Little Feat


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Ranking among the most original and humorous innovators of roots-rock, Little Feat revisited blues, gospel, country, boogie, soul, funk, rhythm'n'blues and rock'n'roll on albums such as Sailin' Shoes (1972), Dixie Chicken (1973) and Feats Don't Fail Me Now (1974), and detailed them with bizarre instrumental parts.
(Text translated by Giovanni Radaelli)

Little Feat left the avant-garde groups in Los Angeles but were successful in bringing up a new sound, which was an intelligent and ironical revision of roots-rock, in a period where rock was turning in the direction of tradition. Little Feat owned a very peculiar ability in mixing blues, country, soul, funk and rock that other bands would have exploited for personal gain, while this band preferred to preserve in an "alternative" form. Their sound was distinguishable for their instrumental parts which were always original and bizarre, even if they werenít lengthy jams. Little Feat were a bridge between the Bandís generation and the Doobie Brotherís one.

Lowell George was the leader of Factory, a folk-rock band whose 1965 repertoire was later published in Lightning Rod Man (Bizarre, 1993) and then he had played with his former schoolmate Frank Zappa and with Standells.

Little Feat formed in 1970 in Los Angeles and had Lowell George as the lead vocal and guitar player; Billy Payne was the keyboardist, Rich Hayward (formerly in Fraternity Of Man, a bizarre blues-rock formed by Elliot Ingber, who played for Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart) the drummer and Roy Estrada (ex Frank Zappa) the bass player.

Little Feat (Warner, 1971), was still linked to the standards of 1960s "blues revival" (Truck Stop Girl, the lenghty Fortyfour Blues). Hamburger Midnight, Snakes And Everything and the country-psychedelic ballad Willin' (their first classic) anticipated the unpredictable sound later displayed in their albums.

Sailiní Shoes (Warner, 1972) highlighted the musical characters of George and Payne. The first one wrote the massive part of their material, with a peculiar use of his slide guitar, while the latter introduced gospel, soul and jazz elements in these songs. Their unconventional creativity handles their songs always in a different way. Together with rural , relaxing and cadenced songs like Williní and the psychedelic blues of Cold Cold Cold, other songs like Triple Face Boogie and Teenage Nervous Breakdown displayed a brilliant, nearly ferocious, nervousness, while grotesque surrealism is the main feature of both Apolitical Blues and the crazy blues of Sailiní Shoes. This album is an excellent mixture of gospel, soul, blues, boogie, country and rock and eventually itís very unitary in and for his mad eclecticism.

Because of its commercial flop, Estrada left the band. A tougher line-up recorded Dixie Chicken (Warner, 1973), who was influenced by New Orleans rhythm & blues, and remains their best and most articulate effort. George and Payne were in their artistic zenith and the band, now a sextet, filled and fulfilled the rest. Kiss It Off, a strange combinations of congas and synthesizers, the instrumental LaFayette Railroad, the syncopated rag of Dixie Chicken, the funny Fat Man In The Bathtub are the best continuations of Sailiní Shoesí non-sense while Two Trains is the classic.

Little Featís form is clear in the fluid and elegant Feats Don't Fail Me Now (Warner, 1974) where Payne was clearly beginning to take the control and his funkier sound improved their commercial strength. Skin It Back, Rock And Roll Doctor, Oh Atlanta, the frenetic gospel of Feats seemed too sophisticated for an hippie band like them. A rearranged Triple Face Boogie, for congas and organ, is the logorrheic medley which consecrates the leaderís neurosis.

From the following album on, George was gradually marginalized by Payne and Paul Barrere, their new guitar player. Georgeís contribution is still evident in The Last Record Album (Warner, 1975) where he wrote the excellent Down Below The Borderline e Long Distance Love even if the most successful songs were Day Or Night e All That You Dream; Time Loves A Hero (Warner, 1977) featured a more intense use of electronic keyboards (Old Folks Boogie), while the sound was more similar to jazz-rock. Their last album Down On the Farm is paradoxically dominated by George (Kokomo, Six Feet Of Snow, Be One Now). This album was released after Little Feat was disbanded by George himself in April, 1979.

Before his premature death (caused by an heart attack in June of 1979), Lowell George succeeded in recording one more album, as a soloist: Thank Iíll Eat Here (Warner, 1979) where he excessively trusted the strength of songs written by others.

I Little Feat uscirono dai circoli d'avanguardia di Los Angeles ma si imposero con un sound che era un'intelligente e ironica revisione del roots-rock in un'era in cui tutta la musica rock stava virando verso la tradizione. I Little Feat avevano un tocco unico nel fondere blues, country, soul, funk e rock, un tocco che altri avrebbero trasformato in moneta sonante ma che loro preferirono conservare in formato "alternativo". A distinguerli erano soprattutto le parti strumentali che, pur non essendo jam estese, erano sempre originali e bizzarre. Furono per molti versi il ponte fra la generazione della Band e la generazione dei Doobie Brothers.

