LITTLE FEAT’S GLORY YEAR’S: THE LOWELL GEORGE YEARS.
Little Feat’s Glory Years: The Lowell George Years.
Before founding Little Feat in 1969, Lowell George was a member of Frank Zappa’s Mothers Of Invention. Then in 1969, Lowell met Bill Payne who previously, had auditioned for The Mothers Of Invention. Bill however, never joined The Mothers Of Invention. No. In 1969 pianist Bill Payne and guitarist Lowell George formed Little Feat. They were joined by former Mothers Of Invention bassist Roy Estrada, and drummer Richie Hayward. Previously, Richie had been a member of The Factory, Lowell’s previous band, and later, The Fraternity of Man, who found fame with Don’t Bogart Me, a track from the Easy Rider Soundtrack. With Little Feat’s lineup complete, they would become one of the most influential and successful bands of the seventies.
Having formed Little Feat in 1969, they signed to Warner Bros. in 1970. It was Frank Zappa that recommended Warner Bros. sign Little Feat. That was somewhat ironic. One rumour had it, that Frank Zappa had fired Lowell George from The Mothers Of Invention. Another rumour was that Lowell had written a song about drugs, Willin.’ A more plausible rumour is that Frank Zappa, realising just how talented Lowell George was, advised him to form his own band. He then recommended Little Feat to Warner Bros.
It was at Warner Bros. that Little Feat released the best music of their career. They released a total of eleven albums between 1970s Little Feat, and 1990s Representing The Gumbo. However, Little Feat’s story begins in 1970, when they released their eponymous debut album.
Recording of Little Feat took place during August and September 1970. During that period, Little Feat recorded eleven tracks. Ten of these songs were written by members of Little Feat. Lowell George cowrote four with Bill Payne, one with Roy Estrada and wrote three more. This included Willin’ the song that supposedly, resulted in Lowell leaving The Mothers Of Invention. Willin’ features a slide guitar part. Usually, Lowell would play this. However, there was a problem. Lowell had hurt his hand in an accident.
Ry Cooder, who back in 1970, was a session guitarist, was drafted in to play on Little Feat. He laid down the slide guitar part on Willin,’ and Sneaky Pete Kleinow played pedal steel. Producer Russ Titelman added percussion and piano on I’ve Been the One. Once Little Feat was completed, it was released in January 1971.
On its release, Little Feat, which can be described as a fusion of blues, garage rock, roadhouse blues, Southern Rock and swamp rock was released to overwhelming critical acclaim. Little Feat looked like they were music’s next big thing. However, record buyers didn’t agree and Little Feat failed to chart. For Little Feat, it was a case of back to the drawing board.
For Sailin’ Shoes, Little Feat’s sophomore album, Lowell George had written seven of the ten tracks. He also cowrote Easy to Slip with guitarist Martin Kibbe, who was making his Little Feat debut on Sailin’ Shoes. Previously, Martin was a member of The Factory, Lowell’s previous band. However, on Sailin’ Shoes Martin was billed as Fred Martin. Just like on Little Feat, Bill Payne contributed two tracks which were recorded in Los Angeles.
A new producer, Ted Templeman, was brought onboard for Sailin’ Shoes. Previously, he had worked with The Doobie Brothers on their first two albums. They had been a huge commercial success. Obviously, Warner Bros. were hoping Ted’s Midas touch would work with Little Feat.
When Sailin’ Shoes was completed, Little Feat’s sophomore album, marked a change in style for the group. They had refined their raw style on Sailin’ Shoes. This was a step towards the sound on their classic album Dixie Feat.
Just like their eponymous debut album, 1972s Sailin’ Shoes was released to widespread critical acclaim. It was Little Feat’s first album to feature Neon Park’s striking artwork. This would become a feature of their albums. However, what won critics over were songs like Easy to Slip, A Apolitical Blues and Sailin’ Shoes. They were among Sailin’ Shoes’ highlights and would become Little Feat favourites. Despite the rave reviews, still commercial success eluded Little Feat. After Sailin’ Shoes, bassist Roy Estrada quit Little Feat. That wasn’t his best decision.
Roy Estrada had jumped ship too early. Little Feat’s third album, 1973s Dixie Chicken, saw the band make their commercial breakthrough. Ironically, it was with a new lineup that this commercial breakthrough came.
