Artist: Little Feat

Feats Don’t Fail Me Now – Little Feat

Little Feat is an American rock band formed by singer-songwriter, lead vocalist and guitarist Lowell George and keyboardist Bill Payne in 1969 in Los Angeles.

Although the band has undergone several changes in its lineup, the music remains an eclectic blend of rock and roll, blues, country, folk, R&B, funk and jazz fusion influences, with the vast majority of the songs they perform being written by the band members-past and present.

Lowell George met Bill Payne when George was a member of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention. Payne had auditioned for the Mothers, but had not joined. They formed Little Feat along with former Mothers’ bassist Roy Estrada and drummer Richie Hayward from George’s previous band, the Factory. The name of the band came from a comment made by Mothers’ drummer Jimmy Carl Black about Lowell’s “little feet.” The spelling of “feat” was an homage to The Beatles.

There are three legends about the genesis of Little Feat. One has it that George showed Zappa his song “Willin’,” and that Zappa fired him from the Mothers of Invention, because he felt that George was too talented to merely be a member of his band, and told him he ought to go away and form his own band. The second version has Zappa firing him for playing a 15 minute guitar solo-with his amplifier off. The third version says that Zappa fired him because “Willin'” contains drug references (“weed, whites and wine”). George often introduced the song as the reason he was asked to leave the band. On Oct. 18, 1975 at the Auditorium Theater in Rochester New York while introducing the song, George comments that he was asked to leave the band for “writing a song about dope”.

In any version, Zappa was instrumental in getting George and his new band a record contract. When “Willin'” was recorded for the Little Feat album, George hurt his hand in an accident with a model airplane, so Ry Cooder sat in and played the song’s slide part. Lowell’s accident is referenced on the cover art of the band’s 1996 album Under the Radar. “Willin'” was re-recorded (this time with Lowell playing) on Little Feat’s second album Sailin’ Shoes, which was also the first Little Feat album to include cover art by Neon Park, who had painted the cover for Zappa’s Weasels Ripped My Flesh.

The first two albums received nearly universal critical acclaim, and “Willin'” became a standard, subsequently popularized by its inclusion on Linda Ronstadt’s album Heart Like a Wheel.

Lack of commercial success led, however, to the band splitting up, with Estrada leaving to join Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band. In 1972 Little Feat reformed, with bassist Kenny Gradney replacing Estrada. The band also added a second guitarist, Paul Barrere, who had known George since they attended Hollywood High School in California, and percussionist Sam Clayton. Both Barrere and Clayton added vocals on many songs, although all the band members provided backing vocals in various tunes.

This new lineup radically altered the band’s sound, leaning toward New Orleans funk. The group went on to record Dixie Chicken (1973)-one of the band’s most popular albums, which incorporated New Orleans musical influences and styles)-as well as Feats Don’t Fail Me Now (1974), which was a studio-recorded attempt to capture some of the energy of their live shows. (The name of the latter album pays homage to the Fats Waller song.) An interesting recording in this period is the collaboration of Payne, Gradney, Barrere, Clayton and George (credited as George Lowell) with jazz drummer Chico Hamilton on the Stax album “Chico the Master”, which is a strong showcase for the band’s leanings toward funk and R&B.

The release of The Last Record Album in 1975 signaled another change in the Little Feat sound, with Barrere and Payne developing an interest in jazz-rock. Prior to the recording of The Last Record Album, drummer Richie Hayward had a motorcycle accident and the liner to the LP release of The Last Record Album was decorated with copies of his many hospital bills. Also present was evidence of a late change to the running order of tracks. The lyrics for Paul Barrere’s song “Hi Roller” were printed on the sleeve, but scored out, and the words “maybe next time” scrawled over them. Sure enough, “Hi Roller” was the first track on the subsequent album Time Loves a Hero.

Lowell George continued to produce the albums, but his songwriting contribution diminished as the group moved into jazz fusion, a style in which he had little interest. In August 1977, Little Feat recorded a live album from gigs at the Rainbow Theatre in London and Lisner Auditorium in Washington, DC. Waiting for Columbus is considered by many rock music critics to be one of the best live albums of all time, despite the fact that significant portions of George’s vocals and slide work were in fact over-dubbed later in the studio.[2] It was released in 1978, by which time it had become apparent that Lowell George’s interest in the band was waning, as was his health.

