In 1994, Craig Fuller found himself with four children ages 10 or younger at home and a member of a struggling band, Little Feat. So he decided that rather than living on the road, he should be home in North Carolina helping his wife, a neonatologist, raise the family.
And for the better part of 18 years, that’s where he’s been.
But now, with the youngest child about to head off to college, his head still full of mostly non-gray hair and his health intact, “I may be ready to embark on a few more years of shameless self-promotion,” he said wryly.
“I like writing, I like recording,” Fuller said in an interview. “But going out and slogging it out on the road is not easy in the best circumstances. And as you get older, it gets harder. It was never my desire to get up in front of people and have them clap for me, even if they liked me a lot. I just wanted to make sure the band and I sounded perfect every night. So that’s probably a problem of mine. It’s a lot easier to have one guy feel pretty confident that he can sound good every night.”
So he’ll perform mostly solo, with occasional accompaniment from his 22-year-old son, Patrick, “a great guitarist” who grew up around the music business. Fuller recalled with some amusement a time when Little Feat drummer Ritchie Hayward tried to teach one-year-old Patrick to say “rutabaga” because Hayward thought the word sounded funny coming from a child.
Today, Patrick Fuller is about to graduate from University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill with a degree in biological sciences.
“He has been privy to a lot of the foibles and trials of playing live and traveling,” Fuller said. “But he still wants to try it.”
He can draw from his dad’s long, unusual career.
Craig Fuller was born in Ohio but grew up in Oregon. He founded Pure Prairie League in 1970, and the band recorded two albums before being dropped by RCA Records. While Fuller dealt with legal problems — he was sentenced to work in a hospital for two years after declaring himself a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War — a Fuller-less Pure Prairie League re-signed with the label and had a No. 1 hit with an edited version of his song “Amie.”
In 1976, Fuller formed American Flyer with Eric Kaz (Blues Magoos), Steve Katz (Blood, Sweat & Tears) and Doug Yule (Velvet Underground). They recorded two albums — the first produced by George Martin — before disbanding. Then, in 1978, he and Kaz opened the last contiguous series of shows Little Feat played before singer/guitarist Lowell George died.
Ten years later, when Little Feat re-formed, keyboardist Bill Payne approached Fuller about replacing George.
“As soon as they noticed the similarity in the timbre of my voice and Lowell’s voice, that was probably reason enough to ask,” Fuller said. “They knew I was a reasonable person; they knew I didn’t have a loose wig. It was pretty obvious that it was a good fit.”
Filling in for George proved to be easy, Fuller said. Although he doesn’t play slide guitar, he could replicate and almost echo George’s honeyed growl.
“It was living up to Lowell’s legacy as far as writing that was the toughest part for anybody in the band,” Fuller said.
The reconfigured Little Feat did its best, recording three discs — Let It Roll, Representing the Mambo and Shake Me Up — before Fuller departed.
Although Fuller left the business, he never lost his passion for music. In 2009, he put Little Feat fans on notice that he would soon release a solo album called Not Made in China. The record isn’t finished (“I’m a lazy bum,” he said with a laugh) but Fuller said it’s “definitely a possibility” that some tracks and videos will appear on his website before the end of the year.
“It’s on the way,” he said. “It’s just taking a really circuitous route.”