Friday, April 29, 2016

Weekend Mix: Weed, Whites, and Wine

I'm "Willin'" to admit that Little Feat's "Sailin' Shoes" just might be my favorite album of all time.

I've written elsewhere about the life changing moment I received "Looney Toons And Merrie Melodies" (1970), a Warner's Loss Leader's 3 record set I sent away for.
"Strawberry Flats" was the third song on side one, after Faces "Had Me A Real Good Time", and Black Sabbath's "Paranoid", and before Fleetwood Mac's "Tell me All The Things You Do" from "Kiln House".
I liked the other songs, and I bought all those albums too, but "Strawberry Flats" stood out. So many ideas packed into a little over 2 minutes.

I didn't know what a record store was. All I knew was the local Target equivalent. They didn't have "Little Feat", so I settled for "Sailin' Shoes" with it's bizzarre cover art.
From the chiming opener, "Easy To Slip" I liked it. A lot.

I've come to recognize it as a perfect encapsulation of it's time and place. Southern California in the early '70's. I hear elements of Country Rock, CSNY, The Eagles, Flying Burrito Brothers, Warren Zevon, Captain Beefheart, and of course, The Mother's Of Invention.

I'm on my third vinyl copy and have the cd.

This compilation is a tribute to Lowell George, founder and guiding light. He was a tremendously gifted guitar player, singer, songwriter, producer, and bandleader. It recreates the order I first heard them. "Strawberry Flats" followed by "Sailin' Shoes" in it's entirety, and then highlights from "Little Feat" and "Dixie Chicken".

Lowell George met Bill Payne when he was a member of Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention.
Payne auditioned for the Mothers, but didn't join. They formed Little Feat along with former Mothers  bassist Roy Estrada and drummer Richie Hayward from George's previous band, The Factory. Hayward had also been a member of the Fraternity of Man whose claim to fame was the inclusion of their "Don't Bogart Me" on the million-selling Easy Rider film soundtrack.
The name Little Feat came from a comment made by Mothers' drummer Jimmy Carl Black (The Indian of the group) about Lowell's "little feet". The spelling of "feat" was an homage to the Beatles.

There are three stories about the genesis of Little Feat.
One has it that George showed Zappa his song "Willin'," and that Zappa fired him because he was too talented to be a sideman, and he should form his own band.
The second version has Zappa firing him for playing a 15-minute guitar solo with his amplifier off. The third version says he was fired because "Willin'" contains drug references.
On October 18, 1975 at the Auditorium Theater in Rochester New York while introducing the song, George commented that he was asked to leave the band for "writing a song about dope".

In any version, Zappa was instrumental in getting George and his new band a contract with Warner Bros. Records. The eponymous first album delivered to Warner Bros. was recorded mostly in August and September 1970, and was released in January 1971. When it came time to record "Willin'," George had hurt his hand in an accident with a model airplane, so Ry Cooder sat in and played the song's slide part.
"Willin'" was re-recorded for "Sailin' Shoes", this time with guest Burrito "Sneaky Pete" on pedal steel. It's the the first Little Feat album to feature cover art by Neon Park, the artist responsible for Zappa's "Weasels Ripped My Flesh" (On which Lowell is a member of The Mothers).

Despite good reviews, lack of success led to the band splitting up, with Estrada leaving to join Captain Beefheart's Magic Band (And even more lack of success).

In 1972 Little Feat reformed, with bassist Kenny Gradney replacing Estrada. Also added was second guitarist Paul Barrere, a friend of Lowell's from Hollywood High, and percussionist Sam Clayton (brother of session singer Merry Clayton). As a result the band was expanded from a quartet to a sextet.

I was so excited when "Dixie Chicken" came out, until I played it. They had 3 new people in the band and it tilted towards New Orleans, and lite funk, which was not what I was looking for.
However, the title is a classic and "Fat Man In The Bathtub" is one of their finest moments.
I didn't hate the album.
Then came "Feats Don't Fail Me Now". Another Neon Parks cover, and a reworking of two songs from "Sailin" Shoes" played as a medley. Which I now understand was made to better reflect their live shows at the time, for which they were getting quite a reputation, but to my ears was a travesty.
I didn't buy any more of their albums after that.