With Roy Estrada gone, bassist Kenny Gradney replaced him. Other new members were guitarist Paul Barrere and conga player Sam Clayton. They would play their part in what is Little Feat’s finest hour.
For Dixie Chicken, Lowell penned five tracks and cowrote Dixie Chicken with Fred Martin. His other contribution was Lafayette Railroad, which he cowrote with Bill Payne. Bill also cowrote Walkin’ All Night with new recruit Paul Barrere. These tracks became part of Little Feat’s classic album, which was produced by Lowell George.
Dixie Chicken was the album the defined Little Feat’s sound. Until then, their sound was difficult to describe. However, Dixie Chicken, with its laid-back, funky, quirky, seductive New Orleans’ influenced sound, was a classic. There was no doubt about it, Little Feat had landed, and Dixie Chicken was a coming of age for Lowell George and his band. What’s more, Dixie Chicken saw Little Feat make their commercial breakthrough. Little Feat Mk.II were on their way.
Feats Don’t Fail Me Now.
Having made their commercial breakthrough with Dixie Chicken in 1973, Little Feat returned with Feats Don’t Fail Me Now in 1974. It was recorded during early 1974 at Blue Seas Recording Studio in Hunt Valley, Maryland. Just like Dixie Chicken, Lowell George’s name was written large all over the album. He wrote Down the Road and Spanish Moon and cowrote four other tracks. He also cowrote seven of the eight tracks at Blue Seas Recording Studio.
For the recording of Feats Don’t Fail Me Now, Bonnie Riatt returned to adding backing vocals. So did Emmylou Harris. Tower Of Power were drafted in to add horns. Van Dyke Parks was brought in to produce Spanish Moon. Once Feats Don’t Fail Me Now was completed, it was released in August 1974.
While Dixie Chicken is perceived as Little Feat’s finest hour, Feats Don’t Fail Me Now comes a close second. On Dixie Chicken, Lowell George played a huge part in the album’s success. However, on Feats Don’t Fail Me Now it’s much more of a band effort. It won over critics and music lovers. Critical acclaim and commercial success accompanied Feats Don’t Fail Me Now. Little Feat, it seemed could do no wrong.
The Last Record Album.
1975 saw Little Feat release their fifth album, The Last Record Album. It was another landmark album for Little Feat. Having climbed the mountain and discovered fame and critical acclaim, Little Feat were at a crossroads.
On The Last Record Album, Lowell only wrote Long Distance Love and Down Below The Borderline. He however, cowrote the classic Mercenary Territory, one of The Last Record Album’s highlights. By then, Bill Payne was playing a bigger part in the songwriting process. Bill wrote Somebody’s Leavin’ and cowrote four other tracks. Among the highlights were All That You Dream, one of Bill’s best compositions. These tracks became The Last Record Album, which was released in November 1975.
This wasn’t a good time for Little Feat. Bill Hayward had been involved in a serious motorcycle accident. Bill wasn’t insured and the medical bills were ruinous. So much so, that Bill moved back to Canada. By then, the cracks were beginning to show in Little Feat.
When The Last Record Album was released, critics wondered if Little Feat had hit the wall. They had released five albums in five years. This could be beginning to take its toll, they wondered. After all, The Last Record Album wasn’t as consistent an album. Neither was it as cohesive an album. There were however, a number of highlight. among them, were All That You Dream, Mercenary Territory and Long Distance Love. The problem was, there weren’t enough highlights. Little Feat realised that. When the lyrics featured on the back of the album cover, the words “maybe next time” from Hi Roller were highlighted.
Time Loves A Hero.
For Time Loves A Hero, Lowell George didn’t contribute any songs. He left the rest of Little Feat to write Time Loves a Hero. There was a reason for this. Lowell didn’t approve of the direction Little Feat’s music was heading. Little Feat was his baby, and they weren’t a fusion band. That however, was the direction Little Feat were heading. As a result, Lowell became disillusioned.
Recording of Time Loves a Hero took place at four recording studios in Los Angeles. The lengthy sessions took place during 1976 and 1977. Eventually, Time Loves a Hero was completed, and the album was released in May 1977.
