In 1969 songwriter Lowell George put together one of rock’s most eclectic bands to ever grace the genre. Over the course of 10 years, Little Feat would release swampy, blues-rock anthems, pensive acoustic ballads, and down-home country barn burners. The expanse of their work was boundless, never conforming to any genre just because that was industry standard. By 1979, with the departure of George, the band reinvented their sound into a more polished, funky style and continued to put out albums adored by fans across the world.
One of music’s most distinctive groups who got the attention of everyone from Frank Zappa to Jimmy Page, we break down Little Feats’ best songs and the stories behind their most popular tracks.
12. Feats Don’t Fail Me Now
Dip your toe into the swampy waters of “Little Feat” music with ‘Feats, Don’t Fail Me Now,’ a groovy track featuring tight band work and leader Lowell George’s soaring vocals. Popular throughout the ‘70s for bringing their own style of southern rock to the table, the group combined genres like swamp rock, blues, and country to produce a truly distinctive sound. This playfully named title track is featured on their fourth album which notably got the attention of legendary music writer Colin Larkin, who included it on his authoritative list of “All Time Top 1,000 Albums.”
11. Two Trains
Frontman Lowell George was such a visionary, the legend goes that experimental music icon Frank Zappa “fired” him from his band, The Mothers of Invention, because he saw his potential in leading the charge of his own group. Unsurprisingly, Zappa’s estimation was right, and it’s apparent with this lesser-known Little Feat track. You can’t listen to part of ‘Two Trains.’ Its tight, effortless groove and George’s smooth, just-twangy-enough vocal performance beckons you to stay for the entire performance. The slightly psychedelic undercurrent and authoritative horn work only add to the song’s ability to seduce. The fun track is featured on their most popular album which aided in so much of their legend, Dixie Chicken.
10. Time Loves a Hero
After several years of playing together, the different musical personalities of the group caused a disconnect between band members, especially George. Known for experimenting with different grooves, sounds, and styles, their ‘77 album Time Loves a Hero had a distinctive jazz feel throughout much of it, which George didn’t feel was a proper representation of the vision he had for Little Feat. Despite this, the boys still managed to record one heck of an album, with the song’s title track an especially enjoyable addition. A syncopated riff holds down the rhythm of the song and the band’s harmonies are just as strong as ever.
9. Rock and Roll Doctor
As tensions increased between bandmates, George turned to good friend Martin Kibbee for collaborative efforts. The two went to high school together and spent their early days playing in a garage-style band. ‘Rock and Roll Doctor’ is one of many tunes written alongside Kibbee and it showcases both songwriters’ innovative abilities. The interesting groove behind the free-wheeling song lies in George’s recording methods, which mirrored Frank Zappa’s at times given the two played together before George formed Little Feat. The band leader would often “splice” tapes together in the recording studio to experiment with songs. If something didn’t sound right, he’d hand it to someone else to “smooth over.” This sometimes resulted in half measures, which gave some of their songs a distinct choppy feel. Though this resulted in a lack of commercial airplay because people couldn’t simply bop their heads along to the beat, it created a one-of-a-kind style present only in Little Feat’s repertoire, though other groups have tried to emulate it because it’s so enigmatic.
8. Sailin’ Shoes
An eclectic, swampy tune that’s both stripped down and harmony-heavy, ‘Sailin’ Shoes’ is the title track to Little Feat’s second album. Surreal lyrics power much of the languid track, and its slow churn makes it all the more down-home-country in style. The band’s second album marked a musical shift, which happened several times over, and featured the musicians focusing on a twangy, southern push in the studio that made them especially hard to categorize. Their exploratory tendencies in the studio worked in their favor, and their follow up album to their debut self-titled record produced several of their most enduring tracks. Fellow musician Elvis Costello even ranked Sailin’ Shoes as one of his “must-have albums” on hand to listen to.
