What I’ve Been Listening to: Little Feat/Dixie Chicken

In March 2018, I listened to Waiting For Columbus by Little Feat after a dear longtime friend from Germany had highly recommended this great live album from 1978. I also wrote about it at the time. Then, as oftentimes happens, before I knew it, I was on to other music avenues, and the band fell off my radar screen again. Luckily, my streaming music provider served up the song Dixie Chicken as part of a playlist the other day. The title track of Little Feat’s third studio album from January 1973 prompted me to take a closer look at the record. It didn’t take long to realize that Dixie Chicken is a true gem.

Before I get to some music, I like to provide a bit of background on the group. Little Feat were formed in 1969 in Los Angeles by singer-songwriter, lead vocalist and guitarist Lowell George and pianist Bill Payne, together with Roy Estrada (bass) and Richie Hayward (drums). George and Estrada had played together in The Mothers of Invention.

Little Feat in 1975 (from left): Kenney Gradney, Bill Payne, Sam Clayton, Lowell George, Paul Barrere & Richie Hayward

While Frank Zappa was instrumental in the formation of Little Feat and getting them a recording contract, the details are disputed. One version is that Zappa encouraged George to form his own group after he had listened to George’s song Willin’. A second version is that Zappa who was strongly opposed to drugs fired George from the Mothers after he noticed some references to drugs in the lyrics of Willin’. The third version is the weirdest: Zappa kicked out George after George had played a 15-minute guitar solo with his amplifier off!

Whatever the true circumstances were, Little Feat signed a deal with Warner Bros. Records and soon thereafter started recording their eponymous debut album, which appeared in January 1971. By the time Little Feat went into the studio to make Dixie Chicken, the group had become a six-piece. Estrada had been replaced by Kenney Gradney on bass, and the band had added Paul Barrere (guitar, vocals) and Sam Clayton (congas). Among additional guest musicians were Bonnie Bramlett, of Delaney & Bonnie fame; Danny Hutton, vocalist in Three Dog Night; and Bonnie Raitt, who each provided backing vocals.

On to some music. Here’s the album’s opener and title track, which is widely viewed as the band’s signature song. Dixie Chicken was co-written by George, who had established himself as Little Feat’s frontman, producer and main songwriter, and Martin Kibbee, who according to Songfacts was credited as Fred Martin. Bramlett supported Lowell on lead vocals. Love the New Orleans vibe this tune has!

Two Trains, another George composition, is a nice groovy track. I dig the guitar work and the great singing. Check out the mighty group of backing vocalists: Bramlett, Raitt, Daring Dan Hutton, Debbie Lindsey and Gloria Jones.

Another tune on side one (in vinyl speak) is a great cover of On Your Way Down, a song by influential R&B New Orleans artist Allen Toussaint. It first appeared on his 1972 studio album Life, Love and Faith.

On to side two and Walkin’ All Night. Co-written by Barrere and Payne, it’s one of only three tracks on the album that were not penned by George. It’s got a bit of a Stones vibe. Of course, that’s also true for many of the other tunes on the record.

Fat Man in the Bathtub (gotta love that title!) was also written by George. Not much more that I can say here other than it’s yet another gem on an album that’s packed with great music.

Let’s do one more. Here’s Juliette, yet another song written by George.

Dixie Chicken is viewed as Little Feat’s landmark album that defined their sound, a tasty gumbo of southern rock, roots rock, blues rock, New Orleans R&B and swamp rock. Just like the band’s first two records, Dixie Chicken missed the charts, though it did reach Gold certification. This just goes to show that chart positions and sales certifications don’t necessarily capture an album’s greatness.

Following George’s death in late June 1979 from a cocaine overdose-induced heart attack at the age of 34 and the release of Little Feat’s seventh studio album Down On The Farm in November that year, the band called it quits. In 1987, surviving members Barrere, Clayton, Gradney, Hayward and Payne revived Little Feat, and added songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Craig Fuller and Fred Tackett (guitar, mandolin, trumpet) to the line-up.

Between 1988 and 2012, Little Feat released nine additional albums. Barrere passed away from cancer in October 2019. He was 71. The group remains active to this day, with Clayton, Gradney, Tackett and founding member Payne being part of the current line-up. According to Little Feat’s official website, they have scheduled a series of U.S. dates starting November 11 in Port Chester, N.Y. Also, if you feel like catching them in Jamaica, together with Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams and Band, Tommy Emmanuel and Jack Broadbent, and have the time, not to mention the necessary dollars to go on a music adventure, you can do so from January 30 – February 5, 2022 at Featcamp.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Little Feat website; YouTube

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Dylan’s Latest Bootleg Series Installment Is a True Revelation

Collection spans Shot of Love, Infidels and Empire Burlesque albums that are widely considered to be the “low point” of his career

The Eighties are widely regarded as the low point of Bob Dylan’s entire career, a time when he struggled to find relevance in the MTV era and released a series of tacky, rudderless albums that were savaged by fans and critics. So reads the opening sentence of Rolling Stone’s recent review of Springtime In New York: The Bootleg Series Vol. 16 1980-1985, the latest installment in Bob Dylan’s ongoing bootleg series. This pretty much reflects what I also read in Ultimate Classic Rock, Glide Magazine, Flood Magazine and other media outlets. Rolling Stone was quick to back up their statement with a quote from the maestro who in his 2004 memoir Chronicles: Volume One said, “[I was pretty] whitewashed and wasted out…I’m in the bottomless pit of cultural oblivion. I can’t shake it.” As I was listening to Springtime this morning, I kept thinking, ‘gee, Dylan at his worst sounds mighty good!’

