LITTLE FEAT HEADLINE, TELLURIDE BLUES & BREWS
Editor’s note: Only a limited number of 3-Day passes available for the 19th Annual Telluride Blues & Brews Festival. Saturday Single Day tickets are completely sold out, with a limited number of Friday and Sunday Tickets available for purchase. 3-Day passes are $170 each, Sunday tickets are $65 each, and Friday tickets are just $55 each.
Trivia buffs, do you know where the name Little Feat came from? Rev up your pencils. The answer is imbedded in the history of the group.
When band founder (now deceased) Lowell George was a member of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, Mothers’ drummer Jimmy Carl Black is alleged to have made a crack about Lowell’s “little feet.” The change in the spelling of the appendages from “feet” to “feat” was an homage to The Beatles.
In case you are keeping score, as Little Feat continues to make waves into its fifth decade – the group hung out its shingle in 1969 – the band’s polished professionals today are co-founder Bill Payne, vocals and keyboards; Paul Barrere, vocals, guitar, slide guitar; Fed Tackett, vocals, guitar, mandolin, trumpet, Gabe Ford, drums; and Sam Clayton, vocals, congas, percussion.
Jimmy Buffet has always been an enthusiastic supporter. Some of the other boldface names to play and record Little Feat’s music are Phish (who, by covering the band’s Waiting for Columbus, helped the band gain a younger following),The Byrds, Bob Dylan, Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, Carly Simon, Sam Bush, John Lee Hooker, Widespread Panic, Leftover Salmon (for whom Payne produced an album), and Phil Lesh.
Little Feat and Phil Lesh celebrate a beer-soaked reunion at the upcoming Telluride Blues & Brews Festival, Friday, September 14 – Sunday, September 16, where the two heavyweights headline along with Gov’t Mule, and The B-52s.
Though they had all the trappings of a southern-friend blues band, Little Feat has never marched to anyone else’s drum. The group has always been wildly eccentric and eclectic, weaving together strains of blues, r & b, country, gospel, soul, funk, boogie, jazz fusion, and old time rock ‘n roll to create a freewheeling fusion of California rock and Dixie-inflected funk-boogie. The hybrid is truly Little Feat’s own home brew.
Payne sums up this way:
“…a band that is born half-way between Frank Zappa and the world’s best country truck-driving song is clearly going to cover lots of ground.”
At Blues & Brews, however, Little Feat is guaranteed to showcase its latest (studio) and one of its greatest (according to the critics who are tripping over their superlatives) releases, Rooster Rag, the sextet’s 16th recording. And despite the band’s long history, it is an album of firsts. The first to introduce drummer Gabriel Ford, replacing founding member Richie Hayward following his passing in 2010. The collection is also the first since the departure of singer Shaun Murphy, who spent 15 years with the ensemble. (She left in 2009.) Additionally, Rooster Rag welcomes the arrival of Robert Hunter, longtime lyricist for the Grateful Dead, who teamed up with Payne, co-writing four of the album’s 12 cuts. Rooster Rag is wall to wall soul, blues, funk and frolic. It is soaked with naughty double entendre. Lots of winks is a classic Feat.
The genesis of Little Feat begins with Zappa. That’s for sure. What happened exactly is about as certain as mountain weather.
One version of the story has it that George showed Zappa his song “Willin'” and Zappa fired him from the Mothers because he felt George was too talented to be a member of his or anyone else’s band. He should form a group of his own. A second version is that Zappa fired him because he was pissed off that George played a 15-minute guitar solo – with his amplifier off. The third version of the origins tale has it that Zappa fired him because “Willin'” contains drug references (“weed, whites and wine”).
What is for sure true is that idiosyncratic George, now foot loose and fancy free, connected with keyboard master Payne, plus drummer Richie Hayward and bassist Roy Estrada and Zappa helped get the new band a record deal with Warner Bros, who would produce 12 of their 16 albums.
(Little Feat’s first two albums received universal raves and “Willin'” became a standard further popularized by Ronstadt on her album Heart Like a Wheel.)
As American as apple pie and rock ‘n roll itself, Little Feat in all its incarnations remains a group that transcends boundaries – and time. Feat is a lasting fixture on America’s musical landscape.
To learn more, click the “play” button and listen to my chat with the iconic Bill Payne.