Little Feat

TrackAlbum
Willin'Little Feat
Cold, Cold, ColdSailin' Shoes
Tripe Face BoogieSailin' Shoes
Dixie ChickenDixie Chicken
Fat Man In The BathtubDixie Chicken
Rock And Roll DoctorFeats Don't Fail Me Now
The FanFeats Don't Fail Me Now
Long Distance LoveThe Last Record Album
Rocket In My PocketTime Loves A Hero
Oh AtlantaWaiting For Columbus

spotify-logo-primary-horizontal-dark-background-rgb-sm

 

Contributor: Martin Palmer

Little Feat are one of those bands. Easy to categorise as bluesy, funky, laid-back ‘Adult Rock’, yet with layer upon layer of other stuff going on for those who care to dig . If you do dig them, the rewards are huge and you’ve got a lifetime habit. Lowell George’s lyrical slide playing, and what he called the ‘cracked mosaic’ of off-kilter time signatures and song structures, created a sound that has been often admired, but never duplicated. Channelling the sinuous grooves of Allen Toussaint and The Meters, they brought New Orleans to California by way of Memphis, stirring up a crazy rock ‘n roll gumbo along the way. If you like the sound of shuffling feet, it can’t be beat.

I first came to Little Feat around 1975 when the bass player in our band at the time (and later, my best man) suggested I should check out the album Feats Don’t Fail Me Now. He thought it might be my kind of thing. Boy, was he right. I became besotted by that album and inevitably, hopelessly, by the entire Feat ouevre. Thanks, Carmine.

1975 was also the year of the Warner Bros Music Tour, an 18 date European showcase for their hot new acts, including Little Feat, Tower of Power, Doobie Brothers, Bonaroo, Montrose and Graham Central Station. Playing only their second-ever UK gig (the first had been in Manchester a few days before) on the afternoon of January 19th, at The Rainbow, Finsbury Park, Little Feat took to the stage for a Sunday matinee performance supporting the tour’s headliners, The Doobie Brothers. To say they went down well is an understatement. They were called back for two encores and the poor old Doobies spent their set listening to half the crowd calling for the return of Little Feat (the other half having left when it became clear that there would be no more Feat encores). Little Feat’s place in the hearts of British fans was assured. I saw the band play live only once, at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester in 1977, supporting the release of Time Loves A Hero. I was then a new recruit to the WEA (Warner/Electra/Atlantic) regional promotion team, a couple of weeks into the job, and to this day regret being slightly overawed by the occasion and not taking the opportunity to go back and meet the band. Oh well. I did though get to meet Ritchie Hayward when he toured with Robert Plant (my outstanding memory of that occasion being Plant arguing in a hotel lobby with the mother of a fan who had failed to meet his hero: “Don’t tell me what I should be doing, madam. This is my job!”).

The heart of the band was the second son of a Hollywood furrier, slide-guitarist Lowell George – the man Jackson Browne called ‘the Orson Welles of rock ‘n’ roll’. Born in 1945, after abandoning the flute as his main instrument (he learned to sight-read in the high-school marching band) George’s first brush with rock ‘n’ roll was The Factory. Original Factory drummer Dallas Taylor (who went on to drum with CSN) was replaced by one Ritchie Hayward, later to fill the same role in Little Feat. One long lost/later found album ensued, Lightning-Rod Man, Edsel EDCD 377.

The Factory (without Lowell, but including later Feat collaborator Martin Kibbee aka Fred Martin) subsequently morphed into The Fraternity of Man. You’ll remember Don’t Bogart That Joint on the Easy Rider soundtrack. Lowell briefly joined garage rockers The Standells before being enlisted by Frank Zappa into The Mothers of Invention. That gig lasted less than a year (the circumstances of his leaving are not clear, varying by whose account you read) but it was here that Lowell hooked up with future Feat members Bill Payne, Roy Estrada and Martin Muller, aka sleeve artist Neon Park. The time in Zappa’s company also taught Lowell valuable lessons in how to run a band, and inspired his sometimes cavalier approach to song structure. Eventually however, tensions in the band surfaced due to Lowell’s disillusionment with Bill Payne and Paul Barrere’s efforts to drag Little Feat in a jazz-fusion direction. He would often leave the stage during these workouts. Lowell George and Ritchie Hayward, arguably the twin pillars of the original Feat sound, are both gone (Lowell in 1979, Ritchie in 2010) but Little Feat, with all the surviving members present, augmented by Hayward’s former drum-tech Gabe Ford and long-time collaborator Fred Tackett, continues performing and recording to this day.

