I started with “Dixie Chicken.” It was the reviews and the song on the Warner Brothers sampler. And it took me a hell of a long time to get into it, to understand its understated magic. If you can put Patti Smith in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and not Lowell George, I don’t want to visit. For that matter, Rush and Heart and all the people they’re inducting now… Even they’ll admit Lowell George influenced more people than they did, left an even bigger mark.
Then again, that’s art. It’s open to debate, unlike sports. Well, sports not dependent upon judging.
The initial album, cut after Lowell left the Mothers, fell flat. As did “Sailin’ Shoes.” It wasn’t until “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now” that Little Feat had a radio hit. Then Lowell fell out of the band, despite still being in it, cut a solo record and died. But talk to Bonnie Raitt or James Taylor or Valerie Carter, they’ll all testify. You see Lowell George was the chef, with the special sauce, and he never added more than necessary. Everybody thinks it’s about more more more, showing off, but Lowell infected you with his subtlety, like his playing on James Taylor’s “Angry Blues.”
And to say there’s a Little Feat masterpiece would be to lie. And you’re probably best off starting with the live album. Then again, the band, although never bad, could be wildly uneven live. I remember a night at the Santa Monica Civic after the release of “Times Love A Hero” that had too much jamming and didn’t quite gel, then again, three years before I’d seen them at the Troubadour…
It wasn’t even sold out. Even though the fourth album had already come out, the one with “Oh, Atlanta” and “Rock And Roll Doctor.” And I’m sitting mere feet away, the Troub had tables and chairs back then, when we still respected the music, when we weren’t packed in like lemmings, and the band laid into a groove so syrupy and thick that you’d be closed instantly. But only fans were there. This was no victory lap, no celebration, just a band firing on all cylinders…back when you had to know how to play to perform.
And that was mere weeks before I decamped to Utah to ski the bumps, where “Sailin’ Shoes”‘s opening cut, “Easy To Slip,” was my anthem.
It’s so easy to slip
It’s so easy to fall
In the bumps. When the sun is shining, your skis are twisting and you’re slamming through the zipper line.
It’s so easy to slip
It’s so easy to fall
And let your memory drift
And do nothin’ at all
Ain’t that the truth. For all the winners testifying, there’s a world of people hanging back, reflecting, wounded by life. The older you get, the harder it is to soldier on. That’s what we depend on music for…to fill us up and get us going.
Well I don’t want to drift forever
In the shadow of you leaving me
So I light another cigarette
And try to remember to forget
Whew! How eloquent! Ever been left? Knocks your socks off. You rarely see it coming. And then you find yourself off balance, it can take years to right yourself. Some never do.
But the music sounds NOTHING like these lyrics!
It’s like Lowell’s been down in the dumps for days, but band practice is scheduled so he’s decided to WAIL! To exorcise all the demons.
This is not radio music.
This is not club music.
This is personal music. Cut just for you. Play it when you’re driving down the highway, when you need inspiration. It’ll lift you right off the couch and insert you into life. It’s got more optimism than a handful of antidepressants.
Listening to “Easy To Slip,” you’ll be stunned Lowell George is dead, because the track sounds so positively ALIVE!
“A Apolitical Blues”
You know this one. From Van Halen’s “OU812.” You see the players listen. They don’t focus on fame so much as music. Without roots, without a foundation, you’re nothing. The hoi polloi may not have known this track, but Sammy Hagar did. Back when stars were fans.
Lady in a turban
In a cocaine tree
Does a dance so rhythmically
This is quintessential Lowell. From the slide guitar to the subtlety to the oblique story to the feeling you just want to get inside the music, inside the lyrics…you wanna be involved. And that’s what Little Feat was, a cult, which never grew so large that everybody didn’t think they were an insider. Listen to Lowell squeeze out the notes, the background singers, the whole number is zippered up, there’s nothing unnecessary… The more you listen, the more you marvel.
“Tripe Face Boogie”
Exactly what it sounds like. As if Foghat had grown up in Los Angeles and played the same music.
And it’s not only Lowell, Bill Payne works out furiously and Richie Hayward drives the whole enterprise forward with Roy Estrada, on his last album appearance with the band.
You bring your guitar
I’ll bring the wine
Blow out our speakers
Just one more time
It sounds like a party. And there’s even guacamole! (Which I knew nothing about when I first heard this album in Vermont, we were essentially clueless when it came to Mexican food.)
And be sure to listen to “Cold, Cold, Cold” and “Teenage Nervous Breakdown,” but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention “Willin’.”
Linda Ronstadt made it famous, and it took Little Feat two tries to get it right, “Willin,” was also on the band’s debut, but forty years later it’s the one Lowell George standard, probably the best and most famous truck-driving song ever written. A combo of loner stoner driver and band on the road.
And just like I was clueless as to guacamole, I was stunned to come to California and see a sign for Tehachapi. And now I know not only that mountain burg, but Tucumcari and Tonopah.
That’s the west. Spread out. With enough room to be yourself and do your own thing.
There was never a band that sounded like Little Feat. Despite Lowell’s huge influence his own sound could not be copied. And despite the great group that still employs the moniker Little Feat, it’s not what it was when Lowell was a member.
If you’ve got time.
And almost nobody does anymore.
You will be rewarded by listening to Little Feat.
And I’m not saying to start with “Sailin’ Shoes,” but you’ll eventually find yourself here. And will be amazed. That once upon a time being a band was going on your own journey, finding your identity, becoming what you weren’t sure of, hoping an audience found you on the way.
So different from today. When the man demands a single and puts you together with someone you don’t know to write it.
Lowell George is a rabbit hole a certain cadre of us fell into.
And it changed our lives.
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