In honor of the Late, Great Paul Barrere, we dig back into the catalog of this great American band
Following the premature death of Little Feat’s chief architect Lowell George from a cocaine-charged heart attack, Paul Barrere stepped into the role of the band’s primary guitar slinger.
Indeed, it was no small challenge considering that George’s formidable presence as singer, songwriter and lead guitarist had imbued such an indelible mark on the band’s overall identity. Yet even at the outset, Barrere managed to accomplish that — ahem — feat which enabled the band to continue and not only survive, but actually thrive in the aftermath of George’s passing.
Not that Little Feat always got their due — while certain albums are rightfully remembered as genuine American classics — Sailin’ Shoes, Dixie Chicken, Time Loves a Hero, and Feats Don’t Fail Me Now in particular — other efforts are inexplicably overlooked.
With Barrere’s recent passing, we figured it was an apt to shine the light back on those Feat efforts that are well worthy of recognition, even in hindsight. All add emphasis to a powerful legacy, one that belongs to Barrere as much as it does to the band overall.
Offering the first hints of Little Feat’s trademark sound — a combination of greasy funk, sturdy R&B, primal rock, and a crisp country croon, Little Feat is often overlooked whenever pundits retrace the band’s trajectory. Yet it was a stirring first step, one that demonstrated all the verve and versatility that they would become known for a short time later. Several songs stand out — the spunky “Strawberry Flats,” the tender “Truck Stop Girl” and the gutbucket read of the blues standards “Forty-Four Blues” and “How Many More Years” in particular — but no one track in the whole of their canon is as enduring George’s classic “Willin’,” a definitive road song that would become one of the most covered offerings of their classic catalog. With George’s shimmering bottleneck guitar at the fore, it’s a sparse read, but one that defines the group as much as any other.
Although given a somewhat curious title that the unsuspecting might have misinterpreted as a death knell, The Last Record Album showed the band was nevertheless in fine form. Here again, the band’s songwriting prowess was well represented by the supple and seductive “All That You Dream,” a co-composition from Barrere and keyboardist Bill Payne, George’s sobering and sensitive “Long Distance Love” and the various examples of Feat’s solid pacing and assertive rhythms — “Down Below the Borderline,” “One Love Stand” and “Day or Night.” Although it’s only eight songs long, it’s as definitive an album as any in their classic catalog.
An odds and sods collection released two years after the band’s initial break-up in 1979, Hoy Hoy isn’t so much an encapsulation as it is a reminder of the band’s extraordinary diversity. Although Little Feat has had ample live albums released throughout their lengthy tenure, Hoy Hoy is far more than a concert collection given the fact that it also includes outtakes, demos and various quirky covers. A handful of songs come from earlier albums, but this is hardly a true anthology given its array of otherwise obscure offerings. Nevertheless, it deserves inclusion in any true Feat fan’s collection, simply by virtue of the fact it boasts so many interesting and otherwise unavailable selections.
The first studio album issued in the aftermath of Lowell George’s untimely passing, this was the first to feature Craig Fuller, George’s tentative replacement, and guitarist Fred Tackett, who would remain a mainstay in the years to come. Fuller–a veteran of Pure Prairie League and a handful of ad hoc collaborations–wrote eight of the album’s ten tracks, not only a bold move by a new member attempting to fill such massive shoes, but also a clear sign of the confidence given him by his new compadres. They were all well rewarded; indeed, the music retains the upbeat, effusive sound that characterized the classic Feat albums early on. George Massenburg and Bill Payne’s co-production efforts substitute a bit of polish for the down home designs that marked their earlier efforts, but it’s never a deterrent. In fact, it serves to remind the fan faithful that even despite the loss of the seemingly irreplaceable Lowell George, Feats were still clearly capable of moving forward without fear of faltering .
Marking the tenth anniversary of Little Feat’s reconvening in 1988, the then-current line up that included Barrere, Tackett, Payne, percussionist Sam Clayton, bassist Kenny Gradney, drummer Richie Hayward, and recent arrival and dominant force, vocalist Shaun Murphy, proved themselves to be as formidable as ever. Although their profile had diminished considerably in later years, it was clear that the band were as determined as ever to retain their potent presence. While several songs boasted Feat’s signature spunk and spirit, other offerings — “Eden’s Wall,” “Under the Radar,” “Vale of Tears,” and “A Distant Thunder” in particular — demonstrated a marked maturity in their delivery, one that promised, for better or worse, to bring them closer to the mainstream. Although it can’t exactly be called an extraordinary album, Under the Radar is a credible effort regardless and a sign that even in their new incarnation, Little Feat was worthy being called an American classic.
Little Feat Live at the Rainbow Theater in London, 1977