Little Feat is one of the many bands whose names I’ve known for a long time but for some reason never got around to listen to. When I recently asked a dear friend who is also a huge fan of the band which album he’d recommend to start me off, he half-jokingly said all of them. Then he noted some box set. But he quickly realized none of these recommendations would be, well, exactly a little feat, for a guy with a family and a full-time job, so he mentioned Waiting For Columbus. Let’s just say, he has a pretty good idea what makes me tick!
I’ve now listened to this album for a few times and pretty much dig it from the first to the last bar. The caliber of the musicians around co-founder, songwriter, lead vocalist and guitarist Lowell George is simply outstanding. Together with the fantastic backing horn section Tower Of Power, this double LP from February 1978 truly makes for a compelling listening experience. In fact, I would go as far as calling it one of the very best live albums I’ve come across to date, and for what it’s worth, I’ve definitely listened to many over last 40 years.
With that being said, it’s hard to decide where to even start. How about the beginning? The album, which captures recordings from seven different shows that took place in London and Washington, D.C. in August 1977, kicks off with a nice short acappella version of Join The Band, a traditional, followed by Fat Man In The Bathtub. Written by George, like the majority of the band’s tunes until his death in June 1979, the song is from their third studio album Dixie Chicken.
All That You Dream is a track from The Last Record Album, the band’s fifth studio release from November 1975. It is one of the few tunes that doesn’t include George in the writing credits. Instead, it was created by Paul Barrere, who joined Little Feat in 1972 as a guitarist, and band co-founder and keyboarder Bill Payne. With a nice funky groove driven by a cool guitar riff and strong harmony vocals, it’s got the key ingredients that make for a great tune.
Oh Atlanta is from Little Feat’s fourth studio album Feats Don’t Fail Me Now, released in August 1974. The song was written by Payne, who also sang lead. I guess this explains the cool honky tonk style piano that draws you in immediately, along with the nice harmony vocals and a groove that makes you move – my kind of music!
Dixie Chicken is the title track from Little Feat’s aforementioned 1973 album. Wikipedia and AllMusic call this record the band’s signature release. While I haven’t listened enough to their music to make such a definitive statement, I know good music when I hear it, and this track definitely makes my list! It was co-written by George and Martin Kibbee (credited as Fred Martin), a collaborator with whom George initially had played in a garage punk band after high school, according to American Songwriter. Like other tunes on Waiting For Columbus, this is an extended version – again, it’s the honky tonk piano I love and the horns, which give the song a nice New Orleans feel.
Rocket In My Pocket is another I tune I’d like to call out, though I find it really hard to choose one track over the other. Also composed by George, the song is from Little Feat’s sixth studio record Time Loves A Hero, which came out in May 1977. If I see this correctly, it’s the band’s last studio album that was released during George’s lifetime.
Spanish Moon is another track from Feats Don’t Fail Me Now. To me it’s again the groove that stands out on this George tune. I love the intro with the conga and the bass, and how the track picks up from there. The horn accents give it a seductive soul touch – just awesome!
Willin’ appears on Little Feat’s second studio album Sailin’ Shoes, released in May 1972. According to Wikipedia, it’s a reworked version of a song George had written that made Frank Zappa fire him from The Mothers Of Invention in May 1969. However, there is some dispute about the exact circumstances. George had joined Zappa’s backing band in November 1968 as rhythm guitarist and vocalist.
As I noted above, I could easily go on forever about this record, but as George Harrison once wisely sang, “all things must pass.” The last track I’d like to highlight is another co-write by George and Martin called Rock & Roll Doctor, the opener from Feats Don’t Fail Me Now.
In addition to George, Barrere and Payne, Little Feat’s line-up at the time of Waiting For Columbus included Sam Clayton (congas, vocals), Kenny Gradney (bass) and Richard Hayward (drums, vocals). There were also two prominent guests: Ace guitarist Mick Taylor (yep, that Mick Taylor from John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and The Rolling Stones!) played lead and slide guitar on A Apolitical Blues. Doobie Brothers vocalists Michael McDonald and Patrick Simmons provided backing vocals on Red Streamliner. The Tower Of Power horn section included Emilio Castillo (tenor saxophone), Greg Adams (trumpet), Lenny Pickett (alto and tenor saxophone, clarinet on Dixie Chicken), Stephen “Doc” Kupka (baritone saxophone) and Mic Gillette (trombone, trumpet).
In April 2015, Rolling Stone ranked Waiting For Columbus at no. 49 on their list of 50 Greatest Live Albums Of All Time. While I may have rated this recorded higher, it certainly is in mighty company with other artists and records like James Brown (Live At The Apollo, 1963; no. 1), The Allman Brothers Band (At Fillmore East, 1971; no. 2), The Who (Live At Leeds, 1970; no. 4), The Rolling Stones (Get Ya Ya-Ya’s Out, 1970; no. 17), Jimi Hendrix (Jimi Plays Monterey, 1986; no. 18), Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band (Live/1975-85, 1986; no. 20), Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band (Live Bullet, 1976; no. 26) and U2 (Under A Bloody Red Sky, 1983; no. 44), to name some.
Following George’s death and the release of the band’s seventh studio album Down On The Farm in November 1979, Little Feat called it quits. In 1987, the band’s surviving members Barrere, Clayton, Gradney, Hayward and Payne reunited, and added songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Craig Fuller and Fred Tackett (guitar, mandolin, trumpet) to the line-up. Little Feat has since released nine additional studio records, as well as various live and compilation albums. They remain active to this day, with Barrere, Clayton, Payne and Tackett still being part of the mix. Their official website lists multiple shows for this year, mostly featuring different members of the band.
Sources: Wikipedia, AllMusic, American Songwriter, Rolling Stone, Little Feat official website, YouTube