About three weeks ago I posted a review of Little Feat playing the entire Waiting For Columbus live album in concert. A 45 year anniversary of that masterful recording.
I found a fascinating book on the band by former Rolling Stone writer Ben Fong-Torres called Willin’: The Story of Little Feat (Da Capo Press, 2013). Fong-Torres wrote for the magazine during the early, glory years, when Little Feat were establishing their sound.
As the band worked on Time Loves a Hero, (1977) something important happened. The band embraced a jazz-fusion vibe, jamming with members of the popular Weather Report band. This musical detour annoyed George so much that when the band played the song’ “Day at the Dog Races,” George would leave, even during concerts. Apparently, he wanted no part of this, and it seemed to fuel his comments about a future Little Feat without some of the current members. Fans and critics noticed the absence of George. Payne said, “We got blamed for all this crap, for blocking Lowell out of the writing arena. And that wasn’t true. The guy just wasn’t coming up with songs.” Lowell was working on his solo album, which had been part of the deal when the band signed a new deal with Warner Bros.
Before that happened, Waiting for Columbus (1978) was recorded and released. Their most successful album to date, this live set was recorded at several locations, and in a 2002 release, additional songs were added. In Fong-Torres’ book, I am surprised at the amount of “fixes” were done to the album in mixing. George’s vocals and guitar solos were almost completely re-recorded. I guess even then, live was not really live.
The first half of Fong-Torres’ book overs the period of the band to the death of Lowell George in 1979. George was touring in support of his solo album when he died of a heart attack. At the time, Little Feat was finishing Down on the Farm, which included more songs by George, but certainly didn’t sound like a joyous group effort. The longtime leader, had many irons in the fire, the band, his solo album, side projects, back surgery, drugs and various women, but he insisted on producing their album himself. Others in the band wanted to assert themselves in the process, but George would have none of that. Fong-Torres writes that George indicated that the future Little Feat would be without members Bill Payne and Paul Barrere. The battle for control was about to end.
After George’s death, Little Feat disbanded. The band members went in various directions, collaborated with other artists, released solo albums and occasionally worked with each other. Fong-Torres writes that when Payne and Barrere were putting together the new version of Little Feat, Robert Palmer (“Every Kind of People,” “Addicted to Love”) and Bonnie Raitt were considered, but both had recently found huge solo success.
In 1988, the remaining members, plus former Pure Prairie League vocalist Craig Fuller (“Amie”), and top session guitarist Fred Tackett, reformed the band and released a new album, Let It Roll. This was the album not possible back in the 1970s, and at times does not sound like Little Feat. Both Fuller and Tackett had a history with the band. Pure Prairie League had played on the same bill as Little Feat, Lowell George had almost produced an album for Fuller, and Barrere and Fuller had written together. Fuller could sing George’s style, but he also added a smoother voice. Tackett had played on sessions with the band, and had been part of George’s touring band when he died. Both seemed like natural fits.
Let it Roll has the classic Little Feat sound, but a decidedly updated vibe. Production by longtime engineer George Massenburg is clean and the separation really accentuates the instruments. Soundwise, the band never sounded better. The title track smokes, supplemented with rockin’ horns.
A live album recorded in 1976, Live in Holland, was released in 2014. Although it is not Waiting for Columbus, it shows the at it’s best, before the internal cracks was major fissures. It’s a muscular performance with plenty of fiery guitar work.
Line in Holland was also filmed, but the footage leaves a lot to be desired. Tracks are: Skin It Back; Fat Man in the Bathtub; One Love Stand; Rock and Roll Doctor; Oh Atlanta; All That You Dream; Cold Cold Cold; Dixie Chicken; Tripe Face Boogie; Feats Don’t Fail Me Now; Teenage Nervous Breakdown.
Fuller left the band in 1993, replaced by Shaun Murphy, who stayed until 2009. Founding drummer Richie Hayward passed away in 2010, with Gabe Ford joining until replaced by Tony Leone in 2020. Longtime guitarist and songwriter Paul Barrere passed away in 2019. Guitarist Scott Sharrard joined the same year.
The Feat keep truckin’ and sounding as good as ever. The concert I attended recently reinforced how timeless the music and how turbocharged they are in concert.
In 2003, the band released Kickin’ it at the Barn, the first release on their own label, and recorded at Tackett’s home studio. This album embraces the variety of styles the band became famous for weaving together in a unique blend. Murphy’s “I’ll Be Lyin’” is quite good. There are some fine instrumental moments. The complaint was that overall it is too laidback. “Stomp” is a rockin’ shuffle.
Rooster Rag (2012) is the most recent album of original songs. This album, more than 50 years after Little Feat’s appearance on the musical scene still has the mojo. A bluesier album, it also featured Robert Hunter (Grateful Dead) lyrics on a few songs.
In recent years, the band has released numerous performances from the vault. Visiting their website gives you a list of releases and where to find them.
4 thoughts on “Little Feat: A Deeper Dive”
Great band! My former bandmate and longtime music buddy from Germany introduced me to them some 4.5 years ago. He recommended “Waiting For Columbus”, which is a great intro to the group and a true gem!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Their album sleeve art, courtesy Neon Park, is also striking. Yeah, I remember some friction with George after Time Loves a Hero. He said something to the effect he was tired of writing all or most of the songs, but then he also disliked the jazzier music of Payne and Barrere. I think Payne’s “Red Streamliner” is one of their best songs. And I never cared for Fuller as a lead singer, who tried to imitate George’s signature growling vocals.
LikeLiked by 1 person
The relationship between George and Payne in particular was a complicated one. The last several years of the band was full of tension. The live performances during that period are quite good.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I agree. A little tension is often good…I’m thinking Beatles, Kinks, Everly Bros., Cream. Although I also read how Columbus was “doctored” later on.