Saturday, April 10, 2010

Little Feat: A Selection of Live Recordings

Well, I got my first official request the other day and I am going to honor it. Greg Rector who was a year ahead of me at Kentucky Christian College (now University) contacted me via my Facebook account and asked if I would feature some Little Feat music.

He specifically mentioned the late Lowell George in his request. Greg had the most amazing record collection in college. I had to pass his room to get to mine in the dorm and there was always something great on the turntable – remember those?

I know I used to bug him to death as I would hear a song and if the door was open, I’d shout the name of the artist, album title, and some other useless trivia about the band. I specifically remember hearing one song in particular that was playing that stumped me. It was Aerosmith’s “Train Kept A Rollin.”

I hadn’t heard Aerosmith's version from “Get Your Wings” as of yet, but was familiar with the Yardbirds’ cover on “Live Yardbirds Featuring Jimmy Page.” So my hats off to my old rock ‘n roll aficionado friend, and today I honor his love of music with Little Feat.

Originally, I had told Greg that I was going to play selections from the album “Sailin’ Shoes,” however, only one cut from the album is available on YouTube. Lately, I’ve noticed a lack of cuts on YouTube from the WEA (Warner/Elektra/Atlantic) family of labels. Apparently they have cracked down the posting of their recordings online and require YouTube to pull these cuts. By the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, YouTube is required to do this after the initial warning to avoid copyright infringement. I wish they would adopt the open policy that is found among some of the other labels.

Most of what is on YouTube for Little Feat is live, and that’s OK as being one of the premier jam bands, they are often better live anyway. So in order to fill Greg’s request, I am suspending my album feature for today and we are going to jam out with a selection of Little Feat and Lowell George live selections.

Feats Don’t Fail Me Now

From the Pink Pops Festival held in Galeen, The Netherlands on June 7, 1976, “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now” was the title cut of their fourth album. It features Paul Barrère doing all of the guitar parts while Lowell George is playing maracas – which he pitches one by one to the audience. As far as Bill Payne’s keyboard set up, he has a Hammond Porta-B on the bottom and a Mini-Moog synth on top. I’m not familiar with the instrument in the middle of his stack, but it appears to be a piano of some sort. This has the appearance of being an encore performance of this tune.

Rock ‘N Roll Doctor

From a 1975 TV performance, “Rock ‘N Roll Doctor” was also from “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now.” Sam Clayton is playing two cabassas on this number. I can honestly say that I’ve never seen someone play two at once before – it is definitely an interesting concept.

 Dueling Cabassas

Dixie Chicken

When I moved to Southern West Virginia in 1981, I soon learned that this particular song was extremely popular throughout the region. I would assume that it may be anthemic across the entire south as well. This recording of the “Dixie Chicken” LP’s title cut features vocal help from Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, and Jesse Winchester. It comes from one of the two great weekend rock shows on 70s TV – Midnight Special. The other was Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. I tried to see them both when possible.

Teenage Nervous Breakdown

Recorded at the same 1976 Dutch concert as referenced above, “Teenage Nervous Breakdown” was from the band’s second LP “Sailin’ Shoes.” Lowell George and Bill Payne both shine on this number.

Lowell George on Slide Guitar with Rocket In My Pocket

This is actually two pieces in one. The first portion has the band joining Lowell doing “China White” as he demonstrated slide guitar for a German TV show. The second is “Rocket in My Pocket” from “Time Loves A Hero.” The first segment is excellent as Lowell mimics Ry Cooder’s playing style and Lowell's impersonation is distinguishable from the playing of this other slide guitar master.

This video also explains part of Lowell’s slide sound is based on his tuning. Part of his sound based upon his use of compression and the rest must come from his version of open G tuning. Typically open G is tuned D-G-D-G-B-D, while Lowell explained that D-G-D-G-B-G is the tuning he uses. The high G (which probably results in a lot of broken strings) gives him a really unique sound.

Well I had to try it. I was playing slide a couple of nights ago, so I already had a guitar tuned in G and it just meant tuning up the E string (or D in my case) up to G. That was the most difficult part as I had visions of the string breaking and the end smacking me in the face – so I took it very slowly. When I finally got to G, I tried it out – it definitely changes the quality of the leads in the upper register. I don’t know if I’ll ever use it as you would need an electric to really carry the sound of the high G. My acoustic didn’t give it justice – so I’ll stick with the G tuning I’ve been using since 1973.

Willin’ with Linda Ronstadt

Our final track is from WHFS-FM in Bethesda, Maryland with a live radio show in 1975 featuring Lowell George and Linda Ronstandt with “Willin’” – a signature Little Feat cut. Reportedly, it was this song that got George fired from the Mothers of Invention. It can be found on the first two Little Feat albums with Ry Cooder playing slide on the “Little Feat” album because Lowell had injured his hand prior to the session. It was repeated on the second LP “Sailin’ Shoes” with Lowell doing the slide part himself. Linda Ronstadt also recorded the tune on her 1975 “Hearts like a Wheel” album.

Bill Payne on Lowell George’s Death

On June 29, 1979 George, who was on tour supporting his solo album, died in Arlington, Virginia of an accidental overdose. He was a man of excess that included weed, whites, wine, and China white. Longtime band mate Bill Payne talks about Lowell’s drug problem and his eventual death.


In 1987, the band reformed and continues to tour. When reforming in 1987, Craig Fuller and Fred Tackett joined the band. Because touring was taking a toll on his family life, Fuller left the band. Shaun Murphy, who had sung backup for a number of artists, replaced Fuller and remained with the band until 2009. She has not been replaced. Recently, drummer Richie Hayward was diagnosed with liver cancer. Until Richie can rejoin the band, Gabe Ford will temporarily replace him. Ford has been the drum tech with Little Feat since 2006.

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