Little Feat is easily one of the most grievously overlooked bands in history. Few people know of the band or can name any song of theirs apart from Dixie Chicken
, which the Dave Matthews Band
interpolates into the song Crash Into Me
during their live shows. It is difficult to pin Little Feat down as belonging to any one genre. Once could argue that they are a Southern Rock
band. Others might describe them as a blues rock band. They are perhaps best described by Bud Scoppa
in the liner notes for the Waiting For Columbus - Deluxe Edition
: "Onstage, the veteran group simultaneously displayed its genesis in 1969
as a somewhat twisted roots-rock cousin of The Rolling Stones
, The Byrds
, and The Band
; its reinvention in 1972
as a blackened, spiced-up New Orleans
-style dance band; its subsequent expansion into an improvisation-oriented players' outfit; and its latter-day appropriation of an uptown sophistication akin to that of Steely Dan
and Boz Scaggs
." Clearly the band draws from a variety of roots, producing a sound that is a unique and cohesive whole.
Little Feat's name and creative genius sprung from one man: the late, great Lowell George. George had begun his musical career with The Standells and Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention. Jimmy Carl Black of the Mothers of Invention once remarked to George that he had "******* little feet", and with a slight twist a la Beatles, George came up with the name Little Feat for his new band. The original lineup was George on guitar, Roy Estrada on bass, Bill Payne on keyboards and Ritchie Hayward on drums. Both Hayward and and Payne provided key elements of the bands sound and remain with the band to this day. Hayward's jazzy, behind-the-beat drumming gives the group's sound an energy and sophistication not found in most bands, while Payne's skill with the electric organ and the baby grand mixes in with and holds up the guitar and at times, blows the roof off with complex and driven solos. However, for many years, the true magic of the group lay in Lowell George's inspired slide guitar. Every bit the equal of the Duane Allman's, the yard stick against which the rock world measures slide guitar playing, George's lightning-fast licks, driving from high to low pitch with a poetic grace and power and simply astonishing.
Little Feat was signed by Warner Brothers Records in 1970. but did not achieve much commercial success. Their music was highly respected by other bands of the era. Members of Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan counted themselves as fans. The Byrds covered two of their songs: Willin' and Truck Stop Girl. Despite this, the band achieved little commercial success. Their eponymous debut album and the two subsequent releases, Sailin' Shoes and Dixie Chicken, sold quite poorly. By this time, Roy Estrada had left the band, and guitarist Paul Barrere, bassist Kenny Gradney and percussionist Sam Clayton had joined up.
Upset over the sales of their first three albums, the band began to explore other pursuits, but pushed through to release their fourth album, Feats Don't Fail Me Now, which charted in the United States in 1974. This kept the band together and saw the emergence of members of the band apart from George taking part in the songwriting. After a successful tour with the Doobie Brothers and others, the band enjoyed some level of success and recorded their next studio release, The Last Record Album. On this album and their next, Time Loves A Hero, George's contributions faded to almost nothing and he began to get seriously embroiled in his drug problems. He managed to pull himself together enough to spearhead the release of their first live album, Waiting For Columbus, which is regarded by some as one of the greatest live albums of all time. It featured recordings from shows in Washington D.C, where the band enjoyed a certain cult popularity, and London, featuring The Tower of Power horn section, as well as Mick Taylor of the Rolling Stones and Michael McDonald of the Doobie Brothers. The name of the album was inspired by the album artwork, done by the late Neon Park. George felt that the red, leggy woman with a large tomato for a head lying in a hammock, looked to be "waiting for Columbus to come and discover her". The eccentric artwork of Park adorned the covers of most Little Feat albums and is one of their many distinctive features.
After the release of Waiting For Columbus, the band dissolved and George began pursuit of his solo career, beginning with the album, Thanks I'll Eat It Here. During the tour for this album, Lowell George's years of drug abuse and unhealthy living caught up with him and he suffered a fatal heart attack on stage. The band scraped together the remaining recordings of their time with George and released Down On The Farm and Hoy-Hoy!, a compilation album, both of which enjoyed some success.
Under the direction of Bill Payne, the band reformed in 1988 with new members Fred Tackett and Craig Fuller, a former member of Pure Prairie League, both of whom played guitar. They would later add one of their backing vocalists, Shaun Murphy to the band as a lead singer. It demonstrates how indispensable Lowell George was that it took three people to replace him. With this lineup they released Let It Roll in 1988 and numerous other albums in the early 90s, though Fuller left before their album Ain't Had Enough Fun in 1994. Their 2000 release, Chinese Work Songs, includes a cover of Phish's Sample In A Jar, demonstrating the band's versatility and willingness to shake things up, both in the studio and live. The band tours regularly, giving dazzling shows to their still devoted cult following. The have performed with String Cheese Incident and others in concert and still play over 100 times a year. They also encourage taping and trading of their shows.
Little Feat.net - www.littlefeat.net
VH1.com - http://www.vh1.com/artists/az/little_feat/bio.jhtml
CDNOW - www.cdnow.com
Waiting For Columbus - Deluxe Edition liner notes