Saturday, July 5, 2014

Willin': The Story of Little Feat by Ben Fong-Torres

You may be familiar with the songs of Little Feat from the other artists that have performed them. Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, The Byrds, Robert Palmer and even Van Halen have covered Little Feat songs on their albums. Or you might actually know Little Feat's songs from their original albums, though they certainly weren't a band that sold tons of albums in their 1970s prime. They had a sound that bridged rock, R&B and New Orleans funk and while the quality of their work went down in their reunion in the wake of founder and guiding light Lowell George's death they still have a dedicated following.

Much of the focus of music writer Ben Fong-Torres' new biography of the band is (appropriately) on Lowell George, the unique frontman of the band (and the owner of the little feat of the band's moniker). George got his start playing with The Fraternity of Man, his own band The Factory and Frank Zappa's Mothers, from whom he escaped with bassist Roy Estrada in order to form his new band with drummer Richie Hayward and keyboardist Bill Payne. George had a large appetite for both food and drugs and between his size and his unique slide guitar style (played with a spark plug socket) he would end up being the center of the band's focus by fans and the media. Luckily he was a heck of a songwriter too, with a sound that moved beyond the traditional R&Besque sounds of similar groups.

Little Feat was signed to Warner Brothers and while their first couple of albums did not sell well, they were lucky to be signed to a label that would take time to develop artists, enabling them to tour and develop a bigger following during years to come. Unfortunately Lowell George died at the age of 34 due to heart failure brought on by excessive weight and drug use. The band broke up but reformed years later and has continued touring with different lead singers. To be honest, I skimmed this last section of the book since the band became a lot less interesting both musically and personality-wise in its later years.

The book is a fairly workmanlike read in parts but for those interested in the band, it serves a good purpose. Unfortunately, once George dies the book (and the band become a lot less interesting). I do think that the best way to judge this book is that it certainly made me want to go back and listen to Little Feat's catalog album by album.

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