Over on Facebook, that thing I use so that I can avoid talking to real people (they’re nuts !) but still fool myself I have a life, I get a lot of music thrown my way every day. Sometimes there are so many tunes & so little time that it is not possible to listen to it all. Of course if the selection is from one of my Band of Brothers I will give it the time of day but pressing “like” for a Captain Beefheart tune is equivalent to saying “I like breathing”…there seems little point in stating the obvious. Then there are things that make you go ” Oo-Ee-Oo ! That will do for me”. Today I heard this track from 1967 for the first, but not the last time.
“Smile Let Your Life Begin” is by the Factory, a band from Los Angeles. It was their only release on Uni Records, a label which in the same year, 1967, had records by the Strawberry Alarm Clock, the Sonics, Hugh Masekela & the Osmond Brothers ! The Factory included Lowell George, the founder of Little Feat, the group who’s loose-limbed, melodic, stoner take on the Blues made them a Premier League outfit of 1970s American rock (maybe they held the title belt for a while). Richie Hayward’s there too, Feat’s drummer & a man of such rhythmic dexterity that when you saw him you felt the need to check out just how many arms he had.
“Smile” has the seeds of Little Feat’s loping pace. They could dash along with the best but preferred to amble & still get there right on the beat. It is a pop record but it is not the Grass Roots or the American Breed. It’s kind of Sunshine Pop but these guys are sat under a tree somewhere waiting for the day to get a little cooler before they come out to play.I love 60s pop, I love Lowell George & this…? Guess what.
More Cowbell ! In 1973 Little Feat recorded the “Dixie Chicken” LP which included “Fat Man In The Bathtub”. The serpentine blues slid into sinuous funk with their expanded rhythm section. That year Lowell & Richie played on John Cale’s “Paris 1919” masterpiece. With 3 great records they were bigger in the UK than in the USA. In 1975 Warner Brothers brought a raft of their bands over to Europe & at a noted London gig the Doobie Brothers were hooted off the stage when they followed the band the crowd were there to see. Friends who were there told me it was hilarious. We saw them in Birmingham in 1976, an incredible performance was improved by the capture of a maraca thrown by Lowell. My wife had very sharp elbows as the two guys in front of us discovered.
So Little Feat were as popular in Britain as any other American group at this time. In 1977 they returned to play 5 sold out nights at the Rainbow theatre, the scene of their triumph over the Doobies. We took some time off work so that we could see the concert with our London friends. Man, we were so high that our driver baled on us early in our journey. A very dazed & confused Tube journey across London was in order, thanks Phil. So this next clip, I may have been there when it was filmed. If I wasn’t then I was in the very same theatre just days from the filming.
The shows were not exactly a disappointment but there was tension within the band as keyboard man Bill Payne & guitarist Paul Barrere challenged Lowell’s leadership. No matter the band still hit the heights & “Spanish Moon”, backed by the Tower Of Power horns was plenty high enough thank you.
In 1979 I left the UK for the Summer. For 3 of those months I lived in a small island village in Greece with, in those pre- Walkman (ask your folks) times, no soundtrack to my days. It was a little strange. Back home music was a constant & I had never been away from it for longer than a month before. Stripped of the choice & new sounds it was the music of Little Feat that I missed the most. As I walked the cliff paths or got up early to watch the sun rise it was their tunes, that mix of blues,country, funk, New Orleans, their lyrics with a touch of surreal, stoned craziness that I either hummed to myself or shouted into the emptiness. “Fool Yourself“, that’s a good song.
At a cafe on the beach I met a young Scandinavian. He was OK, a music nut who believed his airmail edition of the New Musical Express when, as any fool knows, the trick is to read between the lines & reject at least half of that. I told him that Little Feat were my band of choice & he casually told me that Lowell George had died just 6 weeks ago. I was shocked. News like that travels quickly in the UK & it would have affected all of my friends. Here I was having a very, very good time, not realising that life ,& death, goes on in the world. It was a disconcerting feeling to hear this sad news at a time I was loving that music. A bit of perspective…too much persp (uh-uh I’m not going there)
As I have written about all the great artists who are no longer around, their music always will be. There are so many great records with which Lowell George was involved. More later I’m sure.