Little Feat is an American band formed by singer-songwriter, frontman and guitarist Lowell George and keyboard player Bill Payne in 1969 in Los Angeles. Several of the bandmates had played with George in previous bands before. However, after close to a decade, the fast life caught up with George and he passed away. The band broke up shortly after George's death in August, 1979, and reformed nine years later. Singer and musician Craig Fuller from the band, Pure Prairie League was familiar with George's vocal style, in particular, and the band re-joined, re-vitalized. However, a change of vocalist in 1993 ushered in the third incarnation of Little Feat. The band plays a mixture of blues, R&B, country, New Orleans funk, and rock and roll.
There are three legends about the genesis of Little Feat. One has it that George showed Frank Zappa his song "Willin'", and that Zappa fired him from The Mothers of Invention, because he felt that George was too talented to merely be a member of his band, and told him he ought to go away and 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 that Zappa fired him because "Willin'" contains drug references ("weed, whites and wine") - George often introduced the song as the reason he was asked to leave the Mothers. In any version, Zappa was instrumental in getting George and his new band a record contract. Ironically, when "Willin'" was recorded for the first, eponymous Little Feat album, George had hurt his hand and could not play the song's slide part, so Ry Cooder sat in and played the part. This was one reason why "Willin'" was re-recorded and included on their second album Sailin' Shoes. Sailin' Shoes was also the first Little Feat album to include cover art by Neon Park, who had painted the cover for Zappa's Weasels Ripped My Flesh.
The first two albums, Little Feat and Sailin' Shoes, received nearly unanimous critical acclaim. George's song "Willin'" became a standard, subsequently popularized by its inclusion on Linda Ronstadt's album Heart Like A Wheel.
Lack of commercial success led, however, to the band splitting up, with Estrada leaving to join Captain Beefheart's Magic Band. In 1972 Little Feat reformed, with bassist Kenny Gradney replacing Estrada. The band also added a second guitarist/vocalist, Paul Barrere, who had known George since High School in California, and percussionist Sam Clayton. This new lineup radically altered the band's sound, leaning toward New Orleans funk. The group went on to record Dixie Chicken (1973)—one of the band's most popular albums, which incorporated New Orleans musical influences and styles—as well as Feats Don't Fail Me Now (1974), which was a studio-recorded attempt to capture some of the energy of their live shows. (The name of the latter album is a kick-back to early American jazz musician Fats Waller.)
That members of The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin were among Feat's loyal fans gave proof of their musical influence. Mick Taylor can be heard guesting on Waiting For Columbus, Little Feat's live album recorded partly in the Rainbow Theatre in the United Kingdom, and partly in Lisner Auditorium on the campus of George Washington University, in Washington, D.C.. Lowell George was respected for his idiosyncratic genius, for crafting sophisticated melodies and lyrics; writing memorable songs, and for his high production standards. However, he's probably best remembered for his exuberant, unique slide style, which featured sustained, ringing legato lines. His soulful, expressive voice has influenced many performers.
The release of The Last Record Album in 1975 signaled another change in the Little Feat sound, with Barrere and Payne developing an interest in jazz-rock. But their jazz feel was further extended in 1977's Time Loves A Hero. Prior to the recording of The Last Record Album, drummer Ritchie Hayward had a motorcycle accident and the liner to the LP release of The Last Record Album was decorated with copies of his many hospital bills. Also present was evidence of a late change to the running order of tracks. The lyrics for Paul Barrere's song "Hi Roller" were printed on the sleeve, but scored out, and the words "maybe next time" scrawled over them. Sure enough, "Hi Roller" was the first track on the subsequent album Time Loves A Hero.
Lowell George continued to produce the albums, but his songwriting contribution diminished as the group moved into jazz fusion. 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 rock music critics 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 in fact 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. George did some work on what would eventually become Down On The Farm but then recorded a solo album Thanks, I'll Eat it Here and declared that Little Feat had disbanded. While touring for Thanks, I'll Eat it Here in June 1979, at the age of 34, George was found dead in his hotel room in Arlington, Virginia. An autopsy found the death to be caused by a heart attack, although it is considered likely that George's weight, (formerly chronic) drug usage, and the strain of touring contributed to his condition.
The surviving members finished and released Down On The Farm before disbanding in 1979. A subsequent retrospective double album compilation of rare outtakes and live tracks, Hoy-Hoy!, was released in 1981.
