How Little Feat Savored the Flavors of the "Houston Welcoming Committee"

Warner Bros. Records
Little Feat in 1975
Willin': The Story of Little Feat
By Ben Fong-Torres
Da Capo Press, 296 pp., $26.99.

As a band, their music was beloved and respected by a wide array of artists from Eric Clapton, Robert Plant and Linda Ronstadt to the Marshall Tucker Band, Bonnie Raitt and Jimmy Buffett.

But the musical mad doctors in Little Feat, supposedly named for founder/singer/guitarist's Lowell George's own smallish appendages, never saw that critical acclaim translate into commercial success. The band never had a hit single, and the peak of their vinyl notoriety came with the 1978 live (but mostly overdubbed) double record Waiting for Columbus

And even then, that effort was released as the band was disintegrating and a year before from George's death from a heart attack, likely brought on by a combination of obesity and rampant substance abuse.

George and his career with the band has been the subject of a previous book -- Rock and Roll Doctor by Mark Brend -- but in this book, former Rolling Stone scribe and music journalist Fong-Torres digs deep with many new, original interviews with band members (including original bassist Roy Estrada, interviewed from a Texas prison where he is currently serving time on a child sex conviction), former lovers, high-profile fans, and '70s scenesters.

It brings into focus a band seemingly always on the verge of breaking up, with competing musical egos and talents: in addition to George, guitarist Paul Barrere and keyboardist Billy Payne also wrote and sang.

And yet, Little Feat's mixture of rock, R&B, country, jazz, soul and funk was utterly unique on records like Sailin' Shoes, Dixie Chicken, Feats Don't Fail Me Now, and Times Loves a Hero.

While they enjoyed being word-of-mouth favorites of other musicians and discerning fans, Little Feat did crave wider success. To promote the Dixie Chicken record, the band took to visiting radio stations around the country in costume with George in a chicken suit (Barrere would wear the head) and bringing buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken with their own modified labels to DJs.

But Willin' is also the story of the often self-destructive tendencies of Lowell George in many areas of his life, including romantic adventures. His charm was so great that he managed to have relationships (extramarital and otherwise) with women including Raitt, Ronstadt and Rickie Lee Jones.

In one incident Fong-Torres recalls, Ronstadt opens her front door one morning to find George's wife, Liz, looking for him. Having not bothered to tell Ronstadt that he was actually married, a hung-over, bleary George opened his eyes to see two not-very-happy women hovering over him and -- not remembering which house he was at -- casually asked Liz to make coffee.

Lowell, you have some 'splainin to do.

Story continues on the next page.

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