I usually get befuddled looks from people when I mention Little Feat. I wouldn’t call them Criminally Underrated, but they are definitely underappreciated, especially these days. FM radio doesn’t have room for bands like Little Feat anymore, which is how I discovered them. (Or it was from reading Rolling Stone. My two main methods for discovering who the great acts of previous generations tend to blend together after a while.) I know I sought them out because I knew Jackson Browne was friends with Little Feat’s founder, lead singer, and guitarist Lowell George. Since Jackson Browne pretty much walked on water as far as I was concerned, I figured this Lowell George fellow couldn’t be too bad.
Not too bad is something of an understatement.
Little Feat had a loose, funky feeling to them. You got the feeling they were always just a little buzzed (not an unfair assumption, given the time). Their music was a little bit of everything–Country, Rock, Funk, Blues, etc. all thrown in and mixed together like gumbo. While they had a certain Southern flavor to their style, Little Feat was actually a California band. George and Bill Payne formed the band after George was booted from Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention (Payne had auditioned for the Mothers, but decided not to join). They were also one of those bands that was better live than in the studio, which sometimes made selling records a bit of a challenge. They were critically acclaimed, but commercially challenged. As their style veered more into Jazz fusion, Lowell George declared that Little Feat was over. It seems he didn’t like the new style his bandmates were experimenting with. His only solo album was a collection of covers, even though he was an excellent songwriter. While touring to support that album, George died from a heart attack at 34.
Little Feat stayed disbanded for a few years, but reunited in the late 80s. They even had a hit with “Hate to Lose Your Lovin’”. I really loved that song, but that was mostly because I hadn’t heard the sardonic and slinky “Dixie Chicken” (or “Oh, Atlanta” or “Willin’”, or any other of their best songs). This song just moves. It’s also one of the best examples of their sound. They were dynamic without being demanding. It was fun and danceable, with disarming lyrics about lost love and good times. This is the kind of music you listen to at a bar, hanging out with some of your best friends you just met.
I encourage anyone to go out and give Little Feat a try. If you’re not sure where to start, listen to their live album Waiting for Columbus. Recorded just before Lowell George quit, it features pretty much all of their best tunes just the way they were meant to be heard.