Formation of the band
The formation of Little Feat occurred in Los Angeles, California in 1969. Little Feat was founded by singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Lowell George (b. 1945 – d. 1979) and bassist Roy Estrada, both of whom had previously been with Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention. Other co-founders were keyboardist Bill Payne (who had auditioned for the Mothers but didn’t join them) and drummer Richie Hayward (George’s band mate from their now-defunct group Factory).
Little Feat signed their first recording contract with Warner Bros. Records. In 1971, they released their self-titled debut album, and the following year they came out with their sophomore effort Sailin’ Shoes. Neither of these albums was successful, and so Little Feat temporarily disbanded. Estrada quit the band for good — some sources say that he joined Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band, and others cite that he took a job as a computer programmer.
Little Feat reconvened in 1972, with new members Kenny Gradney (bass) who replaced Estrada, Paul Barrere (guitars) and Sam Clayton (percussions). Since the second incarnation, Little Feat turned their rock roots offering into New Orleans funk/R&B, as evidenced by their third LP Dixie Chicken (1973). The album’s title track further exemplified the Little Feat sound, and became their signature song.
Even though Little Feat’s origins were from Los Angeles, the band was otherwise classified as a Southern rock band. Little Feat built a strong cult fan base especially on the Southern region and the East Coast, as major commercial success was still elusive.
Many of George’s band mates were becoming frustrated by his erratic behavior and frequent drug use. By 1974 Barrere and Payne were slowly taking over the band’s lead, injecting more jazz fusions into their repertoire. This started in their fourth album Feats Don’t Fail Me Now (#36 on the Billboard 200 album chart). Barrere and Payne were also taking over the songwriting chores too, with George contributing only two songs for the album “Down the Road” and “Spanish Moon.”
The band still took that jazz fusion direction to their subsequent albums The Last Record Album (1975; #36 on the pop album chart), Time Loves A Hero (1977; #34 pop), the live double-LP Waiting For Columbus (1978; #18 pop) and Down on the Farm (1979) which was to be their last album with George. During this time George showed little interest in his band’s increasingly jazzy and improvisational style. Growing frustrated, he went out on his own and released his one and only solo album Thanks, I’ll Eat It Here on Warner Bros. label. The album was a throwback to Little Feat’s early roots rock sound and contained mostly cover songs.
Lowell George’s departure from the band, and his sudden death
Following the release of his solo album, George announced that Little Feat had indeed disbanded. He embarked on a solo tour, but in the middle of that tour he suddenly died of a heart failure in April 1979. He was only 34 years old. Shortly after and even for years since his death, George has been praised and respected for his genius, musical work and high production standards
Little Feat continued to finish recording what would be Down on the Farm album, now without George. They released it in November 1979, and broke up shortly afterward. Down on the Farm managed to place a respectable #29 position on the Billboard 200. Two years after George’s death and Little Feat’s split, an album containing a collection of rarities named Hoy Hoy! was released.
Craig Fuller era
Little Feat reformed in 1988, with much of the 1970s lineup remaining intact. They paraded a new vocalist in the person of Craig Fuller, a Lowell George sound-alike who was also a songwriter and guitarist. This new version of Little Feat released Let It Roll in 1988. Despite mixed critical reviews, the album was quite successful, peaking at #36 on the Billboard 200 and going gold in the process. The band released a couple more albums with Fuller, Representing the Mambo (1990; #45 pop) and Shake Me Up (1991; #126) before Fuller left in 1993.
Shaun Murphy era
Around the same year, Little Feat recruited a female singer named Shaun Murphy, who had sung on all recent Little Feat’s recordings. She sang lead vocals as well as shared singing duties with Payne and Barrere. Albums released during Murphy’s time were Ain’t Had Enough Fun (1995), Under the Radar (1998), Chinese Work Songs (2000), Kickin’ It at the Barn (2003; first album released on their own label Hot Tomato Records) and Join the Band (2008) before her departure in 2009.
Drummer Richie Hayward’s death, and Little Feat in the present
Also in 2009, Hayward was diagnosed with liver cancer. The following year, he was in remission and on the way to recovery from his cancer but in August 2010, Hayward died from pneumonia and lung disease. Little Feat decided to carry on, and recruited a new drummer Gabe Ford. In 2012 they released their sixteenth studio album Rooster Rag.