After Time Loves A Hero and before the Down on the Farm sessions, Little Feat were used as the backing band for Robert Palmer’s album Pressure Drop, which featured his cover version of Lowell’s song “Trouble.”

George did some work on what would eventually become Down on the Farm but then declared that Little Feat had disbanded. In an interview with Bill Flanagan (for the book Written In My Soul) conducted eleven days before his death, George made it clear that he felt the demise of Little Feat was due to his having allowed the band to be run democratically, with the result that Payne and, to a lesser extent, Barrère, had a presence as songwriters and in production which was disproportionate to their abilities. George was particularly scathing about Payne’s attempts at jazz/fusion, citing an instance when Payne jammed with Weather Report on a TV show and dropped “into one of his ‘Day at the Dog Races’. I just got out of there as fast as I could. It was embarrassing”. In the same interview, George stated that he planned to reunite Little Feat without Payne and Barrère.

At this time Warner Brothers released George’s only solo album Thanks, I’ll Eat It Here for which he had signed a contract in 1975. The album was mostly a collection of cover versions of other people’s songs that George had been working on as a side project for several years and, in his biography of Lowell George ‘Rock And Roll Doctor’, Mark Brend states that George had hinted he only signed the solo contract in order to obtain funds to finance Little Feat (and Bill Flanagan states in Written In My Soul that George “didn’t want his audience to assume a collection of other people’s material marked the direction of Lowell George’s solo career”).

While touring in support of his solo album in June 1979, at the age of 34, George was found dead in his hotel room in Arlington, Virginia. An autopsy determined the cause of death was a heart attack, although it is considered likely that George’s excess weight, (formerly chronic) drug usage, and the strain of touring contributed to his condition.

Lowell George was respected for his idiosyncratic genius, for crafting sophisticated melodies and lyrics; writing memorable songs, and for his high production standards. He is also remembered for his exuberant, unique slide style, which featured sustained, ringing legato lines.

The surviving members finished and released Down on the Farm before disbanding in 1979. A subsequent retrospective double album compilation of rare outtakes and live tracks, Hoy-Hoy!, was released in 1981. The Hank Williams song “Lonesome Whistle” is covered on the album.

Paul Barrere, Sam Clayton, Kenny Gradney and Richie Hayward performed several shows as Feats in 1981 and 1982.

In August 2009, Richie Hayward announced that he had recently been diagnosed with a severe liver disease and would not be at work indefinitely. A benefit concert was organised and a website created where fans unable to attend could donate towards his treatment costs. Little Feat have announced that until Hayward is able to rejoin them, their drum technician Gabe Ford will take his place.

Little Feat confirmed on their website that Hayward is suffering from liver cancer.

Hayward is recently married and living on Vancouver Island B.C. His liver cancer is in remission and he is waiting on a liver transplant. Sunday July 11, 2010 Little Feat played at Vancouver Island Music Fest, Hayward was slated to play just a couple of tunes, but once he sat behind his kit, he finished out the night, playing fantastic, and really filling out that Little Feat sound.

Feats Don’t Fail Me Now


Your daddy says I’m no good
Your momma says keep away
I got to tell you truthful girl
You can never make me stay

I got something
Up and down this coast
I bet you my last dollar girl
I can love your love the most

Don’t the sunrise look so pretty
Never such a sight
Like a rollin’ into New York City
With the skyline in the morning light

Roll right through the night, roll
Roll right through the night, I said roll

Semi-smokin’ mama
You got to give me some
I heard you got the biggest, hmm
The biggest truck in town

Right on through to Baltimore
You got to love me now
I got to do me gently
Well, it’s feats don’t fail me now, don’t fail me
Feats don’t fail me now, don’t fail me

Don’t the sunrise look so pretty
Never such a sight
Like a rollin’ into New York City
With the skyline in the morning light

Roll right through the night, I said roll
Roll right through the night
Roll right through the night

  • Audio from the 1996 album, Live From Neon Park: