Reviewed on this page:
Little Feat - Sailin' Shoes -
Dixie Chicken -
Feets Don't Fail Me Now - Thanks I'll Eat It Here - Down On The Farm
Yet another early 70s "Southern rock" band that actually formed in L.A., you might understandably mistake Little Feat for lesser acts like Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Actually, they were thoroughly authentic and even adventurous, equalling the Allman Brothers when it came to creativity even if they fell short when it came to pure chops.
Band leader/singer/songwriter Lowell George took most of the credit and deserved it: it's his wizened slide guitar parts that bring life to even the most stripped-down blues riffs, and it's his idea to swing wildly among All-American musical styles - not just country blues but gospel, R & B, and boogie woogie.
The group's gritty delivery and down-home piano-plus-horns formula made them just as authentic, eclectic, and stubbornly retro as the Band, but they drew mostly from 20th century Southern influences instead of 19th century Americana - instead of Garth Hudson's churchy, impish organ and accordion lines and Robbie Robertson's archaic folk lyrics you'll hear plenty of George's soaring slide guitar leads and good-natured odes to trucking.
By the mid-70s the group was getting bogged down by monotonous horn and female chorus arrangements. But their early records are so sharp and so inimitable that I can easily see why the band continues to inspire loyalty from its fans two decades afer George's death.
Although George quickly became the band's leader and chief songwriter, Little Feat's original lineup also featured a first-rate pianist who contributed much of the song material (Bill Payne) and a bassist who had previously been with the Mothers of Invention (Roy Estrada).
The group's first album was uneven and they went through major lineup changes after their second album, but most of their early efforts were artistically impressive, they toured heavily, and their 1978 live record was a solid commercial success.
By this time the group had assembled a set of classic standards like "Truck Stop Girl," "Willin'," "Easy To Slip," "Cold, Cold, Cold," "Dixie Chicken," and "Oh Atlanta" - most of them dating from their first four albums.
But George's songwriting tapered off in the wake of a serious drug addiction, and 1979 was a disaster for the group: George quit the band, knocked off a solo album, went on tour, and then suddenly died of an apparent heart attack (or a drug overdose?).
After a long hiatus, Payne reformed the group with most of its classic-period lineup, added a new guitarist and singer, and kept things going all the way through the 90s with a long series of tours and studio albums.
I haven't heard any of these late-period records, but if I find a couple cheap I'll pick them up.
When it comes to Little Feat web sites, you're pretty much stuck with LittleFeat.net. It's informative and has a lot of fan input, but it's also a bit commercialized.
Roy Estrada (bass), Lowell George (vocals, guitar), Richie Hayward (drums), Bill Payne (piano). Estrada replaced by Kenny Gradney (bass), Paul Barrère (guitar) and Sam Clayton (congas) added, 1973.
Group disbanded, George went solo and then died, 1979. Group reformed in 1988 with Fred Tackett (guitar) and
Craig Fuller (vocals). Fuller replaced by Shaun Murphy before 1995.
Little Feat (1971)
The band's debut is a stripped-down, gritty, utterly authentic blues-rock escapade ("Hamburger Midnight").
Without the wall-of-sound horn and choral vocal arrangements that later became a trademark of their records, it's rawer but not as distinctive or tuneful - most of the tracks are undergirded instead by Payne's stately piano ("Strawberry Flats"), and George's vocals are clumsy and coarse even though his slide guitar parts and down-and-out lyrics are fully mature ("Crack In Your Door").
"Willin'," easily the best song, gets a cranky, basic country blues arrangement (complete with a Ry Cooder slide guitar part) and this version just isn't as rich as the next album's.
Payne takes a couple of stabs at dramatic, Elton John-like orchestrated piano ballads and they don't quite work ("Brides Of Jesus"; "Takin' My Time").
They do better with a sprightly, trumpet and organ-flavored Procol Harum ripoff ("Crazy Captain Gunboat Willie"),
and a few cuts show their promise: "Snakes On Everything" would have fit right in on Let It Bleed; there's a loose, gut-wrenching Delta blues medley ("Forty Four Blues/How Many More Years," again featuring Cooder); and "Truck Stop Girl" delivers one of their most poignant, anthemic melodies.
