Martin Kibbee (aka Fred Martin) Interview

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Don Kehoe

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May 3, 2000, 3:00:00 AM5/3/00
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Found a bunch of Feat stuff at
http://www.vineyard.net/biz/wmvy/lipsync/feat.html

Here's some of it:

Fred Martin aka Martin Kibbee developed their boyhood friendship into
a talented songwriting partnership that produced such Little Feat
classics as "Dixie Chicken," "Rock and Roll Doctor" and "Easy to
Slip." Known to many Feat fans by his early liner credit, Fred Martin
("I wasn't sure this was good music at the time," he explains of the
need for pseudonymity)We were both born, basically, in the shadow of
the "Hollywood" sign. His dad was a furrier to the stars-a famous
Hollywood furrier, who came up with mink coats for every single
Goldwyn girl and hung out with Wallace Beery, W.C. Fields and people
like that. It's true we were influenced oddly by that. Lowell started
out in the gut-string guitar, coffeehouse, black-turtleneck-sweater
groups. He was in the high school orchestra, where he was really a
standout musician, a great talent recognizable at an early age. He
played harmonica on the [Arthur] Godfrey show as a youngster. He
started out with the Beatnik, jazz, Herbie Mann type of thing. He was
a wonderful flute player, and that never really survived. I don't
think he ever played flute on a Little Feat record-I may be wrong
about that. It's too bad because he was real good. I think one of his
main influences was Rashaan Roland Kirk [jazz composer and
instrumentalist]. He was a very strong influence on him musically.
Basically after the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, we hit Howlin'
Wolf. If there was one musical influence that influenced him more than
any other, it would be that. It was a blend of that really down,
with-it electric blues sound and the rejection of what Marshall Leib
was telling us, that treacly pop sensibility, which I think he
abandoned completely at that point. I know we studied those Howlin'
Wolf records all during the Factory years and it finally started
coming out. "Forty-four Blues" was a song that transcended dope group.
I would say those were some of his strongest influences.I don't think
any of us could help but be influenced by all the other stuff: the
Stones, the Beatles, Elton John. We were reacting to them, I think,
maybe more than imitating [them], but they were certainly influences.

I remember we got the 'Rockin' Chair' Howlin' Wolf album and
everything else sort of paled against the reality of that. I think we
pretty much stuck with that influence, but it was grafted onto an odd
Hollywood sensibility, like you say, with kind of a fractured look at
lyrics. We would do songs out of Marx Brothers movies. There was a
song, "Alone," in a Marx Brothers movie that we did a rock arrangement
of. We realized we could not be Howlin' Wolf or Chuck Berry. We tried
to elevate that [music]-not that it really needs to be elevated-and at
least blend it with our white-boy, Hollywood, humorous sensibilities.
I think we gave it a lyrical twist. This is where Bill Payne's
influence comes in. At that point, Lowell basically abandoned the
flute for the slide guitar. In The Factory he mostly played regular
guitar. When he recorded the first Feat album he injured himself
rather badly. He cut his hand on a model airplane propeller and
subsequently he had difficulty with his chording hand so he switched
to a slide style. I think his approach to slide guitar was totally
unique. Really his tuning was totally unique. His sound, everything
else changed; that became his musical signature. That was more the
basis for the Feat sound than anything else. FP: Do you think the
switch to slide was really a direct result of his accident? MK: He was
into it before he cut himself, but it became very difficult for him to
play the other side. I know he didn't want to let on about the
severity of his injury, but it was to his left hand so his difficulty
was in making those chords. Adding the slide and playing just melody
obviated that necessity. I think that's why he added Paul to play the
orchestral parts.

