LITTLE FEAT – ” Waiting For Columbus ” Classic Live Albums Released 10th February 1978

Posted: February 10, 2017 in Classic Albums, MUSIC
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“Waiting for Columbus” was recorded during seven performances in early August 1977. The first four shows were held at the Rainbow Theatre in London, UK on August 1st–4th, 1977. The final three shows were recorded in George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium on August 8th–10th in Washington, D.C. Little Feat was backed at some of these shows by the Tower of Power horn section.
August, 1st back in 1977 (Monday) Little Feat played the first show in London with the Tower Of Power horns, but none of the songs from that evening were chosen for the official release.
Is this the greatest live album, Ever!!! I’ll never forget the first time I heard the version of Spanish Moon. Everytime I hear those horns . Outstanding.

How the group pulled off one of the best live albums of all time, the double-LP “Waiting for Columbus”, is both a heartening story of persistence and a sad, cautionary tale about how band politics can become toxic, and destroy a beautiful thing in the process.

When Lowell George proposed doing a live album in early 1977, the group approved the idea at least partly, because they considered it a good sign that George was involving himself in any decision-making.

They were also anxious to capture their onstage power in the way the Allman Brothers Band, the Rolling Stones, Neil Young and the Band had before them. Little Feat made plans to include the five-piece Tower of Power horn section (Mic Gillette and Greg Adams on trumpets, with Lenny Pickett, Emilio Castillo and Stephen “Doc” Kupka playing saxophones), incorporating new super-funky arrangements inspired by Allen Toussaint’s work with the Band on Rock of Ages.

Every once in a while an album comes along that completely changes the way you think about a band. For me that band is Little Feat and the album is their timeless live offering, “Waiting For Columbus”. Spanning the course of seven shows in 1977, the band makes their way through a set of swampy blues-rock in a uniquely 70’s paradigm that reaches other-worldly altitudes. Little Feat was a band that makes you think many contemporary bands aren’t as revolutionary as you thought.

Little Feat members had always enjoyed recreational drugs and heavy partying, but George was now fully in the grip of a destructive cocaine habit. He often refused to rehearse or jam, disappeared for days at a time and virtually stopped writing songs, leaving production decisions and music construction to keyboardist Bill Payne and guitarist Paul Barrere. In an interview with journalist Bud Scoppa, Barrere described ’77 Little Feat as “without focus or direction, no real managerial control over the business aspect, and because our personal habits were so askew,

It’s one thing to hear the album, but it takes on awe-inspiring qualities when you sit back and listen to it.

First off, lead vocalist and slide-guitarist, Lowell George was an immense talent and should be heralded as a national treasure. His vocal work and lyrical contributions are timeless in-and-of-themselves. Not to mention, as a session guitarist he played on Robert Palmer’s cover of Allen Toussaint’s Sneaking Sally Through The Alley and as a producer, he produced The Grateful Dead’s 1978 album Shakedown Street. Combined with keys player Bill Payne, rhythm/lead guitarist Paul Barrere, Richard Hayward on drums, and bassist Kenny Gradney, Little Feat came together and made something special with “Waiting For Columbus” (especially considering the ensuing disbandment of Little Feat and George’s untimely passing).

On the original two-LP set the concerts’ song order was reconfigured for more dramatic effect, with nine performances from D.C. and eight from London. The Rolling Stones’ Mick Taylor guests on “A Apolitical Blues” from the August 3rd gig, which was otherwise excluded from consideration; it was subsequently known as the “Black Wednesday” show by the band. Barrere and George were seriously hungover after staying up all night with some of the Tower of Power members after the second show. Castillo told writer Ben Fong-Torres for his Willin’ band biography that Hayward and George got into a screaming match just before going on stage, with punches thrown. Road manager Doug Zahn prevented Hayward from physically attacking George, who started the fisticuffs. Other band members reportedly fought in the dressing room after the show as well.

Waiting for Columbus is an impressively thorough expression of the times in which it was created. They’re playing all the sounds available to them and pulling it off in a unique way that celebrates the cultural heritage of the American South, and more-than-adequately covers the eclectic influences of the day. There’s jazz, blues, rock n’ roll, boogie, folk, gospel, soul and the many expressions of these styles within the Americana framework.

The party gets started with a klanky cowbell run that leads into a pot-stirring vibe as “Fat Man in a Bathtub” gets revved up. This tune exemplifies the attitude of Little Feat that never takes itself too seriously; allowing the music to breathe without the air of seriousness that constricts many acts. The improvisational aptitude of the band more than compensates for any nonsensical attitudes displayed in their lyrics. Which are satisfying and flush with wit and humor.

