Bill Payne’s on the phone from his home in Montana — “It’s a good place to land up” — to talk about his present tour with a character named Dennis McNally (and Gabe Ford on drums). That, and about the necessary adjustments one makes to settling down in a place known for bad weather. We talk about the snow storm they just had in Montana and about the egocentricity of people living along the West Coast. “I lived out there where you are for 30 years,” he reminds with just a hint of Southern accent.
It is hard to think of Bill Payne in his early 60s, but so be it. “I’ve been touring for 44 years with Little Feat,” a band he cofounded with the late Lowell George. Payne is the last remaining original member in that band. Payne is a rock-and-roll piano player and his style is his own. It incorporates elements of the blues and jazz and Americana and boogie and just about anything you can think of, woven into a seamless narrative of off-tempo riffs and fills that more than served Little Feat.
“Tracing Footsteps” would almost be a one-man show with Payne at his keyboard and a slide show of his photographs running as illustration of his tales from the road, if not for Dennis McNally. He and the Grateful Dead have much in common — McNally was their publicist for decades, right up to the end. He got a Ph.D. in history on the side and wrote a couple of books: one about Jack Kerouac and the other about the Dead: A Long Strange Trip. That’s how “Tracing Footsteps” opens, with Doc McNally himself telling old Grateful Dead adventures before handing it off to Payne, who plays music and tells a few stories of his own. “It’s been a heck of a career,” he says. “It still is.”
Bill Payne, “Tracing footsteps”: Belly Up, Tuesday, May 14, 8 p.m. 858-481-8140. $20 advance/$22 day of show/$35 reserved seating