I went down the rabbit hole. It started two days ago, I needed to hear Bonnie Raitt’s “Nothing Seems To Matter,” but I ended up getting sidetracked by this genius bootleg from Philly back in ’72, I wanted to write about it, how it tied in with the first album and…the night got away from me. But today’s been ultra-busy and after finally sending my last e-mail I decided to return to where I was, but I wasn’t in the same mood. Funny how that works, you’ve got to capture the lightning during the storm, the next day just won’t work.
But then I decided to look for live versions of “That Song About The Midway” on YouTube and I found one but the sound was imperfect, however Raitt was backed up by Little Feat.
They were tied together back then. Supposedly Lowell George started out as the producer of “Takin’ My Time” but then he got sick or didn’t deliver the goods and he was replaced by John Hall. “Takin’ My Time” was supposed to be the breakthrough, but it was not. That didn’t arrive until three albums later, with Bonnie’s cover of “Runaway” on 1977’s “Sweet Forgiveness.” And the truth is that the two best Bonnie Raitt albums are 1972’s earthy, immediate “Give It Up,” and “Luck Of The Draw,” the 1991 follow-up to “Nick Of Time,” Don Was allowed Bonnie to be herself and Ed Cherney got such an exquisite sound it’ll haunt you. “Something To Talk About” and “I Can’t Make You Love Me” are the famous tracks, but “One Part Be My Lover” is the best, with a lyric I’ve never seen done so well anywhere else, about the ambivalent lover, and then there’s the title track, written by Paul Brady and the down in the gutter groove of “Slow Ride” but now I’m going down a different rabbit hole. So, all this is to say there’s a cut on “Takin’ My Time” that transcends everything else on the album, a cover of Chris Smither’s “I Feel The Same,” a complete reworking, it’s the same song but not the same track, and what makes it so great is the slide playing, the chicken pickin’ which is not credited but just has to be Lowell George or inspired by him, Lowell was famous for being tasty, never playing two notes if one would do.
So, Bonnie’s cover with Little Feat of “Can’t Find My Way Home” is no longer a rarity, but what else did the band do together that’s findable on YouTube? Plenty it turns out. The most memorable of which is a performance on “The Midnight Special” from 1977. Yes, Little Feat were on “The Midnight Special,” which was famously live as opposed to Don Kirshner’s travesty on Saturday night. And the highlight is a cover of “Dixie Chicken,” a complete stiff back then, but a legendary song today.
But it gets even better. Lowell is in rare form, his honeyed voice intact, but what pushes it over the top is Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris are backup singers, never mind Jesse Winchester adding to the mix.
So…when you watch Bonnie and Emmylou sing together at the single mic you’ll be brought back to what once was. They’re so into it, playing subsidiary roles, the only thing that’s important being the music. Check it out:
This is the kind of stuff we lived for in the heyday of Napster, but then file-trading died and we got excited about YouTube but then time went by and now it’s all in the rearview mirror, there’s a huge schism between what was and what now is, this stuff is easily searchable, easily findable, much easier than in the Napster days, but there’s no buzz about it.
But I’m one of the few people who don’t love “Dixie Chicken.” I mean I like it, this performance is amazing, but it’s not my favorite from that album. But one song that is my favorite is “Easy To Slip,” the opening cut on Little Feat’s second album, 1972’s “Sailin’ Shoes,” which I bought in ’73 after getting hooked by “Dixie Chicken,” but at the time, during the seventies, I never found another soul who owned the LP, not one.
“Easy To Slip” was the song I sang as I banged the bumps at the ‘Bird, back in ’75 & ’76, to the point where others started to sing it even though they’d never heard the record, could there be a live version of “Easy To Slip” on YouTube?
I couldn’t find one, but I found something even better, a demo of the song from February 5th 1971. REALLY? Well, you can’t trust the labels on YouTube, but this is definitely rough like a demo, like a rehearsal tape and it has a completely different chorus, and it’s so authentic, so from the gut it’s a revelation, assuming you care, which I certainly do.
So now I click to find out what else this guy has posted on YouTube.
Oh, right, check out “Easy To Slip” here:
And this guy’s got a plethora of stuff, and now I’m searching for a definitive version of “Willin’,” but the truth is that Lowell’s versions are all slow, the best iteration is still the unavailable on streaming services one from Seatrain. But thank god it lives on on YouTube. If you’re used to Linda’s take, everybody else’s cover, you might not cotton to it at first, but check it out here:
But the truth is the killer on that LP is the follow-up track, “Song Of Job”:
No one makes music like this anymore, but it fit right in in the seventies.