On its release, critics remarked that Time Loves a Hero was a departure in sound from Little Feat. It’s a genre-melting album. Elements of jazz, fusion, Latin, psychedelia and Southern Rock melt into one. Little Feat’s past and present make their presence felt on the Ted Templeman produced Time Loves a Hero. It divided the opinion of critics. Some welcomed the new sound, others mourned for the Little Feat of Dixie Chicken and Feats Don’t Fail Me Now. Mostly, critics wondered what the future held for Little Feat?
Waiting for Columbus.
During 1978, Little Feat didn’t release a studio album. Instead, they released a live album, Waiting for Columbus. It had been recorded during seven concerts in 1977. Four were recorded in London and three in Washington. From the tapes, seventeen songs were chosen.
The seventeen songs on Waiting for Columbus, showcased just how good a live band Little Feat were. They reinvented familiar tracks, while other songs became lengthy jams. On others, a horn section augmented Little Feat’s lineup. These songs showed another side to Little Feat. For anyone who had just heard Little Feat’s studio albums, this was an eyeopener.
On its release February 10th 1978, Waiting for Columbus was well received by critics. Many of the critics were familiar with Little Feat live’s sound, and welcomed the release of Waiting for Columbus. After all, it was much more representative of Little Feat. They seemed to enjoy the opportunity to stretch their legs, jamming and improvising. Sadly, this was a false dawn.
Down On The Farm.
Ever since Time Loves a Hero, it had been apparent that Lowell George’s interest in Little Feat was waning. What many people didn’t realise was that Lowell’s health was failing. This soon became apparent.
Lowell began work on what would eventually become Down On The Farm. Before long, Lowell called time on Down On The Farm and Little Feat. He wasn’t a well man and died on 29th June 1979, aged just thirty-four.
Two weeks after Lowell’s death, Little Feat announced they had split-up. Down On The Farm, which was released in November 1979, would be the last Little Feat album for nine years. Ironically, Lowell George would play a big part in Down On The Farm.
Ironically, Down On The Farm featured many of Lowell’s songs. He contributed Kokomo and cowrote five of the other eight tracks. Lowell’s vocals also featured on Down On The Farm, his Little Feat swan-song.
As swan-songs go, Down On The Farm isn’t the finest. Critics called Down On The Farm, a mixed bag of songs. While there’s a hint of Little Feat’s earlier greatness, some of the songs don’t match the quality of their first four albums. It seemed Little Feat’s farewell was something of a damp squib. Down On The Farm was a rather disappointing end for Little Feat.
Two years after the death of of Lowell George, and the announcement that Little Feat had split up, Warner Bros. released the compilation Hoy-Hoy! in 1981. It was a double album of rarities, demos, alternate tracks and live tracks. Hoy Hoy was the first album bearing Little Feat’s name since Down On The Farm.
For Little Feat completists, Hoy-Hoy! had plenty to offer. There were demos of Teenage Nervous Breakdown and an acoustic demo of Rocket in My Pocket. Live tracks include Skin It Back, Red Streamliner, The Fan, Teenage Nervous Breakdown, Two Train and Feats Don’t Fail Me Now. There’s a version of All That You Dream, from the Lowell George tribute concert, which features Linda Ronstadt. Fittingly, a version of Feats Don’t Fail Me Now closes Hoy-Hoy!
Hoy-Hoy! was essential listening for Little Feat fans. It featured previously unheard and unreleased tracks. However, for newcomers to Little Feat, this wasn’t the case. Dixie Chicken and Feats Don’t Fail Me Now were the place to start. Both albums features Little Feat and their charismatic frontman at their very best, on albums that are Southern Rock classics. Despite this, it wasn’t Little Feat’s biggest selling album.
That came in 1988. Although Lowell George had died on 29h June 1979, and Little Feat had announced that they had split-up many two weeks later, 1988 saw the band reform. While many of the original members remained, Little Feat without Lowell George weren’t the same band.
Let It Roll.
Nine years after Little Feat had split-up, they reformed. Craig Fuller, the founder member of Pure Prairie League, joined Little Feat. He would take charge of many of the lead vocals and cowrote nine of the ten tracks. For Little Feat, their eighth album Let It Roll, was the start of a new era.
Producing Let It Roll were Bill Payne and George Massenburg. Craig Fuller had big shoes to fill. After all, Lowell George was Little Feat’s founder and driving force. It was natural that comparisons would be made between the pair. The new look Little Feat answered their critics with a gold disc.
