What I’ve Been Listening To: Little Feat/Waiting For Columbus

Band’s 1978 double LP is one of the best live gems


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

Clips & Pix: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

There is perhaps no other vocalist like Aretha Franklin. Now in her mid-70s, the Queen of Soul still sounds terrific. The above clip of Respect was captured during a show last May at NYCB Theatre at Westbury in Westbury, N.Y.

Respect was written by Otis Redding, who also first recorded and released the tune in 1965. But it was Franklin’s version from 1967, which became a major hit and her signature song when it appeared in April that year as the second single from her 11th studio album I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You.

Franklin is still performing, though in February 2017, she announced she would retire from touring at the end of last year. In August, Franklin told the Detroit Free Press she planned to open a nightclub where she would occasionally sing. Currently, her official website lists four scheduled shows for this year.

One of the gigs is coming up on March 25 at New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. That’s way too close to my house not show her some r-e-s-p-e-c-t. Apparently, it was not too early to get tickets for what may be one of the last opportunities to see Franklin in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut tri-state are. The show is almost sold out!

Sources: Wikipedia, Setlist.fm, Detroit Free Press, YouTube

My Playlist: Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye was one of the greatest soul and R&B artists, in my opinion. He became first known in the ’60s as part of the Motown sound. Gaye performed some of the Detroit record company’s biggest hits during that period, such as Pride And Joy, I’ll Be Doggone and I Heard It Through The Grapevine.

Starting from the early ’70s, Gaye started producing or co-producing his albums and, together with Stevie Wonder, became one of the first Motown stars to emancipate themselves artistically from the company. Among his ’70s releases were two concept albums, What’s Going On and Let’s Get It On.

In March 1982, Gaye left Motown and signed with CBS Records. In October that year, he released Midnight Love, his last studio record to appear prior his death. It included  Sexual Healing, which became one of his biggest hits, for which he won two Grammy Awards in 1983. On April 1, 1984, Gaye was shot to death by his father Marvin Gaye Sr. after a physical fight between the two men. He was only 44 years old.

Let’s Get It On with some music of Gaye’s great music.

Stubborn Kind Of Fellow was among the first Motown tunes I heard and remains one of my favorites. The song was co-written by Gaye, producer William “Mickey” Stevenson and George Gordy, the brother of Motown founder Barry Gordy. It was included on Gaye’s second studio album That Stubborn Kind Of Fellow from December 1962 and became his first hit single, reaching the top 10 of the Billboard R&B Chart.

In addition to solo releases, Gaye also recorded various duet albums. One was Take Two with Kim Weston, which appeared in August 1966. I’ve always liked the upbeat opener of that record It Takes Two, a co-write by Stevenson and Sylvia Moy.

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough is from another duet record, United, with Tammi Terrrell, released in August 1967. The tune, which was co-written by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, peaked at no. 19 on the Billboard Pop Charts. In 1970, the track topped the Billboard Hot 100 when Diana Ross released it,  giving the former Supremes front woman her first no. 1 solo hit.

Another Gaye ’60s classic is I Heard It Through The Grapevine, the title track of his eighth studio album from August 1968, which originally was titled In The Groove. Co-written by Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield, the tune had first been released by Gladys Knight & The Pips in 1967. The above extended live performance looks like it was captured during the ’70s.

If I would have to choose only one tune from Gaye, it would probably be What’s Going On. The singing is just off the charts! Co-written by him, Renaldo Benson and Al Cleveland, this gem is the title track of Gaye’s 11th studio release from May 1971. The concept album was the first record he produced.

Let’s Get It On, the title track of Gaye’s 13th studio album from August 1973, is another of his ’70s classics. He wrote it together with the record’s co-producer Ed Townsend. It became Gaye’s most successful single for Motown, topping both Billboard’s Hot 100 and Hot R&B charts. The above clip is an extended version from a 1981 show in The Netherlands. It nicely illustrates what a passionate performer Gaye was.

A great party song with a cool funky groove, Got To Give It Up is included on Live At The London Palladium, a double album Gaye released in March 1977. The tune was written by Art Stewart, who also produced the record.

The last song I want to highlight in this post is Sexual Healing, Gaye’s first single after he had left Motown. Co-written by him, Odell Brown and David Ritz, the sensual tune with a smooth groove is from Midnight Love, Gaye’s final studio album from October 1982. Above is the track’s official video clip. Sexual Healing topped Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and climbed to no. 3 on the Hot 100. It is also on Rolling Stone’s list of 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time at no. 233.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Wilson Pickett And Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band/In The Midnight Hour

A blog post from Music Enthusiast, who rightly noted the ’60s were more than just The Beatles and psychedelic music, prompted me to look for a great soul tune. While there are so many fantastic soul songs that were released in the ’60s, one of my favorites has always been In The Midnight Hour.

Co-written by Wilson Pickett and Steve Cropper from Stax Records house band Booker T. & The M.G.’s, the song was originally recorded by Pickett in 1965 as the title track of his second studio album. It also became his first no. 1 single on the U.S. R&B charts.

The above clip is from Bruce Springsteen’s 1999 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction performance. The song has also become a staple during live concerts with The E Street Band. In fact, I was fortunate to witness a Springsteen gig in Germany (I believe it was 1988), where the second part of the show almost entirely consisted of ’60s soul covers – a real treat!

