Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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LITTLE FEAT

US blues/rock band formed in 1969 in Los Angeles by ex-Mothers of Invention guitarist Lowell George (b 13 April 1945; d 29 June 1979, Arlington VA) who'd also played with the Standells. Former boss Frank Zappa supplied both the name of the group (from George's shoe size) and bassist Roy Estrada; the lineup included drummer Richie Hayward (b 6 February 1946, Clear Lake IA; d 12 August 2010, Victoria BC), drums (ex-Fraternity of Man) and Bill Payne on keyboards (b 12 March 1949, Waco TX), who'd played together in Factory. Little Feat '71 was an impressive low-budget debut, combining blues (covers of Howlin' Wolf) with George's unique compositions fusing blues, country and not a little of Zappa's humour. Truckdrivers' anthem 'Willin' ' was a standout track, with Ry Cooder guesting on guitar. Eight of eleven songs on Sailin' Shoes '72 were George's, including 'Cold Cold Cold' and 'Tripe Face Boogie'; the album sleeves designed by Neon Parks are still famous, but lack of commercial success caused a split.

Members worked with Robert Palmer, Doobie Brothers, Bonnie Raitt before re-forming without Estrada (who joined Captain Beefheart) but with Kenny Gradney (from New Orleans) on bass and Sam Clayton on congas (both ex-Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett), and second guitarist Paul Barérre (b 3 July 1948, Burbank CA), who'd failed an audition for bass. Dixie Chicken '73 and Feats Don't Fail Me Now '74 were the best commercial Feats, retaining second-line New Orleans influences: Allen Toussaint's 'On Your Way Down' on Chicken was a great moment. George's soulful vocals and slide guitar were rarely captured fully in the studio; he was said to have produced bootlegs Electrif Lycanthrope and Aurora Backseat which showed the group in its best form. A tour with the Doobies '75 confirmed their popularity in Europe, but Payne and Barrére were moving the band away from its roots towards imitation jazz; this was first apparent on The Last Record Album '76 and flawed Time Loves A Hero '77 badly.

By the time of the first official live LP Waiting For Columbus '78, made in front of adoring London fans, a split was inevitable: George left the stage during the meandering instrumental 'Day At The Dog Races'. He cut an underrated solo album Thanks I'll Eat It Here '79, concentrating on singing rather than guitar (to critical dismay), including a cover of 'Easy Money' by then-unknown Rickie Lee Jones. He died of heart attack on tour with his session band. The last Feat album Down On The Farm was completed and released, also the reverential Hoy Hoy '81, a collection of alternate/out-takes (whose booklet included a picture of a little girl on horseback: Inara George grew up, formed Lode with Lonn Baker on drums, guitarists Gabriel Cowan and Robin Moxey, released Legs And Arms '96, produced by Gary Katz).

George had sessioned widely on slide guitar, with Etta James, John Cale, John Sebastian, others; produced the Grateful Dead; was one of the decade's more endearing figures: the band could not survive without him. Barrére cut solo On My Own Two Feet '83; Hayward sessioned, joined a Robert Plant band; Payne sessioned and wrote with his wife, Fran Tate. Feat's synthesis of USA styles never broke out of their cult following, but George's songs were covered by Palmer, Nazareth, Linda Ronstadt, others; Terry Allen dedicated 'Heart Of California' to George. All the albums have stayed in print; As Time Goes By '86 was a best-of. The original Feats re-formed to make Let It Roll '88 and Representing The Mambo '90 on WB, Ain't Had Enough Fun and two-CD Live From Neon Park '95 on Zoo, exercises in nostalgia.