While Lowell George was the founder of the band, with his great talent as a musician, he learned early on that directing and finding great talent was a niche, possibly from his work with Frank Zappa. The longevity of the band is a great tribute to George, and because of his legacy and inspiration, Little Feat remains, at least, in part, unchanged to this day.
In 1986 Richie Hayward, Paul Barrere and Bill Payne were invited to play on Blue Slipper, the 1987 debut album by Helen Watson. They subsequently appeared on her second album The Weather Inside. The surviving former members of Little Feat then reformed when Barrere, Clayton, Gradney, Hayward and Payne added songwriter/vocalist Craig Fuller, formerly from the band Pure Prairie League (who also provided some rhythm guitar), and Fred Tackett on guitar, mandolin and trumpet. The band admired Fuller's previous work and were impressed when he toured with them in 1978 as part of the Fuller/Kaz band. They didn't need an an audition, having played with him on tour, and thus, the new Little Feat lineup was formed. The initial release by the new lineup, Let It Roll, was a tremendous success, garnering Feat its first gold record LP since Waiting For Columbus which now had gone platinum. The band received more exposure than ever, including an appearance on Saturday Night Live. Concerts were booked nationally and Little Feat played enthusiastic, sold out shows. Barrere, Payne and company were pleased by the audience reaction: not only were they able to put over the Feat classics, but the new music was solid. While some Little Feat diehards could not accept the band without Lowell George, the new Little Feat with Fuller made a comeback that introduced a whole new generation to Little Feat.
Little Feat released two more recordings with Fuller, and the band continued to tour on a large scale. Fuller departed in 1993, stating that touring required too much time away from his family. Fuller joined a reformed Pure Prairie League, has commenced a long-overdue solo career and still guests with Little Feat on occasion.
Murphy began her career working in Detroit, Michigan, most notably in theatre, and received a record contract with Rare Earth Records, a division of Motown Records, as a member of a duo with Meat Loaf. The duo later disbanded, and Murphy went on to sing and record with renowned artists such as Eric Clapton and Bob Seger.
With Murphy, the tone of Little Feat's live shows is more relaxed, and lends itself to more free-flowing jams. Shaun sings lead on perhaps one third of the songs during each live show, including those previously sung by Lowell George ("Rock And Roll Doctor", "Long Distance Love") and Craig Fuller ("One Clear Moment", "Shake Me Up"), as well as her own compositions.
The studio albums with Murphy failed to attract many of the original and second generation Feat fans. Nevertheless, this incarnation of Little Feat is still supported by an enthusiastic core audience and tours regularly each year in the US and, on occasion, elsewhere. In addition, guitarists Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett tour regularly as an acoustic duo, performing stripped down arrangement of Feat songs from all corners of the catalogue.
Some of the prominent musicians and bands to play and record the music of Little Feat include The Black Crowes, The Byrds, Garth Brooks, Jackson Browne, Emmylou Harris, Nicolette Larson, Randy Newman, Robert Palmer, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, John Sebastian, Carly Simon, Van Halen, Joe Walsh, Phish, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Sam Bush, Coco Montoya, Vince Herman, Inara George, Stephen Bruton and Jimmy Buffett .
In 2008, Little Feat have reached their 20th anniversary as a once-again active band, and with just one line up change since 1988. The song "All that you Dream" was featured in the final episode of The Sopranos, immediately before Journey's "Don't Stop Believing." On the 11th July 2008, Little Feat played at the indigO2 in London. On August 1st., 08, Little Feat held a concert in Notodden, Norway at one of Europe's largest blues festivals. An "energetic and fantastic performance" from the fans point of view.
Jimmy Buffett has been an enthusiastic booster of the band for many years and his private record label was partnered with Feat's "Hot Tomato" records to produce the CD "Join The Band", released in mid-August of 2008, featuring collaborations with Buffett, Dave Matthews, Emmylou Harris, Bob Seger, Bela Fleck, Brooks and Dunn, Chris Robinson (Black Crowes), Vince Gill, Mike Gordon (Phish), and Inara George.
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"...and then I met Lowell George. I heard...'Sailin' Shoes' and went crazy. I got in my truck and drove to California...to work with Lowell. I'd have to say Little Feat was the biggest influence...Musically, they're my favorite band." -- Bonnie Raitt
"[At] the Plaza...the attorney general, staying one floor above us, complained about me playing Little Feat records too loud last night...Band-wise, Little Feat is my favorite American group." -- Jimmy Page, interviewed by Cameron Crowe (1975).