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Little Feat is an American rock band formed by singer-songwriter, lead vocalist and guitarist Lowell George and keyboardist Bill Payne in 1969 in Los Angeles.
Although the band has undergone several changes in its lineup, the music remains an eclectic blend of rock and roll, blues, country, folk, R&B, funk and jazz fusion influences.
Lowell George era (1969-1979)
There are three legends about the genesis of Little Feat. One has it that George showed Zappa his song "Willin'," and that Zappa fired him from the Mothers of Invention, because he felt that George was too talented to merely be a member of his band, and told him he ought to go away and form his own band. The second version has Zappa firing him for playing a 15 minute guitar solo—with his amplifier off. The third version says that Zappa fired him because "Willin'" contains drug references ("weed, whites and wine"). George often introduced the song as the reason he was asked to leave the band. On Oct. 18, 1975 at the Auditorium Theater in Rochester New York while introducing the song, George commented that he was asked to leave the band for "writing a song about dope".
In any version, Zappa was instrumental in getting George and his new band a record contract. When "Willin'" was recorded for the Little Feat album, George hurt his hand in an accident with a model airplane, so Ry Cooder sat in and played the song's slide part. Lowell's accident is referenced on the cover art of the band's 1996 album Under the Radar. "Willin'" was re-recorded (this time with Lowell playing) on Little Feat's second album Sailin' Shoes, which was also the first Little Feat album to include cover art by Neon Park, who had painted the cover for Zappa's Weasels Ripped My Flesh.
The first two albums received nearly universal critical acclaim, and "Willin'" became a standard, subsequently popularized by its inclusion on Linda Ronstadt's album Heart Like a Wheel.
Lack of commercial success led, however, to the band splitting up,
with Estrada leaving to join Captain Beefheart's Magic Band. In 1972
Little Feat reformed, with bassist Kenny Gradney replacing Estrada. The
band also added a second guitarist, Paul Barrere, who had known George
since they attended Hollywood High School in California, and
percussionist Sam Clayton. Both Barrere and Clayton added vocals on many
songs, although all the band members provided backing vocals in various
The release of The Last Record Album in 1975 signaled another change in the Little Feat sound, with Barrere and Payne developing an interest in jazz-rock. Prior to the recording of The Last Record Album, drummer Richie Hayward had a motorcycle accident and the liner to the LP release of The Last Record Album was decorated with copies of his many hospital bills. Also present was evidence of a late change to the running order of tracks. The lyrics for Paul Barrere's song "Hi Roller" were printed on the sleeve, but scored out, and the words "maybe next time" scrawled over them. Sure enough, "Hi Roller" was the first track on the subsequent album Time Loves a Hero.
Lowell George continued to produce the albums, but his songwriting contribution diminished as the group moved into jazz fusion, a style in which he had little interest. In August 1977, Little Feat recorded a live album from gigs at the Rainbow Theatre in London and Lisner Auditorium in Washington, DC. Waiting for Columbus is considered by many rock music critics to be one of the best live albums of all time, despite the fact that significant portions of George's vocals and slide work were in fact over-dubbed later in the studio. It was released in 1978, by which time it had become apparent that Lowell George's interest in the band was waning, as was his health.
After Time Loves A Hero and before the Down on the Farm sessions, Little Feat were used as the backing band for Robert Palmer's album Pressure Drop, which featured his cover version of Lowell's song "Trouble."
George did some work on what would eventually become Down on the Farm but then declared that Little Feat had disbanded. In an interview with Bill Flanagan (for the book Written In My Soul) conducted eleven days before his death, George made it clear that he felt the demise of Little Feat was due to his having allowed the band to be run democratically, with the result that Payne and, to a lesser extent, Barrère, had a presence as songwriters and in production which was disproportionate to their abilities. George was particularly scathing about Payne's attempts at jazz/fusion, citing an instance when Payne jammed with Weather Report on a TV show and dropped "into one of his 'Day at the Dog Races'. I just got out of there as fast as I could. It was embarrassing". In the same interview, George stated that he planned to reunite Little Feat without Payne and Barrère.
At this time Warner Brothers released George's only solo album Thanks, I'll Eat It Here for which he had signed a contract in 1975. The album was mostly a collection of cover versions of other people's songs that George had been working on as a side project for several years and, in his biography of Lowell George 'Rock And Roll Doctor', Mark Brend states that George had hinted he only signed the solo contract in order to obtain funds to finance Little Feat (and Bill Flanagan states in Written In My Soul that George "didn't want his audience to assume a collection of other people's material marked the direction of Lowell George's solo career").
