Little Feat: Time Loves A Hero (Relix Revisited)
Although they had enough contacts in the music business between them to land a record deal, Little Feat decided to rehearse for a year or so before making a record. Finally, they signed with Warner Brothers and began work on 1971’s Little Feat, produced by Russ Titelman. Apparently band and producer never hit it off, but despite its flaws the debut album is fondly recalled by many. It was similar in many ways to the twisted blues being offered at the time by Captain Beefheart and Ry Cooder; when George sliced his hand open while working on a model airplane and was unable to finish up the record, which included “Willin’” (as did the second album and albums by Seatrain, Commander Cody and Linda Ronstadt).
A string of critically-acclaimed albums followed— Sailin’ Shoes, Dixie Children, Feats Don’t Fail Me Now, others—and there were changes along the way. Roy Estrada exited after the second album in 1973 and George took the opportunity to not only replace him (with Kenny Gradney) but to induct two other musicians into the lineup: percussionist Sam Clayton and second guitarist Paul Barrere.
Barrere, according to legend, had spent time in jail, and his input into the band was evident as early as his first appearance with them on 1973’s Dixie Chicken. Although the album had some weak cuts, it also boasted some gems, not the least of which was the title cut, which remains a favorite today.
Feats Don’t Fail Me Now, released in 1974, was produced by Lowell George (as was Dixie Chicken, Sailin’ Shoes had been produced by future Van Halen producer Ted Templeman). It features the now-standard “Rock and Roll Doctor” and came to a grand climax with a 10-minute jam of “Cold, Cold, Cold” and “Tripe Face Boogie,” two others still in the band’s repertoire. Their persistence had finally paid off: the album rose to #36 in the Billboard charts. And by then, Little Feat had amassed a reputation as one of the hottest live American rock ‘n’ roll bands going.
By 1975, Little Feat was quite possibly at its performance peak, but there were cracks in the seam that fans weren’t seeing. By giving up some of the writing chores to others in the band, George was allowing Little Feat to become more of a democracy but he was also losing his grip on the creative direction his band—and at the time they all agreed it was Lowell George’s band—was taking. The Last Record Album, released in 1975, was not the band’s final album; that was meant to be an in-joke of some sort. But in some ways it was the beginning of the end for Little Feat.
Time Loves A Hero, a 1977 album was produced by Templeman and was, like most of Feat’s recorded work, imperfect, especially in comparison to the band’s live strengths. And anyone who hadn’t noticed the tension within the band before its release should have gotten the hint when the album closed with a six-minute instrumental, “Day At The Dog Races,” from which Lowell George took a vacation saying he wanted nothing to do with the track.
Finally, in 1978, Little Feat released a live album, something their fans had been demanding for years. Because Little Feat was a prime live band, Waiting For Columbus is a fine live album, although one can only imagine what would have resulted it they’d used tapes recorded about three years earlier. The double-record set became Feat’s highest-charting record, reaching #18, and their only gold album. And that’s when Little Feat broke up.
It was never really made official, but Little Feat ceased to exist as a band by the beginning of 1979. In the early summer of that year, George did his solo gig, Payne and Barrere went out on the road as well, backing up Nicolette Larson.
Thanks I’ll Eat It Here was disappointing in light of the magic George had made with Feat. It featured little of his trademark guitar and too many contributions of other musicians, on lame cover songs. Whether Lowell George could have followed it up with something more representative of his talents can never be known, of course. He died June 29, 1979 in Arlington, Virginia, of a massive heart attack brought on by excessive weight and too much fun. The band was devastated.
“I was actually pissed off,” is how Payne remembers feeling. “Angry.” Barrere adds. “I didn’t know what to think. You go through confusion and anger and you wonder why something wasn’t done. You always think, was there something I could’ve done?”
What they did was to put together a benefit concert at the L.A. Forum for George’s wife and children; George had never taken out life insurance. They invited along Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Nicolette Larson and the Tower of Power horns and just played their hearts out for three hours. Only after it was over did the reality of George’s death hit Barrere. “I didn’t stop crying for 45 minute,” he says. “It was like a big release, and I finally realized that the cat was gone.” Barrere also realized that it could have been him. ‘I was heavily into drugs and alcohol myself at the time and from that point on I went even deeper over the edge. You would think that something like that would knock you in the other direction but it didn’t. It took me a while before I realized I was killing myself too.”
After that final goodbye, the members of Little Feat went off on their own for nine years. Payne piled up copious amounts of session and live work, playing with everyone from Bob Seger to Toto to Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Go’s. Barrere played with the bands Chicken Legs and the Bluesbusters. He made two albums with the latter and two under his own name. Hayward, Clayton and Gradney also had no trouble finding artists who wanted to borrow their chops. Then came their first gigs—at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival last year, to a wild reception. Then came Let It Roll. Little Feat was back. Bigger than they ever were.
”It’s possible that we could’ve put out this album and everyone would’ve said, ‘Ah forget it,’” muses Payne now. “But they didn’t. I think if they had we might’ve given up. But the feeling was that if we put out something we were proud of, we couldn’t lose.”
And the feeling was right.
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