From the band’s website: “As strange as it sounds, the name Little Feat comes from the size of (co-founder) Lowell George’s feet. Guitarist Paul Barrere explains: “Lowell George had unusually little, fat feet and Jimmy Carl Black of The Mothers happened to make mention of them to Lowell with an expletive. Lowell deleted the expletive and the name was born with Feat instead of Feet, just like the Beatles. Neat huh?”
Lowell George*, in his day, was a well-respected musician who did it all – wrote, sang, played, produced, led a band. He did it all so well that someone once referred to him as the Orson Welles of rock.
And as you can ascertain from the above quote, he spent some of his formative years as a member of Frank Zappa‘s band, the Mothers of Invention. He is listed as rhythm guitar/vocals on both Weasels Ripped My Flesh and the live, You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, Vol. 5.
It was only a matter of time until the multitalented Arlington, VA-born George formed his own group. The first couple of Feat albums included Zappa’s bassist, Roy Estrada. Estrada left prior to Dixie Chicken to join Captain Beefheart’s band and was replaced by Kenny Gradney who is their bassist to this very day. Gradney had played previously with the ubiquitous Delaney and Bonnie.
Little Feat had been simmering for a while, somewhat under the radar, out there on the fringes, bubbling under the edges. The biggest radio hit they’d had thus far was a great George tune called “Willin,'” a song they apparently liked so much it’s on both their first and second albums. (The versions are slightly different. The tune has become somewhat of a standard and Linda Ronstadt famously covered it on her 1974 Heart Like a Wheel Album.)
But it was the 1973 album Dixie Chicken that, as much as anything, put Little Feat on the map. How to describe this album? Wikipedia refers to it as Southern rock, blues rock, roots rock, New Orleans R&B and swamp rock. Gumbo!
First up, the title track. (The Dixie Chicks got their name from this song.) If you happen to hear it on the radio, you will spend the next few days singing this to yourself:
If you’ll be my Dixie Chicken
I’ll be your Tennessee lamb
And we can walk together
Down in Dixieland
Down in Dixieland
I should note here that any slide guitar on this album is by Lowell George who was considered one of the best slide players ever. Bonnie Raitt was a major friend and fan of his and in fact, both she and Bonnie Bramlett sing backing vocals on this album. (George plays slide on one of Raitt’s albums.)
Next up, the soulful, bluesy, Allen Toussaint-penned “On Your Way Down.” I don’t know that George and Toussaint ever knew each other or worked together but Lowell was clearly influenced by Toussaint’s laid-back sound. And homespun philosophy:
The same people you misuse on your way up
You might meet up
On your way down
Exhibit C from this album – and rivaling my affection for the title song – is the funk-fest, “Fat Man in the Bathtub.” It features what is known as second-line drumming, a New Orleans style that plays polyrhythms off the main beat.
“That song. was one of my first experiments in second line,” drummer Richie Hayward said. “It began with that straight Bo Diddley thing you hear in the intro, and through the course of the tune, it changes feel about six times. They’re all at the same tempo, but they feel completely different.”
The song is more good, clean fun from Mr. Lowell, about a dude named Spotcheck Billy (not to be confused with Springsteen‘s Big Bones Billy) trying to get busy with a senorita named Juanita (not to be confused with Rosalita.):
Spotcheck Billy got down on his hands and knees
He said, “Hey mama, hey let me check your oil all right?”
She said “No, no honey, not tonight.
Come back Monday, come back Tuesday, and then I might”
Lowell George died in 1979 of a cocaine-induced drug overdose. Richie Hayward died in 2010. But the band continues to this day. If you’re looking for a really fine live album of this nasty jumbalaya, consider their 1978 album Waiting for Columbus. It’s got a couple of tunes from this album and they stretch out nicely on “Dixie Chicken.”
*I have almost no rock ‘n roll T-shirts but I do have one with Duane Allman on it. I wore it at the beach this past summer. Some guy, maybe 25 or so, working at a fast food joint saw it, told me his name was Lowell, parents named him for Mr. George. So, there’s that.