To truly understand Little Feat, one must understand their story and where better to go then to the one guy who has been there from the beginning, Billy Payne. Here, mostly in Bill's words, is the story of one of the most beloved American bands of the rock era - respected by their peers, adored by their fanbase and hailed by critics as much for their musical integrity as their musical talents.
A scattered mind from a restless youth...
Summer of '69 - phone calls from Isla Vista, near Santa Barbara, down to Los Angeles finding a receptive receptionist at Bizarre Records connects Bill Payne with Lowell George. Payne having spent too many nights on the beach is ready to land somewhere and begin an earnest journey into musical history. Lowell George and his accomplishments as writer and performer have pushed him from the confines of the Mothers of Invention - Frank Zappa's crew of finesse and madness - into what would be the saga of Little Feat. But wait … there is no rush here. Beginnings take time, unlike some endings that can come crashing down unexpectedly … but that is off in the very distant future, complete with re-birth and renewed vows of musical integrity … all off in the future and still very much unfolding.
'69 - the summer of lust, murder, men on the moon, chaos and disillusionment following the shitstorm of '68, brought out of young Lowell a song even Frank Zappa himself would not continence - "Willin'." With not so gentle prodding, Frank asked Lowell to form his own band. Through serendipity or spiritual resonance, possibly both, Payne and George connected that summer and began, with the likes of Iowan born drummist Richie Hayward (already in the grasp of Lowell's powers of persuasion a la the group The Factory) what would become a product of tenacious and uncompromising musical vision: Little Feat.
Songs were written, discarded, re-written. Dreams and plans fermented. Safe harbor was sought. Warner Brothers, an island of paradise amidst a sea of sharks and barracuda, seemed the proper destination. Lowell and Bill gave a private performance for Ted Templeman in Lenny Warnocker's office. With an acoustic guitar and upright piano they presented some eight or nine songs. The echoes are still reverberating.
From the casual encounter, came what would be a yield of some nine classic albums over ten years, each one a testament to Little Feat's voice given free reign.
The first album, "Little Feat," set the tone of eclecticism with such songs as "Strawberry Flats" (which Rolling Stone Magazine called incredible), "Hamburger Midnight," "Truck Stop Girl," and, of course, "Willin'." The legendary "Sailing Shoes," the second album, which brought in the signature artwork of Neon Park, is still ranked one of the classics. Lowell's talents as a tunesmith blossoming on the title track "Sailing Shoes," "Trouble," and "Cold Cold Cold," Bill and Richie contributing controlled frenticism with "Tripeface Boogie," Roy Estrada on bass, originally from the Mothers, punctuating the low end. Already a musician's musicians band.
In '72, all hell breaks loose - not for the last time - and we bid so long to Ray Estrada (off for a stint with Captain Beefheart) and a lengthy (still going strong) hello to Paul Barrere, soulful blues guitar and razor like wit, Kenny Gradney on bass, recent refugee from Delaney and Bonnie, who, on a bet, brought in his friend Sam Clayton, whose conga playing and joy of life were sorely needed. "Dixie Chicken" was the result of this union of talents and brought new life and fun (for awhile) to the Feat.
The harsher bi-products of growth soon brought division and rancor to the band in waves that threatened to wipe out any existence of camaraderie only to regain momentum and composure through the magic of the music they performed in concert and in the privacy of their beloved rehearsal hall environment. The power of the Feat's music overcame much in those days of confusion and verbal shoving matches.
It is time to move down time's tunnel at an accelerated pace. There is a long way to go.
