that's paved with good intentions"...not sure you can keep doing that...

First part, I assume this is at Thomm's place at least it sounds like his place in the woods. Second part, no comment at this time.

From my Facebook page currently:

I made this last February, was going to be a way to try to keep my road tour going with a GoFundMe, but I changed my mind on that fundraising effort concerned about how it would be seen. Nine years of great memories, so many pics of so many players and others! How many do you recognize? And you get to listen to three GP tracks to boot! (Includes pics of Lydia Loveless, Sturgill Simpson, and Whitney Rose, who's getting bigger after association w/ Raul Malo and with a new album being released; she was interested in doing my show again but had a schedule conflict).

 

The video is great Will...love it!  I can understand why you would consider that, and also why you decided against it in the end, though I think it might have worked.

Not at Thomm's place...this place is Indy area, the actual address is Zionsville, IN I think...this guy did sound on a serious level at some point earlier. Thomm did some recording in the Indy area, Otis Gibbs is based in Wanamaker, which isn't far from Indy... I think he does everything at his place outside Nashville now, which is in the woods, so that may be the place to which you refer.  Second point...no comment necessary...had my accounting hat on there...

I suspect that my musician friends get into a lot of club shows free... 

I sure hope so, anyway.

None of them are getting rich but they sure do improve the lives of the rest of us!

That likely does happen...your last comment is quite true...not sure where I'd be without music and musician friends...improves everyone's life that partakes...

So it seems what's most meaningful to the artist is not necessarily the most meaningful to the audience. 

I agree with the comments above, and feel, after reading Ben Fong Torres' account of all this in Willin', that the remaining members of Feats, great as they were, and after being disbanded for years, were grasping at straws. Also Fuller was not their first choice, but the fact that he could sing won that dim day.

True enough Will...it was a money grab to some extent I'd say...understandable, and I suppose justifiable on some level because there were a few Feat songs that Lowell didn't write that became popular with their fans (and some things I've read indicate Lowell really didn't like those songs or the direction the band was headed)..."Waiting For Columbus" goes gold over time and suddenly Feat has lots of fans who caught up to them after Lowell passed away...

Like I said, I saw the Feat with Fuller...he didn't sound exactly like Lowell, but he had enough grit in his voice to pull it off, and the playing was stellar, Fred Tackett was with them, but none of them is Lowell.  I saw Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett maybe 3 years ago at an acoustic gig...they did several Feat songs, and Barrere actually sounds more like Lowell that Fuller did...that night, "Willin" sounded pretty nice...but maybe I've just mellowed with age...

PPL's first album was a classic "big brother album"; my older brother brought it home from college and it became my gateway to country rock, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle and today's "Americana." I really can't think of a clearer, more joyful expression of that music than side one of the first album; with "Country Song," "Harmony Song," etc., providing the soundtrack to a long drive in my Karman Ghia convertible through midwestern two-lane country highways. Melodic steel, crisp lead guitar, lush harmonies and a steady, loping beat. Thanks Craig & PPL.

Yeah, I guess the three records with Craig Fuller brought new success, some good music and reinvigorated interest in their vintage work, but I thought most of Representing the Mambo (the title cut I really like) sounded like outtakes from Let It Roll and that Shake Me Up sounded like outtakes from Representing the Mambo, Shake being one thin record.  I think in hindsight they coulda combined the best from Let It Roll and Mambo (and skipped Shake Me Up entirely) into a pretty good record. As it was, the song Let It Roll was a fun, rockin' romp, whereas Texas Twister off the next record seemed like a formulaic rewrite of Let It Roll ("hey, we need the obligatory fast romp song again"). Kinda like the Stones doing She Was Hot, then writing She's So Cold (I forget which came first, but you get the idea) 

I'd agree with that assessment pretty much completely...There's a good record in there if you combine the first two and forget the last one...not a Lowell George record, but a good,record that would stand on it's own as pretty good songs, great musicianship, and a fine band, if you didn't have the unfortunate gold standard of "Dixie Chicken" or "Sailin' Shoes" to compare it to...there's nothing in any of the post Lowell records that touches "Two Trains" or "Dixie Chicken", or even spectacular covers like "On Your Way Down"...Lowell was plugged in someplace else from the rest of them, as great a musicians as they all are.  

I agree, Jim, their vintage material set an especially high bar, but many groups make late career records that, if not pale in comparison, are not exactly a return to form, which to me is the case here.  And I thought these three records would've been better served with less gloss and sheen in the production. But then again, I tend not to like records with that polished sound, so maybe it's me. I've had the chance to see a couple of the guys from Little Feat play a small club but have t quite gotten there, perhaps if they do another locally.  Like many, love the Lowell George era.