Picking a definitive Top 10 is impossible (of course) so my Toppermost is a tasting menu, roughly chronologically ordered, of mostly earlier Feat material. Many of these songs appear in various versions across different albums, both studio and live, including an avalanche of bootlegs, some of which are now getting a ‘legitimate’ release. Rumour has it that the band itself was responsible for the recording (mostly straight from the mixing desk) of many of the original bootlegs to supplement their earnings from Warner Bros. Cataloguing would be a herculean task, as many bootlegs appeared under several different titles often with incorrect venue and date information. Somebody must have done it. I’ve gone mainly for the ‘original’ versions, as these are what I heard first. You are strongly encouraged to seek out the many variations!

Some words now about a few of these selections, and a couple of honourable mentions for other favourites. The Feat song most covered by other artistes, we first encounter the sublime Willin’ on Little Feat. A truck driver’s tale, simple in structure and accompanied only by strummed acoustic guitar and Ry Cooder’s slide playing (Lowell George having injured his hand whilst fooling with a model airplane engine). Cooder’s playing style here is marked by his tendency to slide up to a note – Lowell would more often slide down (using not a glass or steel slide, but a Sears Craftsman 11/16″ socket). The song is taken at a slightly sprightlier pace here, than in later versions; Give me weeds, whites and wine, and I’ll be willin’, to be movin’. A classic Feat tune, covered by the likes of Linda Ronstadt, the Black Crowes and Bob Dylan, and later to appear in a more polished production on Sailin’ Shoes, embellished there by Bill Payne’s piano and the pedal steel guitar of “Sneaky Pete” Kleinow.

Bill Payne’s honky-tonk piano drives Tripe Face Boogie along and Lowell turns in a sweet slide solo. There is a great medley of this with Cold, Cold, Cold on Feats Don’t Fail Me Now, but my favourite version is the epic 10 minute adventure on Waiting For Columbus – a jazzy mid-section freak-out gives way to a slide guitar tour-de-force as Lowell takes it to where only the dogs can hear. There is also a monstrous live version of Tripe Face Boogie from the German TV show Rockpalast.

Rock And Roll Doctor packs a velvet punch. By turns it shuffles, rocks and bounces, the accent shifting from the on-beat to the off-beat. Rampant syncopation indeed. A nice brass-tinged version can be found on Columbus, too.

Try tapping your foot to The Fan and see where you end up. Ritchie Hayward proving that with a world-class drummer a band can rock, even in 9/8 time.

Fat Man In The Bathtub is a second cousin of the earlier Easy To Slip (Sailin’ Shoes), both featuring chiming acoustic guitars and a rolling gait. In later years, Fat Man would become a solo showcase for Ritchie Hayward at live shows.

Spanish Moon (Feats Don’t Fail Me Now) tells of an infamous night club (one false move, you’ll get done in…) . Brass to the fore, congas tapping menacingly in the background. Robert Palmer covered this song on Some People Can Do What They Like (1976). He had also covered Sailin’ Shoes on his first solo album, Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley (1974), with Lowell George guesting on several tracks.

Rocket In My Pocket. Can you tell what this is all about? The music was hot – but my baby was not. I’ve got a rocket in my pocket…

Roll Um Easy (Dixie Chicken) is a plaintive ballad in the vein of Willin’, just Lowell and a sparse finger-picking and slide guitar backing, the nearest Feat come to a straightforward folk song. Speaking of which, British guitar legend Martin Simpson does a killer live version of Long Distance Love (The Last Record Album).