“All That You Dream” opens up as an up-tempo rock city number before breaking into the glorious chorus of “I’ve been down, but not like this before”. Seemingly, to celebrate the perspective of the downtrodden as they harmonize beautifully through this gripping serenade.

“Oh! Atlanta” is the kinda tune that makes you look at ATL from a different angle. One that says “there must be something to this city”. A good ole’ country get-down that moves through luscious musical changes and makes you think, “there’s definitely some tonk in that honky”. Upon taking a closer look at this song, I realized that I didn’t fully appreciate the creativity and musical awareness of Little Feat. Notably, Lowell’s vocals throughout the verse are syncopated and stylized in truly original form.

“Old Folks Boogie” creeps up with a jazzy blues feel and lyrical content that shows how these guys can have fun with their music.

“And you know that you’re over the hill – When your mind makes a promise that your body can’t fill – Doin’ the old folks boogie – And boogie we will – ‘Cause to us the thought’s as good as the thrill” is a hilariously accurate insight to the aging process.

“Spanish Moon” is a song that plays like a soundtrack to wherever you end up at the end of “On Your Way Down” (included on the extended 2002 release). A low-down sinister groove, rife with visceral storytelling and a prominent feeling that it’s goodto be bad, “Spanish Moon” has one of the baddest bass lines on the album. The low-end here is heavier than lead and trudges through the filth of the visceral storyline.

At the moment, I can hardly think of a band that weaves as rich a narrative and moves through it with such compelling musical dexterity. As if to place exclamatory punctuations, the “Tower of Power” horn section lies in wait to unleash their brass-blasting fury.

Moving on to one of Little Feat’s most famous songs, a little left-hand piano boogie quickly opens up to some right-hand woogie as the extended/re-worked version of “Dixie Chicken” takes flight. Complete with an extended piano solo that traverses through a syncopated Fats Waller/Jelly-Roll Morton style and leads into a delightful, Dixieland breakdown with the Tower of Power horns. Cascading piano, sultry clarinet, trumpet and trombone lead the jam before it explodes into “Tripe Face Boogie” which features a tantalizing mix of synthesized sounds and Rhodes piano through the instrumental section.

“Willin’ > Don’t Bogart That Joint” is a slowed-down country crooner section with a beautiful, lonesome feel to it. Riding the edge between all-out-sorrow and a feeling of redemption that says “I’ve been through some shit, but I’m gonna be alright.. And damnit, if I’m not gonna be better off for it.” Speaks to a man at the end of his rope, but ready to heed the omen of progress:

“A Apolitical Blues > Sailin’ Shoes” marks the downright bluesiest section of the album. It starts off chuggin’ down the tracks and settles into a juke-joint vibe that carries through until the last track on the album; Bill Payne’s “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now”. A song that features a frothy bass line that keeps comin’ back for more. Drummer, Richard Hayward drops it into gear while Lowell’s vocals rev up the engine on this beast, for an expansive journey fitting to close out the album.

Little Feat represents a brand of Southern culture that belongs to everyone. Much in the same way that the 1776 ethos isn’t only identifiable to Boston, or Philly. They connect with something in all of us and deal with the full experience; the celebration of life, the evil urges, and a humorous outlook on the hard times that keeps the soul light.

Lowell George became a producer-for-hire, and began work on a solo album that was eventually issued as Thanks, I’ll Eat it Here. He died at the age of 34 while on tour promoting it, ironically playing the Lisner Auditorium a final time on June 28th, 1979, succumbing after a heart attack the next day, most likely brought about by a cocaine overdose. Little Feat eventually regrouped, and with many different line-ups they made fantastic music for decades. Hayward was killed by cancer in August 2010, as was Barrere in October 2019. Of the survivors, Payne has been the most active, working most recently with Leftover Salmon and the Doobie Brothers.

Waiting For Columbus’ cover art by Neon Park (Martin Muller) still confounds easy interpretation, and forms part of the mystique of the album. Is the anthropomorphic tomato-woman a symbol of idyllic America, before Columbus “discovered” her? Three additional outtakes were included on the 1981 Little Feat compilation Hoy-Hoy! and seven more emerged on the Rhino reissue in 2002. Maybe someday the powers-that-be at Warner Bros. Records will release everything recorded and finally satisfy the still-thriving Little Feat cult?

Waiting for Columbus continues to exert a big influence, especially on country, bluegrass, blues and jam bands. On October 31st, 2010, Phish performed the whole album in Atlantic City as part of their annual “Halloween disguise” shows, and on July 21st, 2018, the Peach Festival in Scranton, Pa., saw the remaining members of Little Feat join with moe., Turkuaz and the Midnight Ramble Horns to recreate Waiting For Columbus one more time.

Simply stated, Waiting For Columbus is a timeless classic, worthy of any record collection.

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