Before going any further, I must reveal that while I dig many Dylan songs, there are huge gaps in my knowledge of the man’s mighty catalog. From the three albums Springtime captures – Shot of Love (August 1981), Infidels (October 1983) and Empire Burlesque (June 1985) – I had only listened to some tunes from Infidels, and all I remembered off the top of my head were Jokerman and I and I – both decent songs, in my opinion. I’m more familiar with Dylan’s records from the ’60s until the mid ’70s. I’ve also listened to his most recent work Rough and Rowdy Ways and have come to dig it.

Bob Dylan / Springtime in New York: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 16 / 1980-1985  – SuperDeluxeEdition
5-CD Deluxe Edition

The Bootleg Series Vol. 16: Springtime in New York 1980–1985, released yesterday (September 17), is the 14th installment in the series Dylan started in March 1991 with The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991. Springtime includes previously unreleased tour rehearsals and outtakes from the three aforementioned albums, as well as various live versions. The compilation comes in three different formats, including a 2-CD standard edition, 5-disc deluxe edition, as well as 2-LP and 4-LP formats.

Let’s get to some music, based on the 5-CD edition. The rehearsal of Need a Woman is a track from disc one. Dylan first released the song on the aforementioned inaugural installment of his bootleg series as an outtake from Shot of Love. He is backed by fine musicians, including guitarists Steve Ripley and Danny Kortchmar; Carl Pickhardt (keyboards); Tim Drummond (bass); Jim Keltner (drums), as well as Carolyn Dennis, Madelyn Quebec and Clydie King who provide dynamite backing vocals and clapping.

Let’s move on to disc two and Price of Love, another outtake from Shot of Love. Not sure whether Dylan had previously released that song elsewhere. In addition to Ripley, Pickhardt, Drummond, Keltner, King and Quebec, he’s backed by Fred Tackett (guitar), Benmont Tench (keyboards), Steve Douglas (saxophone) and Regina McCrary (backing vocals). Love this outtake!

Blind Willie McTell, a track from disc three, is another Dylan tune he first released on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991 as an outtake from Infidels. This is a different version of Dylan’s tribute to Piedmont blues and ragtime singer and guitarist William Samuel McTier. Known as Blind Willie McTell, he influenced The Allman Brothers Band, Taj Mahal, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Jack White, Mr. Zimmerman and many other artists.

Next up: An alternate take of Sweetheart Like You from disc four, a song Dylan first released on the Infidels album. It also appeared separately as the record’s second single and became Dylan’s first official music video, which you can watch here if you’re so inclined. Here’s a clip of the alternate take featuring another neat backing band: Guitarists Mark Knopfler and Mick Taylor; Alan Clark (keyboards); Robbie Shakespeare (bass) and Sly Dunbar (drums), of reggae production duo Sly and Robbie; and Clydie King (backing vocals). Not too shabby for an artist who supposedly was at a low point in his career – well, I suppose it’s all relative, isn’t it?

Let’s wrap up this post with two tracks from disc five. Both are my early favorites from the collection, based on what I’ve heard thus far. First is a great live version of a tune called Enough Is Enough, captured at a gig at Slane Castle in Ireland. Based on what I could find on Setlist.fm during the timeframe this latest bootleg installment covers, it looks like Dylan played the song during this 1984 concert. After some additional digging, I found Dylan’s backing band included Mick Taylor (guitar), Ian McLagan (keyboards, formerly with Faces), Greg Sutton (bass) and Colin Allen (drums). Damn, this rocks!

And last but not least, here’s New Danville Girl, an outtake from Dylan’s Empire Burlesque album. According to Wikipedia, Dylan co-wrote the nearly 12-minute satirical with American actor, playwright, author, screenwriter and director Sam Shepard. Originally, the tune was intended to be an answer to Doin’ the Things That We Want To, a 1984 song by Lou Reed that had been inspired by a Shepard play. The tune would later be re-written and re-titled Brownsville Girl. Dylan included it on Knocked Out Loaded, the 1986 follow-on album to Empire Burlesque. I absolutely love this tune!

Listening to Springtime In New York: The Bootleg Series Vol. 16 1980-1985 has been quite a revelation. Apart from great renditions, I really like Dylan’s singing here – something I certainly can’t say for all other songs I’ve heard. And the musicians backing him on these recordings are spectacular, though I suppose if you’re Bob Dylan, you can secure pretty much anyone. Now I’m also curious to further explore the Shot of Love, Infidels and Empire Burlesque albums.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; Ultimate Classic Rock; Glide Magazine; Flood Magazine; Setlist.fm; YouTube