One of the more offbeat and interesting bands to emerge in the 1970s, Little Feat left a catalogue of memorable material and provided, in Lowell George, one of the decades finest American songwriters.
George’s early career with punk group The Standells and a brief 1970 stint with Frank Zappa‘s Mothers of Invention are of little importance though it was during this period that he wrote Willin’, a sardonic truck driver’s lament that would become the Little Feat anthem. Zappa encouraged George to go solo, and he did – taking Mothers bassist Roy Estrada with him.
An eponymous debut for Warner Brothers in 1970 revealed some fine blues and country playing, and despite a lack of company support Little Feat persevered reaching a creative peak on Sailin’ Shoes (1972), Dixie Chicken (1973) and Feats Don’t Fail Me Now (1974).
Lack of commercial success had persuaded the various band members to concentrate on sessions, George adding his slide guitar to John Cale’s Paris 1919 and Van Dyke Parks’ Rediscover America, while pianist Bill Payne assisted the early Doobie Brothers.
The group re-formed to play on a European showcase for Warners, together with The Doobies and capitalised on a healthy cult following to steal several shows from their touring partners. Thus reconstituted, the band finally earned some reward for their excellence with Their Last Record Album charting in Britain and America in 1975.
This success was tempered, however, by George’s ill-health. After contracting hepatitis, he was unable to fulfil touring schedules and the band functioned and developed without his idiosyncratic songwriting to guide them.
This enforced democracy resulted in a dilution of their strengths and led to unrest within the band. George was not happy with the jazzier departures of Time Loves A Hero (1976) and refused to play certain songs on stage.
After a rather drab double live album George pursued a solo career with more conviction, and his Thanks, I’ll Eat It Here (1978) was a clear return to old form.
Tragically, this rejuvenation was halted by his accidental drug overdose and death in an Arlington, Virginia, hotel room in June 1979.
In deference to him, the other Little Feat members agreed that without George there was no group and bowed out with Down on the Farm – parts of which were finished after his death.
Drummer Richie Hayward died in 2010.