If you’re unsure where to jump in, I’d suggest two albums. Feats Don’t Fail Me Now is a glorious selection of Feat styles, the band fully developed and firing on all cylinders. A live album is a must and Waiting For Columbus fits the bill nicely. There is also a wealth of live material at the Little Feat archive some of which is now finding commercial release e.g. the 1973 Ebbet’s Field concert now available as American Cutie.

With such a large catalogue and many different versions of particular songs, I’m anticipating some trenchant opinions from fellow Feat fans, putting me right and letting us know their own favourites!

Little Feat official website

Little Feat biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #102

9 Comments

  1. Peter Viney
    Oct 21, 2013

    Willin’ … a few years ago on The Band website we had a discussion about the three songs any working bar band in the USA had to know, and the Top 3 were The Weight, Willin’ and Proud Mary (no particular order). I’m going to disagree on the “first” Willin’ being Little Feat’s chosen version.

    We first met Willin’ via the Seatrain cover version which is very fast indeed and features Richard Greene’s fiddle playing. Then I got Sailin’ Shoes right as it came out, basically because I saw Willin’ was on it, then went back to the first album (which hadn’t sold at all in the UK, and only started to appear after the success of Sailin’ Shoes). I think they redid Willin’ for Sailin’ Shoes because Lowell George thought they hadn’t got it right first time and I prefer the later languid version on Sailin’ Shoes. Anyway, comparing the three (two Little Feat, one Seatrain) was a popular parlour game of ours in the 70s … my wife chose the Seatrain one every time and still does, I chose the Sailin’ Shoes one and still do.

    The other track I’d have to have in a Toppermost is Trouble from Sailin’ Shoes. It’s an odd choice because I never play it. It was always my favourite Little Feat song. It’s just so sad somehow. The day my mother died in 1996 it happened to be the track in the CD player as I got in the car, and the song somehow brought it all out … I’m sure that’s not what the lyrics intend, but it fitted, and now I find it hard to listen through.

    I agree with Martin about selecting from the Lowell George version of Little Feat, and I would have done, but I’ll reinforce that they are still going, and in the last ten or fifteen years have produced some magnificent work … they’re not just an oldies band by any means. It’s a case as Toppermost grows perhaps for a “post-Lowell George” Toppermost.

  2. Martin Palmer
    Oct 21, 2013

    Completely agree on “Trouble”, it is a heartbreaker and a great favourite of mine too. It very nearly made it on to the list. I was unaware of the Seatrain version of Willin’, I will seek it out. The Little Feat version is still the first of their many takes on it, so I’m standing by that remark 😉
    I prefer the Sailin’ Shoes version too, if I’m honest!

  3. Terry Newman
    Oct 22, 2013

    Great piece from Martin, I was actually at that concert in 1975 at the Rainbow Theatre. I was there primarily to see The Doobie Brothers as I was a big fan. Before attending I knew virtually nothing about Little Feat, I think I’d heard a couple of songs on the radio the week before.

    What happened completely blew me away, they were extraordinarily good and, to this day, it remains one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen. I did feel a bit sorry for The Doobie Brothers who stood no chance, they were perfectly fine but the audience just wanted Little Feat to return to the stage.

    I compiled my own Top 10 a while ago and there are a few overlaps with Martin’s list. From the debut album the opener ‘Snakes on Everything’ is a real statement of intent. I do prefer the version of Willin’ from the first album, just seems exactly what the song needs, no unnecessary instrumentation.

    Feats Don’t Fail Me Now is probably my favourite studio album and I’ve included the Cold Cold Cold/Tripe Face Boogie medley from this so I can actually sneak in 11 songs! It was as a live band they were at their best and, as Martin said, there are numerous live recordings and bootlegs out there to explore.

    I’ve included 2 selections from Waiting For Columbus which gives a pretty good indication of their live sound, recorded at various venues in 1977.