7. Long Distance Love
A standout track on their The Last Record Album, ‘Long Distance Love’ is another George-penned track hailed by critics as “beautiful,” and as essential listening for any Little Feat fan. The album as a whole had less commercial success than the others, and by this time tensions were running high in the band. Despite this, George was able to continue penning some of the group’s most adored tunes.
6. Spanish Moon
A Lowell George masterpiece, ‘Spanish Moon’ is one of the songwriter’s most creative pieces ever tackled in the studio. Spanish moon is a fictional dive bar, concocted entirely from George’s imagination. To supplement the vice-driven story of the song, he added in a funky rhythm and a horn section recorded by The Tower of Power group, who was on the same label as The Feats at the time. To really dig into the vibe of the song, the band employed the efforts of legendary Beach Boys producer Van Dyke Parks. ‘Spanish Moon’ remained the singular track he’d produce for the band due to his hefty price tag. The swampy, psychedelic track remains both a fan-favorite and favorite among Feat bandmates even today.
5. Fat Man in the Bathtub
Buckle up for one wild ride with ‘Fat Man In The Bathtub.’ The sexually-charged crowd pleaser oozes New Orleans inspired rhythm right out of the French Quarter. Originally on their popular Dixie Chicken album, the band re-released the track with vocals by Paul Barrere after frontman Lowell George’s untimely passing in 1979. It’s long been a staple in their live sets, and its raucous style sounds like the band was raised on the Louisiana bayou. Surprisingly, like rocker John Fogerty from Creedence Clearwater Revival, even though George produced some of the genre’s most swampy hits to date with Little Feat, he hailed from Los Angeles, California.
4. Rad Gumbo
One of The Feats’ later releases, ‘Rad Gumbo’ offers up a sizable helping of blues boogie-woogie. The fast-paced tune once again features New Orleans inspired stylings, but the polished sound and Barrere vocals remind fans there’s a before-Lowell and after-Lowell break in the chain of Feats discography. Despite the updated sound (critics weren’t crazy about the album as a whole the song was featured on, Representing the Mambo), fans took to the track and the band has kept the song alive on set lists since its 1990 debut. The song is even the title of a lengthy compilation record for the band that leans heavily on their Lowell-fronted days.
3. Roll Um Easy
A stirring, stripped down gem from the brilliant mind of George is found in ‘Roll Um Easy.’ Another Feats track speaking to life on the road, the songwriter utilized only his voice, acoustic guitar, and slide for the recording. Vocalist Danny Hutton of Three Dog Night happened to find George in the studio all alone the night this was being recorded. The Feats frontman invited him in the studio and before Hutton knew it, they were harmonizing on the song’s chorus. Though Hutton always laments his delivery because his vocal cords were tired from being on the road, the raspy, raw quality of the recording goes perfectly with the song’s nostalgic, near-mournful story.
2. Dixie Chicken
One of the group’s signature tunes, this Kibbee-George-written track tells the story of a man regaling a group of fellows at a bar about just meeting the love of his life, only to find out they’re well acquainted with his seductress as well. The cheeky story is marked by a particularly “dixieland” style running throughout the entire album. The title track to the record, ‘Dixie Chicken’ represented a more down-home, Louisiana vibe than their previously explored blues-rock fusion. A mainstay in the group’s repertoire, blues slide queen Bonnie Raitt also laid down harmony vocals on the single.
A tune about the free-roaming life of a trucker, though Little Feat had some success with ‘Willin’’ when they released it, when country-rock singer Linda Ronstadt got hold of it, she turned it into a smash hit. With her help, the single was solidified in The Feats’ musical legacy. As more and more people flocked to their concerts because of their amazing live performances, ‘Willin’’ remained a part of each show. The tune was even around during George’s days with Zappa and his band (Frank was reportedly a fan of the track but didn’t want to record it himself because of drug references). The acoustic-based track would go on to become the song synonymous with the breadth and depth of the amazing body of work George left behind.