While touring in support of his solo album in June 1979, at the age of 34, George collapsed in his hotel room in Arlington, Virginia. An autopsy determined the cause of death was a heart attack, although it is considered likely that George's excess weight, (formerly chronic) drug usage, and the strain of touring contributed to his condition.
Lowell George was respected for his idiosyncratic genius, for crafting sophisticated melodies and lyrics; writing memorable songs, and for his high production standards. He is also remembered for his exuberant, unique slide style, which featured sustained, ringing legato lines.
The surviving members finished and released Down on the Farm before disbanding in 1979. A subsequent retrospective double album compilation of rare outtakes and live tracks, Hoy-Hoy!, was released in 1981. The album is a perfect overview of the history and sound of Little Feat and includes a cover of the Hank Williams song "Lonesome Whistle".
Paul Barrere, Sam Clayton, Kenny Gradney and Richie Hayward performed several shows as Feats in 1981 and 1982.
The Craig Fuller years (1987-1993)
But the follow-up album Representing the Mambo, released in 1990 proved to be the group's last album for Warner Brothers who were uncomfortable with the album's more jazzy leanings. The third and final album by this line-up, Shake Me Up (1991) was released on Morgan Creek as was the soundtrack of the 1992 film White Sands, which contained one song by Little Feat called Quicksand and Lies but this label folded soon afterwards and Little Feat were moving from one label to another until the establishment of Hot Tomato Records in 2002. Fuller departed in 1993, stating that touring required too much time away from his family. Fuller joined a reformed Pure Prairie League, has commenced a long-overdue solo career and still guests with Little Feat on occasion.
The Shaun Murphy years (1993-2009)
Shaun Murphy - Live in Concert
Murphy began her career working in Detroit, Michigan, most notably in theatre, and received a record contract with Rare Earth Records, a division of Motown Records, as a member of a duo with Meat Loaf. The duo later disbanded, and Murphy went on to sing and record with renowned artists such as Eric Clapton and Bob Seger, prior to joining Little Feat as a full time member of the band.
Shaun's first album with the group was Ain't Had Enough Fun. As well as having material specifically written for her, for increasing fan draw attracted to her hard-edged powerhouse voice, further albums, Under the Radar and Chinese Work Songs saw Murphy become an integral part of the group sharing lead vocals and writing with Payne and Barrere. Her rendition of Bob Dylan's work, "It Takes a Lot to Laugh", was first recorded in studio on Chinese Work Songs, and became a favorite in live appearances with Murphy as lead singer prior to her departure in 2009. After recording five studio albums and performing over 1,400 concerts with the band, Murphy's position was made redundant, and the group pared down to a six-piece collective entity. Shaun would subsequently form The Shaun Murphy Band and so far has recorded a mixture of cover versions plus songs she wrote and recorded with Little Feat.
Hayward health and death
Hayward married and was living on Vancouver Island B.C., with his liver cancer in remission while waiting on a liver transplant. Sunday July 11, 2010 Little Feat played at Vancouver Island Music Fest, and Hayward was slated to play just a couple of tunes, but once he sat behind his kit, he finished out the night. Hayward had intended to return to the band in the event of recovery but he died on August 12, 2010 from pneumonia and complications from lung disease.
Legacy - today and tomorrow
In 2008, Little Feat reached their 20th anniversary as a once-again active band, and with just one line up change since 1988. Jimmy Buffett has been an enthusiastic booster of the band for many years and his private record label was partnered with Feat's Hot Tomato Records to produce the CD Join the Band. Released in mid-August 2008, the album features collaborations with Buffett, Dave Matthews, Emmylou Harris, Bob Seger, Béla Fleck, Brooks and Dunn, Chris Robinson (Black Crowes), Vince Gill, Mike Gordon (Phish), and Inara George.
On October 31, 2010, at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, NJ, the band Phish covered Little Feat's album, Waiting for Columbus, for their annual Halloween show. As a result of this concert and the distribution of its recording, Waiting For Columbus has recently gained recognition from a wider audience and has become culturally relevant to the youth of the modern era (2010).
Source: Wikipedia (The Free Encyclopedia)