George continued to produce the albums, but his songwriting contribution diminished as the group moved into jazz fusion, a style in which he had little interest. In August 1977, Little Feat recorded a live album from gigs at the Rainbow Theatre in London and Lisner Auditorium in Washington, DC. "Waiting for Columbus" is considered by many to be one of the best live albums of all time, despite the fact that significant portions of George's vocals and slide work were over-dubbed later in the studio. It was released in 1978, by which time it had become apparent that Lowell George's interest in the band was waning, as was his health.

In an interview with Bill Flanagan (for the book Written in My Soul) conducted eleven days before his death, George made it clear that he felt the demise of Little Feat was due to his having allowed the band to be run democratically, with the result that Payne and, to a lesser extent, Barrere, had a presence as songwriters and in production which was disproportionate to their abilities.

Nowhere on the wikipedia page I reworked for some of this does it mention that Lowell's drug use was a contributing factor to his abdication of leadership in the band. Or that Zappa fired him for smoking dope.

His only solo album, "Thanks, I'll Eat It Here" (1979) is mostly covers. I've never heard it.

Too bad there isn't more of this.

Crack In Your Door

Some have expressed difficulty with the link. Here is an alternative:

Alternate Crack



Anonymous said...

Deleted! Shame.



Oh I am a happy boy!

Thanks BBJ -- have a great weekend

William Repsher said...

I must have about 10 versions of "Willin" - mostly covers as it's the kind of go-to song most country and alt-country bands know. But I think my favorite version if from a Lowell George radio appearance in the 70s with Linda Ronstadt providing backing vocals. Admittedly, the original is hard to beat.


I spoke too quick and now can't negotiate the MediaFire download. I've tried on different browsers so ...

Any advice would be great.

Now I'm off to play my Little Feat records :-)

Anonymous said...

wow, for a long time I regarded "The Last Record Album" and "The Wild, the Innocent..." as the two of the greatest albums ever recorded, and you haven't heard one of them. Granted, I agree that Little Feat became less interesting after TLRA.

Ken D. said...

Like Jayessemm, I'm unable to download via MediaFire. (I'm just getting errors and pop-up ads...) Any alternative? I'd really like to hear this mix.

buzzbabyjesus said...


What happens when you click the "Download" button besides getting the download?


I never bought TLRA because I saw that Lowell only wrote two of the songs, and one he didn't write, which got played on the radio, seemed to epitomize everything that turned me off on the previous album. The version of Little Feat I liked was no more.

Ken D. said...

For me, the first page of MediaFire says "The download is blocked due to a violation of the terms of service..."
Clicking the Download button anyway, and I get notices for dubious Flashplayer updates and an ad for what looks like a celebrity gossip site.
(I had trouble with the download site you used before MediaFire, but I've had no problems with MediaFire before this.)

buzzbabyjesus said...

I've been using Mediafire for it's general reliability and lack of popups. I'm not having any problems with them and they haven't accused me of distributing copyrighted material, so I'm not sure what the problem is.

Here it is on ZippyShare, which is usually iffier:

Anonymous said...


in defense of TLRA, without looking at the credits, it's hard to tell who wrote what since it sounds so collectively arranged. to me it doesn't sound Orleans-influenced but I suppose it might to others, it's so synchopated. to me, it's the last great Southern California record. and it has Valerie Carter on background vocs. If Lowell is the qualifier, maybe my fave Feat albums are Tom Jans' "Eyes of a Lonely Child" and Carter's "Just a Stone's Throw Away," both of which he produced.

Ken J Xenozar said...

I can't thank you enough. Little Feat's early stuff is one of those bands that I never new where to start and I never had anyone nudge me. Thanks for curating this.

Ken D said...

Thanks bbj, but I have to run... I'll try the Zippyshare tomorrow. Enjoy the weekend.

Ken D. said...

Success! Thanks again, Buzz.


I can't even spell zip!

Got it this time.

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Great recap of the Little Feat saga. Although I must say that the Lowell stuff on the Down on the Farm album is really good as is his solo record . I would suggest giving them both a second or first listen. You might be surprised

kodak ghost said...

