From The Vault: Little Feat – “Little Feat” (1970)
With Little Feat being the brainchild of Lowell George, who was politely dismissed from Frank Zappa’s band by Zappa suggesting that perhaps it was time for Lowell to form his own group. Nevertheless, once formed, Little Feat would eventually slide out of Lowell’s hands, taking on a sound quality that would again lead Mr. George to form his solo project during the Little Feat recording of Time Loves A Hero.
It was the song “Willin’,” a number laced with drug references that put Zappa off, though that being said, Frank knew a good song when he heard one, and it was that single track that set the pace for Little Feat. On this original album, George wrote or co-wrote eight of the eleven tracks, and this included the first, though not the last version of “Willin’,” a song that seemed to morph and grow over the years. The Feat’s production and musical vision was relentless, based on an ambling easy going sound defined by syncopated rhythms, capped with Payne’s boogie-woogie barrelhouse piano, a sound that was matched by Lowell’s effortless and distinctive slide guitar emancipations, which earned them great praise as a ‘musician’s band’, though that moniker didn’t translate into heavy sales or even radio airplay, despite “Willin’” being featured as the single.
George had learned much from his nine months with Frank Zappa, what he hadn’t learned was that he, like Frank, needed to be the band leader, setting the pace and direction, rather than attempting to fuse an organic aggregate equality, saying, “Everybody conducts the band at some moment. There are times when everyone has a chance to hold things together. Everybody has a moment when the thread of consciousness of the band is held together by that person.” This notion shifted the spirit and definition from a Lowell George vision, to that of a collective, a collective that would eventually overtake Lowell’s on vision for the Feat.
I’m not going to say that this was an easy album for music fans to latch onto, the sound was so new and unexpected, as were nearly all of the Little Feat albums, albums for which listeners needed to give themselves over to the sound as a whole, rather than being smitten by amazing singles, as say Steely Dan was able to do. Of course this means that listeners needed to drop any preconceived notions about Little Feat’s 1971 debut record (conceived and recorded in 1970) and slip into the loose unique musical quality of this masterpiece, one infused with delightful blues, honky tonk and southern rocker roots. What Little Feat were doing here was lightyears ahead of what the Rolling Stones would lay done with Exile On Main Street or even the Stephen Stills’ band Manassas, and folks sincerely had issues there, though eventually came around with mile wide smiles of satisfaction.
I realize that I might be suggesting that this album is a lot of work to listen to, actually it’s not, especially with the advantage of 20/20 hindsight, where dipping back into these waters with a firm base and knowledge for the music of Little Feat, will allow the record to unfold in a sparkling manner.
*** The Fun Facts: It’s said that Jimmy Carl Black, pointed at George’s size 8 shoes during a rehearsal and scoffed, ”Little feet …” to which George added a Beatles-inspired twist to the spelling.
The album art comes from a mural entitled “Venice In The Snow” and was painted by the L.A. Fine Arts Squad in 1970, though why it was chosen by the band, other than for the sheer joy of seeing winter and wearing heavy cold weather coats on summer all year long Venice Beach, is anyone’s guess.
– Jenell Kesler