Little Feat Mix

Let me make this point perfectly clear: Little Feat is the great unsung American rock and roll band. The July mix is a collection of songs from their golden period — roughly 1972 – 1978 — the years when founder Lowell George was at his peak. I’ve deliberately omitted a few staples, including their most famous numbers “Dixie Chicken,” “Oh Atlanta,” and “Willin’,” so that I could dig a bit deeper into the catalog.

“Easy to Slip” — The opening cut of Sailin’ Shoes (1972), the Feat’s second album and their last as a four-piece. Singer/songwriter/slide-guitar-genius George and bassist Roy Estrada formed the band after leaving the Mothers of Invention. They were joined by pianist Billy Payne and drummer Richie Hayward, both of whom continue to tour and record with the ’90s incarnation of the Feat. “Easy to Slip” is just a perfect opener.

“Two Trains” — From Dixie Chicken (1973), which introduced the classic Feat lineup. Estrada left to rejoin the Mothers and was replaced by Kenny Gradney, who was joined in the rhythm section by percussionist Sam Clayton. Paul Barerre, another top-notch singer and songwriter, also added a second guitar to the sound. A nice display of George’s trademark slide playing, “Two Trains” was later reworked for his first solo album, Thanks I’ll Eat It Here (1979).

“The Fan” — Feats Don’t Fail Me Now (1974) is far and away my favorite of their studio albums. The main thing to know about Little Feat is that Hayward, Gradney, and Clayton consistently created the fattest pocket ever enjoyed by a rock and roll band. Gradney is that selfless bass player that every great band needs — seldom flashy but always teeth-rattling.

“All That You Dream” — By the time they made The Last Record Album (1975), Barerre and Payne were beginning to contribute more of the songwriting. If I could step into a wayback machine to see Lowell George sing just one Little Feat song, I might choose Barerre’s “All That You Dream” — just so I could tip my head back and sing the opening line at the top of my lungs, “I’ve been down, but not like this before.” More songs should open with the chorus.

“Got No Shadow” — One of the first of Payne’s Feat tunes (1972), it also might be his best. “Got No Shadow” is probably my favorite cut from Sailin’ Shoes.

“Juliette” — Dixie Chicken is most known for the Bourbon Street boogie-woogie of the title track, but most of the album sounds more like “Juliette,” which is just a beautiful song. I love the production of this album. It’s warmer and a bit cloudier than anything you’ll get today. Even on CD, you can practically hear the record needle pop.

“Day or Night” — George is credited for only two of the nine songs on Time Loves a Hero (1977). By the end of the ’70s, most of his time was devoted to other “recreational” pursuits (which would lead to his death a few years later). The Feat’s sound changed accordingly. Hero features Michael McDonald and Skunk Baxter on a few tracks — evidence that, like the Doobies, Little Feat became slightly Steely Dan-ified during this period. It works on “Day or Night.”

“Time Loves a Hero” — Little Feat does Jimmy Buffett? Not my favorite track, but it’s such a great singalong chorus, and I like the bassline.

“Cold, Cold Cold” — A great antidote to the uber-production of “Hero,” “Cold” is Lowell George in concentrated form. This song shows up again at the end of Feats Don’t Fail Me Now. On the Live at Rockpalast DVD, you can listen to a running commentary with Payne, Barerre, and George’s widow. Her response to “Cold, Cold Cold” is classic. It couldn’t have been easy to hear her husband sing, “That woman was freezing, freezing cold.”

“On Your Way Down” — I could listen to this song every day for the rest of my life. Written by Allen Toussaint, “On Your Way Down” was just made for George’s voice, which never sounded better.

“Roll Um Easy” — Lowell George and an acoustic guitar. What I wouldn’t give for a chance to sit alone in a room with that voice.

“Skin It Back” — I had planned to only include songs with George on lead vocal, but Barerre sounds so good here. I’ve been known to break into this song at odd moments. And once I get started . . . “Well, I’m waiting for something to take place, something to take me away from this place, round city to city, town to town, runnin’ around in the shoes of a clown, and that desperate . . .”

“Day at the Dog Races” — I just had to include this one. The story goes that “Dog Races” was written during those long hours when the rest of the band was waiting for George to show up for rehearsals. What began as an impromptu jam grew into one of Little Feat’s few instrumentals. The 12-minute definitive version is now available on the remastered 2-disc Waiting for Columbus, but this studio version from Time Loves a Hero proves, I think, that they were capable of music as harmonically and rhythmically interesting as anything that Return to Forever and Weather Report were doing in the late-70s. Plus, how good is Billy Payne? He’s Rick Wakeman with a soul.

“Mercenary Territory” — If you don’t own a Little Feat album, just go buy the newest release of Waiting for Columbus (1978), which is without a doubt the greatest live rock album ever, Live at Leeds be damned. “Mercenary Territory” is relatively bland for the first two minutes, but then it changes gear, switching into a groovy walking bassline and Lowell George slide solo. When Lenny Pickett from Tower of Power unleashes his sax solo, all hell breaks lose. As he’s climbing into ridiculously high notes, notice how George is trailing him with his slide. If it don’t make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, then you ain’t breathin’.

“Spanish Moon” — Little Feat, at their best, make you feel like you’re walking through the French Quarter, and this live version of “Spanish Moon” does that better than any other single track I can think of.

“Fool Yourself” — Consider it a coda.