Mediafire has been cactus for some time, suggesting you have a virus and have to call a number to get it fixed. So thanks for the Zippyshare link.

Now to the subject in hand. To me Little Feat were THE band. At the height of their powers their live act was all you would ever want. Loud, tight and greasy. I still think they were the best gigs I have ever attended... Ok youth is coated with honey etc. But still.
And yes the albums were inconsistent, but Dixie Chicken is still a riot and bits of FDFMN... I love Spanish Moon and Rock & Roll Doctor. and then the jazz creeps in and it is downhill from there as you surmise.
The solo thing from Lowell was a HUGE let down, we all wanted so much from it and it delivered nothing
Columbus was for me initially a disappointment, but now I love it. When the tracks come up on the Ipod it makes you realise just how different they were.
First John Martyn, now Little Feat... who next of my faves are you going to feature next!

Athena Vance said...

My favorite obscure early Feat-ure is Nolan Porter's 'No Apologies' with a dirty 'Less Boin Down the Cornfield' that I always assumed was Lowell and them. I got my college radio station's copy of 'Eat It Here' in the late nineties when digital buried analog for good, and if I played it more than twice it was to satisfy somebody else's curiosity. My Dad says Graham Parker picked it as an alltimer, but he quit listening, too. Look for the upcoming all-encompassing tribute 'The Agony of Da Feat' at your local film fest imminently!

buzzbabyjesus said...

I didn't mention they are the backing band on John Cale's "Paris 1919".

Anonymous said...

Hello, please remain seated,

Although I absolutely loves me some Feat, I've never been enamored with the song, Sailin' Shoes. It's well-played, well sung, etc., but it never goes where I want it to go. For some reason, I don't hear what most people seem to hear in this song.

But, helluva band, in any case.


Anonymous said...

Bravo! Another fantastic hand-picked collection. You always deliver,great choices and nice background essay as well. Big thanks again!!

Peter Ames Carlin said...


I love Little Feat. Nearly all Little Feat. I was late to the party -- when "Thanks, I'll Eat it Here" came out in '79 it took me about a half dozen radio listens to fall for "Find a River,' and was grooving to it with real joy for the first time in June when the dj came in after the fade-out and said, sadly, "Makes you miss him more, doesn't it?" Lowell had died earlier that day.

I understand why your interest might have ebbed after the initial rustic Feat era...they did change into a more jammy, less rustic-funk kind of outfit...but my first big Feat albums were "Waiting for Columbus," then backwards to 'Dixie Chicken,' 'The Last Record Album,' and then forwards again, then the post-mortem 'Hoy-Hoy' in '81 (which also has 'Strawberry Flats,' 'Easy to Slip' and jewels like 'The Fan' and 'Teenage Nervous Breakdown.' I completed my collection by the end of fall '81. So yeah, late to the party. But still so very, very happy to be there.

Stick with the Feat you love the most, I'd say. But if you're in an exploring mood you should check out those other ones you haven't heard. Just for grins. 'TLRA' has the original 'Mercenary Territory,' 'Long Distance Love' both LG gems of the highest order. (tho the ToP hornified 'Mercenary' on 'Columbus'...from a soundcheck! the ultimate version in my ears. And what of 'Spanish Moon' and 'Down Below the Borderline' from 'Feats Don't Fail Me Now' one, literally no one, in the world other than Lowell would EVER compose the phrase 'onomanopoetry symmetry in motion/They heard about that girl clear across the ocean,' let alone stick it onto a backbeat so fat and funky that it'll make some men crazy and talk like fools, some men crazy til they start to drool. Dangerously cool. Worth a new listen or two.

Anonymous said...

Dixie Chicken 'lite-funk'! I don't so. You have previously lauded the same era Robert Palmer, Allen Toussaint etc and Dixie Chicken is right up there. It's top notch N.O. early 70's funk with a particularly 'dirty' edge which I love. Ritchie Hayward's drumming is a master class. My favourite Little Feat album without doubt and high up the all time list (should the list ever get written!).

Sal Nunziato said...

I have indeed lauded Palmer and Toussaint but I did not write this post. BBJ did.