    Snakes On Everything (Little Feat)
    Willin’ (Little Feat)
    Easy To Slip (Sailin’ Shoes)
    Apolitical Blues (Sailin’ Shoes)
    Walkin’ All Night (Dixie Chicken)
    Rock n Roll Doctor (Feats Don’t Fail Me Now)
    Cold Cold Cold/Tripe (Feats Don’t Fail Me Now)
    Long Distance Love (The Last Record Album)
    Fat Man In The Bathtub (Waiting For Columbus)
    Time Loves A Hero (Waiting For Columbus)

  4. Ian Ashleigh
    Oct 23, 2013

    Great postings and I can’t add to anything that’s been said. But I would want to include 20 Million Things, at the expense of what, I don’t know?

  5. Martin Palmer
    Oct 23, 2013

    Terry, I am jealous! What it must have been to see them at that legendary gig, to come upon them fresh, without the weight of expectation. Can’t argue with any of your selections, on another day that might have been my list. Though I would still have to have ‘The Fan’ in there.

    Ian, I absolutely love ’20 Million Things…’, it’s on a par with ‘Trouble’ in the tearjerker stakes, but I always think of it as a Lowell George solo effort, despite it putting in an appearance on the Feat “As Time Goes By” best of.

  6. Peter Viney
    Oct 23, 2013

    Lowell George solo effort … that brings us to “Thanks I’ll Eat It Here” in 1979, and What Do You Want The Girl To Do and I Can’t Stand The Rain, which are up there with the best of Little Feat. I doubt there’s enough official Lowell George solo for a separate Toppermost, though there is a bootleg “Sessions” with many of his sit ins, from John Cale to John Hall to John Sebastian to John Starling, plus people not named “John” like James Taylor, Mick Taylor, Yvonne Elliman and Carly Simon.

    But “Thanks I’ll Eat It Here” sounds like a Little Feat album.

  7. Martin Palmer
    Oct 25, 2013

    Much as I like “Thanks…” (how could I not?) there are a few tracks on there that, good as they are in their own right, I don’t think would ever have fitted into a fully-fledged Feat album: the oompah-band meets Hot Club de Paris frolic of “Himmler’s Ring” is one, the other “Cheek to Cheek”, a lovely Tex-Mex ballad. And whilst “What Do You Want the Girl to Do” certainly has the New Orleans bounce that Little Feat did so well, I don’t think the glossy orchestrated pop production would have sat well in the context of a Feat album.

    Many fans at the time were nonplussed that Lowell didn’t showcase more of his slide playing (there is hardly any), although the work he had put into developing his singing certainly paid off, being the equal or better of anything he’d previously turned in.

    I’d love to get my hands on that bootleg compilation!

  8. Rob Millis
    Oct 27, 2013

    Martin, a wonderful read. “One of those bands” indeed as was said here. They took the half-time funk of Up On Cripple Creek and made it their own.

    Rumour has it that the roots of the whole “Feat Funk” were seeping out in Lowell George’s sound checks when briefly a member of the Mothers of Invention. Frank Z loved what he heard and encouraged Lowell to record them, put a band together and just do something with them. Lowell said he was happy in the Mothers and maybe later on he’d think about it. So eager was Frank that the world heard the stuff, he fired George that day.

    10 songs is tough. Can’t fault the selection. Was thinking “Aw, but Layfayette Railroad isn’t there… or On Your Way Down!” but then pick two to bin off and make room… no, I couldn’t.

    Bill Payne is a STUPIDLY good keyboard player and much as Billy Preston was the Hammond guy almost inseparable from his plank of choice, so to is Bill Payne the Wurlitzer piano man. He owns that sound – I’ll bet 75% of keyboard players that like to use one do so just because of Bill Payne. The other 25% are Spooner Oldham and Donny Hathaway fans as well…

  9. Ian Worley
    Jul 5, 2017

    Can’t add anything other than as a young innocent 18 year old I hitchhiked from Cornwall to Manchester in 1977 to see the Feat play at the Free Trade Hall. Had my ticket stolen from a jacket pocket, playing pool in The Red Lion pub in Didsbury. Went with my friend Robbie begging for a spare ticket outside and got one at face value 5 minutes before the concert started. Best live gig I’ve ever seen and musically a life changing event. Beat perfect throughout. Took two days to hitch back, slept in my clothes at the side of the road near Exeter, but worth every moment. God bless you Lowell.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

↓