Breakups, breakdowns, Lowell holding court in New Orleans standing shoulder to shoulder with Alan Toussaint, The Meters, whilst aiding and abetting Robert Palmer … Bill on Whirlwind Tours .. Doobie Brothers … and then Bonnie Raitt to recover in gentler surroundings .. Richie banished (for the time being) … everyone else in a tailspin but told it would all work out .. And it did! Baltimore, who's your friend? Hunt Valley … "Feats Don't Fail Me Now" … genius of George Massenburg … the birth of Inara George … Emmy Lou and Franni … D.C. welcomes with open arms … Oh Atlanta … Good Times … Europe and the feeling of fame … Stones on the side of the stage in Amsterdam … New York with Bob Dylan in the audience … what went up had to come down … The Last Record Album tug o' war, ripped tape on the floor, rhyme on your dime, all was not fine … Lowell asks for more help … "Time Loves a Hero" - or does it? (ask Bill and Paul) Lowell in trouble … how deep no one really knows and he ain't talkin' … reprieve from the concert stage … "Waiting for Columbus" as a new live recording icon … higher and higher and then the slow descending spiral … continued fine writing, musical left turns, competitive edge, non-stop questioning about the future, put off, put down, fed up, new direction, give it a rest … "Down on the Farm" when it all came crashing down … Richie hugs a rock while out for a spin on his bike, hospital beds and bad dreams … Lowell's solo tour with all the raves and then there was silence … shock and disbelief, compounded sorrow … a gathering of friends and fans at the Forum in LA to honor Lowell's passing … Hoy Hoy and farewell dear friend.
Six years and a lifetime later -
Jam at the Alley in North Hollywood … missing you … talk of reformation '86 … the deed is done in '87 following Bill and Fred's tour with Bob Seger where Shaun Murphy's acquaintance is made … Craig Lee Fuller fearlessly enters the picture along with long time friend and auxiliary Feat Fred Tackett and the journey begins again, Bill, Paul, Richie, Sam, Kenny, all accounted for … "Let It Roll" … Warner Bros … first show in ten years for Feat at Jazz Fest in New Orleans on the Riverboat President … tours, limelight, FEAT FEAT FEAT … Lucas Rance meets "Representing the Mambo" … Questions about Warner Brothers … Up the Morgan Creek without a paddle … "Shake Me Up" - the secret album … Craig Fuller has had enough of the road … Little Feat re-acquaints with Shaun Murphy - Look Out!! Finding a new home … Zoo … "Ain't Had Enough Fun" … tomorrow is forever, goodbye Neon, dear friend … took seventeen years to get back seventeen years from "Waiting for Columbus" to "Live from Neon Park" … another great album but lost in the shuffle of the biz … Zoo on the mat for the count of ten … what next?
Hunter, Grassroots, "Under the Radar"
Sometimes the stars align. Tim Bernett from Gold Mountain was sought out to manage the band and came through with flying colors. There was, however, another part of the puzzle that needed to be answered. Thanks to Hunter S. Thompson and the fan base things finally started to happen. Payne reads "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72" and finds that answer on how to form a grassroots movement. In an unprecedented move goes on the internet to explain to the fans why he needs their help to keep Little Feat afloat. The response is more than he could have hoped for. From the beginnings of this effort have come what could very well be the blueprint for bands in the future to connect with their fanbase.
Jay Herbst heads the National Grassroots effort for the band, which includes eleven regional coordinators working with the U.S. and Canada with Tony Stott, head of International. A dedicated base of fans (FeatFans) is the core of organized activities complemented by a list of thousands on their growing mailing list and the Hoy Hoy List, a forum located on the Feat website.
Little Feat also has its own radio show, The Little Feat Radio Hour, hosted by David Moss on the new World Radio Network. A fan magazine, Feat Prints, run by Linda Gibbon and Dick Bangum. A state of the art website-littlefeat.net - designed and run by web master Red Miller.
Recently, Tim Bernett made an introduction between Little Feat and Tom Linsky, president of CMC International Records, in what looks to be an exciting collaborative for the future for all concerned. They have also made the unprecedented move of offering to work with the Grassroots movement. "Under the Radar," Little Feat's latest release, is the focus of bringing awareness back to the largely neglected Feat audience of the last few years. "Under the Radar" which features such songs as the title track, "The Blues Don't Tell It All," "Eden's Wall," "Home Ground," and the first single "Loco Motives," released June 16, 1998. Already, through the hard work of both the Grassroots and CMC support, anticipation is running high on what America's premier band has come up with.
Where have they been? Under the radar, but not much longer