Produced by Russ Titelman; Payne and George split the songwriting credits almost equally, often working together.
Sneaky Pete guests on the sleepy country ballad "I've Been The One." (JA)
Sailin' Shoes (1972)
Probably their best album, it starts off with a great pop-rock song ("Easy To Slip," just a little like the Eagles or Poco), and mostly
stay focused: "Cold, Cold, Cold" is a great example of the Southern rock genre;
"Trouble" evokes the Band at its sweetest; their new version of the gentle, confessional country-western trucker anthem "Willin'" is just gorgeous; and the title track is a minimalistic masterpiece, catchy and drenched with alchoholic eccentricity.
Not to mention all of their quirky attempts at humor ("Texas Rose Cafe"), which
really set them apart.
Sometimes they do try too hard: the Jerry Lee Lewis-like roots rocker "Teenage Nervous Breakdown" is a bore, and they're often too close to their competitors, as with their Exile On Main Street-style "Got No Shadow."
Produced by Ted Templeman. Bill Payne takes some of the songwriting credits; Sneaky Pete and Milt Holland are among the guests. (JA)
Dixie Chicken (1973)
With Lowell George producing and the band now featuring three new players, Dixie Chicken marks a big shift in sound.
George uses tons of slide guitar and a female chorus on almost every track (Bonnie Bramlett and Bonnie Raitt are among numerous singers), Payne and Malcolm Cecil add occasional synthesizers (the odd, moody, gospel-like "Kiss It Off"), and everything is relentlessly crafted and professional.
Mostly it works, and they score with three key songs: the AOR-friendly title track is an irresistable New Orleans funk workout that rises above its "Sailin' Shoes"-like novelty tune arrangement; the smooth, melodic "Fool Yourself" (written
by Fred Tackett) features some snappy electric piano, Tackett's acoustic guitar, and some great vocals; and the densely arranged "Fat Man In The Bathtub" has a
solid chorus and some sharp playing all around.
The minor tunes like "Two Trains" and the Payne-Barrère collaboration "Walkin All Night" all use the same laid-back, sophisticated Southern rock formula, but are all entertaining; and George varies the tempo with crawling R & B (a cover of
Allen Toussaint's "On Your Way Down"), Traffic-style
melodrama ("Juliette"), and pleasant, sincere acoustic balladry ("Roll Um Easy").
A mature, well-crafted effort that doesn't quite rise to the last record's level.
Additional guests include Milt Holland and Three Dog Night leader Danny Hutton. (JA)
Feets Don't Fail Me Now (1974)
George's second production sounds much like the last one, but the material is noticeably weaker.
Payne's funky "Oh Atlanta" is one of the group's most well-known tunes, an AOR staple featuring a great New Orleans boogie-woogie piano line and an inescapable refrain.
But elsewhere the band scrapes around for ideas. George's slide work and Payne's warm electric piano and organ lines both sound better than ever, but the tunes are sometimes shapeless ("Rock And Roll Doctor"; Barrère's soulful "Skin It Back," with fashionable congas and chorused guitar); when they try to cook up another up-tempo R & B anthem it doesn't go anywhere (title track).
George's other tunes are second-rate despite his intricate arranging (carefully controlled soloing on "Down The Road"; Van Dyke Parks' intriguing horn and vocal arrangements on "Spanish Moon"; a seductive Eastern hook on "The Fan," which turns into a sinister acid rock jam).
Worst of all, they tread water with a longish medley of the Sailin' Shoes songs "Cold, Cold, Cold" and "Tripe Face Boogie" that dissolves into tuneless jamming.
Plenty of creativity and musical integrity here, but it doesn't add up to much.
Fred Martin has a couple co-writes; the relatively sparse female backing vocals are by Raitt, Fran Tate, and country legend Emmylou Harris. (JA)
The Last Record Album (1975)
Time Loves A Hero (1977)
Produced by the returning Ted Templeman. The Tower of Power provides horns. (JA)
Waiting For Columbus (1978)
A live record produced by George, and again featuring the TOP horns.
The band's biggest success, it quickly went gold and reached a higher chart position than any of their other albums.
