A walk through the used record bins of some of San Francisco’s finest music stores with musicians, both famous and infamous.
He's played with everyone from Bob Dylan, Gregg Allman, Jackson Browne, Willie Nelson and Tom Waits to the New Monkees and 70s teen idol Leif Garrett.
He's played with a Beatle, he's played with a Beach Boy, and he's played with the Rhinestone Cowboy. He even sailed the tumultuous seas of the 1970s with the Captain and Tennille for their classic 1979 album, Make Your Move/.
"I've done a lot of weird fucking records, man," Tackett says as we meander into Amoeba Music. "I played rhythm guitar with Rodney Dangerfield on "Twist and Shout" for the movie, Back to School. That was hysterical. I backed up Christopher Lee on a version of "The Monster Mash" and that was pretty surreal. I remember being very, very high when we played on that. And I did a record with Cher in the 70s that sold like 40 copies on which we covered Rock n Roll Doctor.' The guys in the band have never forgiven me for that."
The "guys in the band" are Little Feat, the legendary rock band formed in Los Angeles by guitarist Lowell George, bassist Roy Estrada, drummer Richie Hayward and keysman Billy Payne in 1969 following George's departure from Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention. Officially, Tackett joined the band full-time in 1988, but has been playing and recording with them since 1973's classic Dixie Chicken. Despite being such a demanded session guitarist, Tackett's first instrument wasn't the axe.
"I played trumpet in the school band playing classical music and drums as well," Tackett says. "I used to go in my room after school, put on the big band music and just bang away on my drums. When Elvis Presley came along, I was just blown away and immediately got a guitar. I think I was like 12 years old at the time. My parents bought me a little Stella acoustic guitar. After I played that for a while, I got an electric Gibson Melodymaker. And that's how I started on guitar."
As we walk into Amoeba, Tackett heads straight over to the 78s and 45s. As a kid growing up in Arkansas, Tackett says he used to stay up to watch the Lawrence Welk Show any night that Pete Fountain, the famed New Orleans jazz clarinetist, played. Tackett's a Dixieland junkie, one of the worst I've ever seen.
"Bunk Johnson and his New Orleans Band, man. This guy was bad, bad, bad," Tackett says with a huge grin as he holds up an old 45. "He was pretty old when he made this record. In fact, I think they bought him a set of teeth so that he could make this record and play the trumpet. The guy didn't have any fucking teeth. That's how old he was! I remember the liner notes to the album had the whole story about Bunk's teeth."
Talk of Johnson and Tackett's jazz influences on trumpet lead us into Used Jazz. As we wander down the stacks in search of some vintage Clifford Brown, Tackett stops and grabs a Mose Allison disc. Allison, the famed jazz and blues pianist and songwriter, was a huge influence on Tackett's music…and hairstyles.
"I used to take this record into the barber shop and ask them to cut my hair like Mose Allison," Tackett confesses. "They could never do it. It wasn't until my daughter took me down to Fred Segal, where she works and where you get these hundred dollar haircuts. I walked in there with this big mushroom head of hair and the chick took one look at me, started laughing and said, Forget all this fucking hair, man.' She sits me down and -boom, boom, boom – she spins me around and has given me Mose Allison's haircut. I looked at her and said, I've been trying to get this damn haircut for 37 fucking years. How did you know? Thank you.' I loved Mose Allison. He's the cat, man. He wrote just some incredible songs. And he had great hair."
Moseying down through Used Jazz, Tackett spots Larry Coryell's 1971 classic jazz fusion album Barefoot Boy. A long time fan of Coryell’s music, I mention to Tackett that I think Larry Coryell is one of the most underappreciated guitarists in all of music history. The jazz fusion great’s 1969 album Coryell, with its weird, psychedelic, semi-nude family portrait on the cover, is continually in my CD changer.
"Larry Coryell is like my brother. We have a rich history," Tackett says. "I met Larry many, many years ago through Jimmy Webb. Jimmy found me in Hawaii and brought me to L.A. in 1967, I think. I slept under Jimmy Webb's piano for a while before I got my own place. Jimmy, Larry and I all became good buddies. Very dangerous good buddies, but buddies all the same. This was during the good years of the 1970s, wheeeeww! Lots of fun."
At the same time he was digging into all this jazz, Tackett go into rock music, starting with Elvis and the Beatles. Much like everyone else of his generation, Tackett was blown away by the Beatles and their music. Even after he'd graduated from college and started life as a professional musician, Tackett was still in the grips of Beatlemania.
"After college, I went to London to record with Jimmy Webb on a project," he says. "Ringo Starr came in and played drums on a few tunes. I come in for the session and there are Ringo's road cases for his drums with his name and "The Beatles" stenciled right on there. When everyone left after the session was over, I pulled my camera out of my bag and took pictures of Ringo's drum cases cause I was such a huge fan."
Another gig Tackett will never forget was touring with Bob Dylan shortly after The Bard's Slow Train Coming album came out in 1979. The guitarist got hooked up with Dylan through drummer Jim Keltner and bassist Tim Drummond, both of which were veteran Dylan sidemen. Dylan was auditioning guitar players down in a warehouse in Santa Monica when Tackett got the call.
"So I went down to this warehouse in Santa Monica and played for like three weeks," Tackett remembers. "We'd play and play and then when we were done, Bob'd be like, Well, can you come back again tomorrow?'"
The jam sessions went on for more than three weeks and only a few days before the band was scheduled to leave California to go play Saturday Night Live in New York City, Tackett gets a call from Dylan himself offering him the gig. He agreed and the two decided to meet the next day after practice to work out the details.
"After rehearsal, he calls me into this little office he has and I remember his hair being all over the place," Tackett says with a grin. "Bob leans across the table toward me after I sit down and says in a real hushed voice, Ok, what do you get?' I start explaining how much I make doing studio work in L.A., and he shushes me quickly, looks around like he doesn't want any of the other cats in the band to hear us and then gestures for me to lean in close. He sticks his head over so his ear is closer to me and motions for me to speak into his ear. I kind of lean in amongst all this hair and tell him what I normally make. He leans back and kind of leers at me as if to say, What the fuck?' And then he leans back in and I finish telling him what I think I'd be missing if I went out on tour with him. He pulls back again and gives me another strange look and then tells me he'll think about it. The next day, he called me and told me I had the gig. He'd put on this whole bullshit act just to mess with me. It was great, just a classic moment."
As we head out the door at Amoeba, Tackett spots Brian Wilson's SMiLE, the long-awaited rock opus from the genius behind the Beach Boys released in 2004.
"I'm loving SMiLE, man," Tackett says with a laugh. "People in the band and Little Feat crew are seriously thinking I’m not all there cause I love it so much. I did some overdubs on Orange Crate Art through my friendship with Van Dyke Parks, but the only time I've ever saw Brian Wilson was on a Harry Nilsson session years ago. I was sitting there in the studio playing and in walks Brian Wilson wearing a big pink bath robe, with long hair and a big beard. He came over to Van Dyke and I guess Van Dyke said something about me, cause he just walked over to my stand and looked at me. He was very friendly about it, just staring at me. Never said a word, just stood there for a minute or two and watched me. And I just smiled right back."
Bunk Johnson & his New Orleans Band, Hot Jazz
Ray Charles, Ray Charles at Newport
Larry Coryell, Barefoot Boy
Brian Wilson, SMiLE
Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited