The members of Little Feat 2021 are: Bill Payne, Keyboards and Vocals; Sam Clayton, Percussion and Vocals; Fred Tackett, Guitars and Vocals, Kenny Gradney, Bass; Scott Sharrard, Guitars and Vocals; and Tony Leone, drums. Scott joined in 2019, Tony in 2020. Lots more on them later, but for now….
Little Feat is very possibly the last-man-standing example of what used to be the norm in American music, a fusion of a broad span of styles and genres into something utterly distinctive. They combined earthy, organic material with first-rate musicianship in a combination that transcends boundaries. Feat took California rock, funk, folk, jazz, country, rockabilly, and New Orleans swamp boogie and more, stirred it into a rich gumbo, and has been leading people in joyful dance ever since.
It all began in 1969 when Frank Zappa was smart enough to fire Lowell George from the Mothers of Invention and tell him to go start a band of his own. The late Paul Barrere, Feat’s long-time guitarist, wrote a few years back of how Lowell “came to the front door of the Laurel Canyon house I was livin’ in, with that beautiful white ‘p’ bass in hand, and asked if I wanted to try out as bass player for his new band. As most who know the story’s end can tell you, as a bassist I make an excellent guitarist…”
Actually, there were quite a number of bass players that first year—that seat took a while to fill. George first settled on keyboard wizard Bill Payne, then added drummer Richie Hayward and bassist Roy Estrada (also a Zappa vet). They were quickly signed by Warner Bros. and began working on the first of twelve albums with that venerable company.
The name was part of the legend. A member of the Mothers happened to mention Lowell’s small feet to him “with an expletive,” said Paul Barrere. “Lowell deleted the expletive, and the name was born with Feat instead of Feet, just like the Beatles. Neat, huh?”
The first album, Little Feat, featured the instant-classic tune “Willin’,” and the follow-up Sailin’ Shoesadded “Easy to Slip,” “Trouble,” “Tripe Face Boogie,” “Cold Cold Cold” and the title track to their repertoire, as well as a new version of “Willin’” that took it from pure Lowell to a fully-developed band tune. Estrada departed, and the band signed up (on guitar!) Paul Barrere, Kenny Gradney (bass), and Sam Clayton (percussion), and the latter remain rock-solid members of Little Feat’s rhythm section.