Originally a double LP, it's been shoehorned onto one CD with a couple of cuts deleted. I'm holding out for a complete version. (JA)
Thanks I'll Eat It Here (George: 1979)
George's self-produced, sole solo album is a remarkable 70s artifact, quirky and slightly bloated but tuneful as all get out.
Signs of indulgence are everywhere: half of the songs are covers, there's no stylistic cohesion, big brassy horns get plastered on almost everything , and the credits are an endless catalogue of L.A. scenesters: Jim Gordon, Nicky Hopkins, James Newton Howard, Jim Keltner, David Paich, Dean Parks, Jim Price, Chuck Rainey, Bonnie Raitt, J. D. Souther, etc., etc.
But George delivers commanding vocals ("Can't Stand The Rain") and sharp production.
Allen Toussaint's mid-tempo soul testimonial "What Do You Want The Girl To Do" gets an elaborate, enthusiastic Al Green-meets-the-Band arrangement; "Honest Man" blends reggae and gospel; Rickie Lee Jones' "Easy Money" gets done up as smarmy hipster jazz.
There's also some tried and true Little Feat-ish stuff, and it works (shuffling boogie on "Two Trains"; harmonious piano balladry on "20 Million Things," written with Jacques Levy).
The best moment, oddly, is Fred Tackett's gorgeous, James Taylor-style acoustic love song "Find A River," which has to rank as one of George's best moments on record.
A worthy effort even though some of the eclecticism is painful - "Cheek To Cheek" (co-authored by Van Dyke Parks) is an over-polished acoustic Mexican ballad, and on Jimmy Webb's "Himmler's Ring" George goes over the top with baroque, old-timey Dixieland jazz. (JA)
Down On The Farm (1979)
Shortly after Lowell George's death, the rest of the group completed and released the band's last recordings.
George produces but seems spent, spinning his wheels on the mid-tempo rockers ("Kokomo," not the later Beach Boys tune), drifting into late 70s tackiness with disco rhythms (his and Payne's Elton John-style "Straight From The Heart"), and handing most of his compositions over to collaborating writers (the peppy, inconsequential country-western tune "Six Feet Of Snow," written with Keith Godchaux and ruined by a cheesy synth line).
But George does score with the majestic soft rock/gospel anthem "Be One Now" (co-written with Tackett) and a lurching Steely Dan ripoff - fusion-y synth, congas, jazz piano and guitar, the works - that's salvaged by his tough tenor vocal ("Front Page News," with Payne).
As for Payne, he flops with a bland, squishy, thumping pop-rocker ("Wake Up Dreaming").
So ironically, the other band members carry the record: Barrère's cool, sexy R & B ballad "Perfect Imperfection" and good-timey title track are closer to the band's Dixie stylings than anything else, and Clayton's gimmicky Southern funk tune "Feel The Groove," with his tongue-in-cheek baritone vocal, a plodding beat, and pumping New Orleans horns arranged by Gordon DeWitty, has a sleazy, wild-eyed sound that can't be resisted.
In addition to Tackett, there's a bunch of high-powered guests here: guitarists Robben Ford, David Lindley and Sneaky Pete, and a large chorus including Bonnie Raitt. (JA)
Hoy Hoy! (1981)
A greatest hits record sporting several live cuts and outtakes. (JA)
Let It Roll (1988)
The group's first comeback album, co-produced by Payne and George Massenburg. Payne has co-writes with Barrère and Tackett on almost everything.
The guests include Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, and Bob Seger (!). (JA)
Representing The Mambo (1989)
Another Massenburg-Payne production with band members co-authoring all the tunes. (JA)
Shake Me Up (1991)
Same credits as the last two records.
The Memphis Horns make an appearance. (JA)
Ain't Had Enough Fun (1995)
Co-produced by Payne and Bill Wray. (JA)
Live From Neon Park (1996)
A two-CD live album produced by Payne and Wray. (JA)
Under The Radar (1998)
Produced by Payne and Barrère and written collaboratively by them, Murphy, and Tackett. (JA)
Chinese Work Songs (2000)
They do a few covers here, including "It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry." (JA)
Put on your sailin' shoes.