Lowell was certainly a big fan of country music. He was certainly a
big fan of Linda Rondstadt in the Stone Pony days, that's I guess when
it was. She was doing a Monkees tune, as I recall, who were also
friends of ours. Peter Tork was a great friend of Lowell's, and in
those days had an amazing house in Laurel Canyon where David Crosby
and Jimi Hendrix would be hanging out. Lowell was also an amazing fan
and supporter of almost everyone who started up in this town in the
Sixties: Jackson Browne, Rickie Lee Jones, he went to hear her play
and eventually recorded her song "Easy Money" and brought her to the
attention of Warner Brothers Records. Lowell was an amazing supporter
of musical talent of people he liked; there were certainly people he
didn't like. A little of his what-is-hip sensibilities rubbed off on
other people. In other words, the Howlin' Wolf side was injected a
little into their lives, I think, because of his influence. FP: Was
this before the Stones and people like that discovered Howlin' Wolf?
MK: No, but I think that Lowell was one of the few local practitioners
of that sort of musical sensibility. He did, as I recall, play with
the Stones. He played guitar on the "Performance" soundtrack with Mick
Jagger. FP: So Lowell became an arbiter of musical taste in L.A.? MK:
That's absolutely right. I think most of these people looked up to him
as someone who was hip. I think he brought, maybe not entire success,
but a little harder edge to Jackson Browne or Linda too. She certainly
got into her most fruitful rock-n-roll period right after that. She is
someone I admire for her eclecticism: she can sing anything from
operatic to ranchero and does a Gershwin tune.

What are some of the Little Feat songs you are proudest of? MK: Well,
obvious ones like "Dixie Chicken" and "Rock and Roll Doctor." I love
some of the stuff I've done with Bill [Payne] lately too, like "Let it
Roll" or "Cajun Girl," a really good song we've written. I like "Down
In Flames." Certainly the songs with Lowell, "Teenage Nervous
Breakdown." I'm a big fan of the old hits. FP: Are there any good
stories you can tell about the writing of any of those? MK: On "Dixie
Chicken" Lowell and I had been up all night trying to write a song. We
had the Ace Screen Door factory down on Laurel Canyon. As I was
leaving, there was a chicken place with a sign that said, "Dixie
chicken." He'd been playing the damn thing all night, you know, "duh,
duh, duh," which was going through my brain. By the time I got home, I
had written this song. When I came back the next morning to the
rehearsal hall at the Warner Brothers' soundstage, I went, "I've got
it! I've got it!" And they all looked at me, like, "Puh-leeze, you're
kidding!" and resisted the notion for weeks, but eventually wound up
in chicken suits. FP: So "Dixie Chicken" was really a restaurant? MK:
Yea, but it did remind me of a girl I knew too. FP: Did you pretty
much stay with the band during those years or did you collaborate with
other people? MK: I did collaborate with other people, but I certainly
tried to stay on Lowell's case as much as possible. He sought me out
just as often. We literally spent years writing songs. Our routine
used to be we'd show up and have espresso coffee and just write songs
'til you drop. The amazing thing about Lowell is that the guy is
irreplaceable. We had a simpatico that was so rare. I would have an
idea and think it or sing it to him and he would do it exactly as I
had thought it. It didn't occur to me at the time how unusual this was
until subsequently I've tried to communicate musical ideas to people
with no success at all. It's probably because I knew him so well for
so long; we could finish each other's sentences. I have had no other
collaborator like that. Working with Bill I enjoy so much because he
writes great music. He writes wonderful songs, but we don't have the
simpatico that I had with Lowell. That was certainly something
special. FP: What was your main contribution to that partnership? MK:
The lyrics were entirely my focus. I basically followed Lowell around
with a typewriter and we would work on the lyrics to songs for months.
I think it shows. We would also record only one out of maybe 25 songs
that we wrote. We were sorting through a lot of material to arrive at
what we did. FP: How important was a sense of humor to what you and
Lowell were doing? MK: The problem with a lot of the stuff that we
didn't record was that it was a little too funny. It's like Paul
Barrère always said, "Not another novelty tune." I think we tended
towards that. Certainly with The Factory, some of the stuff we did
with Zappa was just the zaniest you can image. [With Little Feat], we
wanted to get past humor to wit, if you know what I mean, because I
think if you do funny songs you're inherently in trouble. Certainly
the Chipmunks went through the roof, but it's tough to make a career
of it. The Beatles are a great example of a group that was humorous
and witty and did it to great effect. FP: How do you see Little Feat's
evolution post-Lowell and what has been your part in it? MK: They had
a long hiatus after Lowell's death and then they called me up for "Let
It Roll". That seemed to go so smoothly and so well; I think it was an
unguarded moment in which that album slipped out rather magically. It
was very encouraging to everyone about the band's career. I'm a huge
fan of Shaun Murphy: I think she represents the hope for the future.
Craig [Fuller], who did a great Lowell George imitation, was accepted
more readily [than Shaun]. It's tough pleasing the old fans and trying
to make new ones. FP: What is it about Shaun you like so much?


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