Lowell George era stato il leader dei Factory, un gruppo di folk-rock del 1965 il cui repertorio verra` pubblicato su Lighning Rod Man (Bizarre, 1993), e poi aveva suonato con Frank Zappa (di cui era stato compagno di scuola) e con gli Standells.

I Little Feat si formarono nel 1970 a Los Angeles con Lowell George al canto e alla chitarra, Billy Payne alle tastiere, Richard Hayward alla batteria (ex Fraternity of Man, stravagante formazione di blues-rock costituita da Elliot Ingber, un ex Captain Beefheart) e Roy Estrada al basso (ex Frank Zappa),

Little Feat (Warner, 1971) era ancora legato agli schemi del "blues revival" degli anni '60 (Truck Stop Girl, il lungo Fortyfour Blues). Ad anticipare il sound bislacco del futuro sono soprattutto Hamburger Midnight, Snakes And Everything e la ballata country-pischedelica Willin', loro primo classico.

Fu Sailin' Shoes (Warner, 1972) a mettere propriamente in luce le due personalita` artistiche di George e di Payne. Il primo componeva gran parte del materiale e faceva un uso eterodosso della chitarra slide. Il secondo deliziava con tocchi gospel, soul e jazz. L'inventiva sbrigliata colora ogni brano in un modo diverso. Accanto a canzoni rurali, rilassanti e cadenzate, alla Willin', si levano volute di blues psichedelico, come in Cold Cold Cold, serpeggia nervosismo brillante, al limite della ferocia, come nel Triple Face Boogie e in Teenage Nervous Breakdown, folleggia un surrealismo grottesco, come nello strascicato Apolitical Blues, e nel blues non meno demenziale di Sailin' Shoes. L'album fonde mirabilmente elementi di gospel, soul, blues, boogie, country e rock, risultando unitario pur nel suo folle eclettismo.

A causa dell'insuccesso commerciale, Estrada abbandono` il complesso. Una formazione piu` agguerrita registro` Dixie Chicken (Warner, 1973), album influenzato dal rhythm and blues di New Orleans e destinato a rimanere il meglio congegnato della loro carriera. George e Payne erano al picco della loro arte e l'organico aumentato a sei elementi copriva tutti gli spiragli. Kiss It Off, strano gioco di congas e sintetizzatore, la strumentale LaFayette Railroad, il rag sincopato di Dixie Chicken, la buffa Fat Man In The Bathtub sono le migliori continuazioni del nonsense di Sailin' Shoes. Two Trains e` il classico del disco.

La forma dei Little Feat e` evidente su Feats Don't Fail Me Now (Warner, 1974), che scorre fluido ed elegante. Payne comincia a prendere il sopravvento, aumentando il potere commerciale del sound con vistosi ammiccamenti funky. Skin It Back, Rock And Roll Doctor, Oh Atlanta, il gospel esagitato di Feats sono canzoni anche troppo raffinate per un gruppo di vecchi hippies come loro. un rifacimento di Tripe Face Boogie per conga e organo e` il medley logorroico che consacra le nevrosi del leader.

I dischi successivi sono contrassegnati dalla progressiva emarginazione del leader ad opera del nuovo chitarrista Paul Barrere e di Payne.

Su The Last Record Album (Warner, 1975) George contribui` ancora le ottime Down Below The Borderline e Long Distance Love, ma le canzoni di successo furono Day Or Night e All That You Dream, Time Loves A Hero (Warner, 1977) accentua i tempi jazz-rock e gli arrangiamenti di tastiere elettroniche (Old Folks Boogie). Paradossalmente, George domina l'ultimo album, Down On The Farm (Warner, 1979), uscito postumo dopo che proprio lui aveva causato lo scioglimento (nell'aprile 1979). Sono sue infatti Kokomo, Six Feet Of Snow, Be One Now.

Lowell George fece in tempo a registrare il suo primo album solista, Thanks I'll Eat It Here (Warner, 1979), facendo troppo affidamento su canzoni altrui, prima di essere falciato da un infarto (giugno 1979).

Barrere and Payne reformed Little Feat with new singer Craig Fuller to record Let It Roll (Warner, 1988), that spawned the hit single Let It Roll, a frenzied disco dance. But Representing The Mambo (Warner, 1990), Shake Me Up (Warner, 1991), and Ain't Had Enough Fun (Warner, 1995) are mediocre attempts at reviving the legend.

Waiting for Columbus and As Time Goes By are Little Feat anthologies.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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