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Kat Wright/By My Side

Vermont soul singer has been called “frighteningly good”

Chances are you haven’t heard of Kat Wright. I certainly had not until I spotted her name in the lineup of artists for an upcoming show at City Winery in New York City I’m considering to attend. After listening to By My Side, I’m very impressed about the 31-year-old vocalist from Vermont. While Boston Public Radio’s declaration that she’s “frighteningly good” is pretty bold, it may not be exaggerated.

Backed by a great-sounding seven-piece band that used to be called The Indomitable Soul Band, Wright’s music is reminiscent of Stax and Motown style soul, my kind of music! I think it’s very cool and courageous when a relatively new and young artist embraces what essentially is old-fashioned music recorded during an era that required true craftsmanship, including real singing and real instruments – such a refreshing contrast to the largely soulless, computer-generated stuff that sadly dominates much of today’s charts.

Kat Wright & The Indomitable Soul Band

Wright and the band got together in December 2010. They released their debut in 2013, a six-track EP appropriately titled Introducing. According to a Burlington Free Press story, the band then proceeded to record a full-length follow-up record. But they didn’t release it, feeling it didn’t represent the artistic leap they were looking for. Fast-forward to November 2016, when that feat became reality with the appearance of By My Side. Time to get to some music!

The album opens with the title track that immediately sets the tone for the record. The way the horns and the keyboard are played gives it a sound that is retro yet doesn’t come across as dusty – very cool!

Come Dance has a Four Tops Can’t Help Myself type of groove that just makes you want to get up and dance. Again, I dig the horns and the keyboards on that tune.

The Light is an example of a song that sounds less like Stax and Motown and more psychedelic. It’s an illustration of how Wright described the band’s artistic aspirations to the Burlington Free Press. “I don’t want to be stuck in soul-band land,” she said. “For us, soul is the starting place, it’s not the ending place.”

On Who’s Your Fool the sound is back to retro style soul. The singing, the horns, the groove – I just love everything about this tune!

The last track I’d like to highlight is The River, which blends soul and blues elements and features some nice slide guitar playing.

By My Side was recorded in just one week by Joel Hamilton, a co-owner of Studio G in Brooklyn, New York. According to the studio’s website, Hamilton is a four-time Grammy nominated producer and engineer, who has worked with Tom Waits, Iggy Pop and Elvis Costello, among other artists. Wright largely credits him for the record. “They let Joel be the boss, they let him be the producer,” Wright stated in the above Burlington Free Press article. “The band really rallied around trust and respect for the producer and making a really beautiful album.”

In addition to Wright, the members of the band include Bob Wagner (guitar), Josh Weinstein (bass), Ezra Oklan (drums), Shane Hardiman (keyboards), Luke LaPlant (baritone saxophone), Jake Whitesell (tenor saxophone) and Dave Purcell (trumpet). Prior to the album’s release, Wright and the band decided to drop “The Indomitable Soul Band” from their name – probably a smart decision, given they apparently don’t want to get boxed into the soul label.

Initially becoming a staple on the Burlington music scene, the band has since branched out and also performed in other Eastern U.S. states. Currently, their website lists three upcoming gigs, which in addition to City Winery (Jan 13) include Jam Cruise (Miami, Fla., Jan 17) and Quai Des Brumes (Montreal, Canada, Feb 17). BTW, another relatively new soul band that excites me, Southern Avenue, will also play City Winery on Jan 13, along with various other artists. That’s how I found out about Wright.

Sources: Wikipedia, Kat Wright Facebook page and website, Burlington Free Press, Studio G Brooklyn website, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Sam & Dave/Hold On, I’m Comin’

As I previously noted, the storied Stax label is celebrating its 60th birthday this year. Among others, they are issuing compilations with music from some of their biggest stars like Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Albert King, Booker T. & The M.G.s and, of course, the unforgettable Sam & Dave. I was reminded of the anniversary this morning, when I saw some of the celebratory compilations in Apple Music, which leads me to the above clip. Check out this extended killer performance of Hold On, I’m Comin’ – damn! If this doesn’t get you up and moving, you’re probably dead!

Written by songwriter team Isaac Hayes and David Porter, the tune was released as a single in March 1966 and became the title track to Sam & Dave’s debut album, which appeared in April that year. Like for pretty much all Stax recordings at the time, Sam & Dave were backed by Booker T. & The M.G.’s, and what a kick-ass band they were! It’s very how cool how they are called out during the above performance, which apparently was captured in 1966: The singing, the groove, the craftsmanship – I don’t think music can get better than this!

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Clips & Pix: The Breakers/Soulfire

I think it’s fair to say that soul-oriented rock isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Denmark. But this band called The Breakers did exactly that. And they sounded pretty darn well, in my opinion.

Steven Van Zandt produced some of their music on his garage rock label Wicked Cool Records and co-wrote this cool tune with the band’s guitarist Anders Bruus. On the label’s website, Van Zandt described their music as follows: “A Stax-like rhythm section, Stones-y guitars, and some of the most soulful singing I’ve ever heard, delivering songs both Smokey Robinson and Van Morrison would be proud of.” BTW, that’s the same Soulfire Van Zandt recorded as the title song of his most recent album with The Disciples of Soul.

To me singer Toke Nisted’s raspy voice sounds a bit like the early Rod Stewart. No wonder Wikipedia notes that The Faces were among the band’s influences. Sadly, it appears the band broke up in late 2012 after a 10-year run.

Sources: Wikipedia, Wicked Cool Records website, YouTube