Let It Roll was released in July 1988. Mostly, the reviews of Let It Roll were positive. Some critics, weren’t won over by the new look Little Feat. Despite this, Let It Roll was certified gold on St. Valentine’s Day 1989. Ironically, Let It Roll was Little Feat’s biggest selling album. Their ninth album, Representing the Mambo was their Warner Bros. farewell.
Representing The Mambo.
March 29th 1990, was the date that Little Feat entered the MTV age. That day, Little Feat released Representing The Mambo. Lowell George must have been spinning in his grave. Little Feat, it seemed, had sold their soul. The lead single, Texas Twister, aided and abetted by a populist video, was a staple of MTV. This wasn’t the only change.
Although Let It Roll saw Little Feat stay true to their past. Representing The Mambo saw Little Feat’s sound change. It was given a glossy makeover, with the dreaded sound of synths playing an important part of the tacky Texas Twister and other tracks. For many critics and fans, this was the end of an era.
Some critics were scathing of Representing The Mambo, while some loyal fans turned their back on Little Feat. It was the end of an era. So was the fact that Representing The Mambo was Little Feat’s final album for Warner Bros. They had had the best of Little Feat.
Representing The Mambo, marked the end of the Warner Bros. Years years. During that period, Little Feat recorded nine studio albums. However, not all Little Feats were created equal.
Especially Little Feat’s first four albums. From Little Feat, through Sailin’ Shoes, Dixie Chicken and Feats Don’t Fail Me Now, Little Feat, with Lowell George at the helm, could do no wrong. Only when Little Feat released The Last Record Album did the cracks start to show.
The Last Record Album was halfway to being a Little Feat classic. However, after The Last Record Album, Little Feat decided to change direction. Time Loves A Hero saw Little Feat in the direction of fusion. Despite that, Time Loves A Hero isn’t a bad album. It has its moments. Sadly, Down On The Farm, released five months after Lowell George’s death, was a mixed bag of songs. It wasn’t exactly a fitting farewell to Little Feat. That was the last that was heard of Little Feat until 1979.
As is often the case, replacing a legend isn’t easy. Lowell George was Little Feat’s founder, vocalist, guitarist, driving force and shining light. Nine months after Little Feat split-up after Lowell George’s death they returned with a new lineup. Craig Fuller was supposedly Lowell’s replacement. However, he was neither in Lowell George’s league as a frontman nor a songwriter. Despite that, success came Little Feat Mk. II’s way.
When Let It Roll was released in 1988, mostly, Little Feat Mk. II had stayed true to their past. Ironically, this resulted in a gold disc and was Little Feat’s most successful album. The irony was that none of of Little Feat’s first four albums had been certified gold. That’s despite Little Feat, Sailin’ Shoes, Dixie Chicken and Feats Don’t Fail Me Now being the best albums of Little Feat’s career. They were also far superior albums to Let It Roll. However, having released the most successful album of their career, Little Feat followed this up with the worst record of their career, Representing The Mambo.
On Representing The Mambo, Little Feat’s music takes on a polished sheen and enters the MTV age. For many loyal fans, that was a step too far. The new lineup of Little Feat had tarnished the Little Feat name. They turned their back on a once great group, after what was their Warner Bros. swan-song.
Representing The Mambo was a sad way to end Little Feat’s Warner Bros. Years. Despite a disappointing end to the Warner Bros. Years, Little Feat are still remembered as the most influential and greatest bands of the seventies. That was Little Feat’s decade.
The seventies were also the Lowell George years. This was the greatest period of Little Feat’s career. Thet were a pale shadow of their former self during the Craig Fuller year, When Lowell died on June 29th 1979. Little Feat died too. The two post Lowell George albums may be Little Feat in name, but not in spirit.
Little Feat are synonymous with Lowell George, one of music’s mavericks and legendary figures. Lowell George was Little Feat’s founder and driving force. He was also a musical pioneer, and one of the founding father’s of Southern Rock. Sadly, Lowell George died thirty-seven years ago, on 29th June 1979, aged just thirty-four. Although his life was cut tragically short, Lowell George packed a lot of living into thirty-four years. This included recording a quartet of classic albums with Little Feat. Little Feat, Sailin’ Shoes, Dixie Chicken and Feats Don’t Fail Me Now are a reminder of the Lowell George years, which were by far, the greatest period of Little Feat’s career.
Little Feat’s Glory Years: The Lowell George Years.