So, searching for a live version of “Willin'” I of course come across ones by Linda Ronstadt, but then I find a version of “The First Cut Is The Deepest,” I never knew Linda sang that!
But I’m interested in Little Feat. And then my clicking leads me to something called “The Saddle Peak Demos.” The track list is amazing, check it out (it’s the pic on the YouTube page linked to at the top), but they’re all not available, probably were in the heyday of Napster, but damn! And I’m listening, and it’s all interesting, and then I click on “Spanish Moon.”
“Spanish Moon.” It took four albums for Little Feat to break through, to have a hit, but it was Billy Payne’s “Oh Atlanta,” not one of Lowell’s numbers. And over time the band morphed, there were fewer Lowell songs and ultimately he O.D.’ed. Yup, at 34, can you believe it?
But the fourth album, “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now,” the one with Payne’s hit, from 1974, was uneven, it was not the breakthrough of the otherworldly “Dixie Chicken” which came before.
So, the band soldiered on. Word was they were a great live act, they got some traction in the U.K., but when I moved to L.A. in the fall of ’74 you could still see them at the Troubadour, I went, it was not sold out. And sure, there was the 1978 double live album “Waiting For Columbus” with the Tower Of Power horns but if you’d seen the band there was still something missing, you see Little Feat was not always loud and in your face, that side was not represented.
So I’m clicking around, the take of “Two Trains” from the Saddle Peak Demos is for fans only and then, and then, AND THEN…I STUMBLE ON SPANISH MOON!
“Spanish Moon” was on “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now,” but that version was superseded in the public consciousness by the live take on “Waiting For Columbus,” deservedly so. And I’ve got “Spanish Moon” playing on YouTube as I continue to research and then it starts to catch my ear. It’s obviously not a demo, especially when Lowell calls out to the Tower Of Power horns, but it hasn’t been through the studio wringer, it hasn’t been treated, it hasn’t been mixed to the point where the rough edges are gone, it truly sounds live, and it’s more immediate than anything on “Waiting For Columbus.”
Sam’s congas start it off, the groove is laid, but it’s Billy Payne’s keyboard that grabs you along with the horns, and Lowell is truly the leader of the band, he’s not playing to the back row, he’s not trying to impress anybody, he’s just doing what he does, which he can instinctively only do right.
And it’s Billy’s break that truly piqued my interest, he’s soloing after Lowell stops singing and the organ sounds almost cheesy, the way it sounds in church, it’s authentic.
And now the band is one cohesive locomotive.
There’s WHISKEY and BAD COCAINE!
This is the seventies, back when the marching powder was not considered addictive, when it ruled Hollywood and those at home were out of the loop, back when you could still be a musician living the musician life as opposed to being a star. Oh, everybody wanted more, but what they really wanted to do was get high, get laid and play music. Push the musical and personal envelopes both. This was not the internet era, we knew almost nothing about these people’s personal lives, their trials and tribulations.
And the truth is a lot of music was played in those bars, that’s where you started out, not TikTok.
There was HOOKERS and HUSTLERS they filled up the room
We just watched the hookers episode of “Borgen” last night.
The Spanish Moon’s attraction was the dark girl singing while she played the guitar. It was the music, not the brand, we were all following the pied piper.
And the way this version of “Spanish Moon” ends with Kenny Gradney’s bass…they truly captured lightning in a bottle.
So, I go to Spotify, what other takes of “Spanish Moon” can I find? None with Lowell, but I do find covers by Gov’t Mule and Derek Trucks and the String Cheese Incident and even the Arc Angels. Funny how Lowell and Little Feat influenced the players, even if many of the listeners were out of the loop, and may still be.
And then I start thinking, not only about the sadness of Lowell’s passing, but Little Feat’s career. The band really never broke through to the masses, to stardom. And that’s when I realized, they were out of time, their time is NOW!
It was nearly impossible for Little Feat to have a ubiquitous hit in the seventies, but now, in 2020, IT’S LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE! There’s no reason to shoot for the stars because you can’t get there!
And this music lives live, and word is spread online. Radio is not a factor. And if you’re good enough, word gets around, you become a god in your world, and believe me Little Feat with Lowell George would be gods today. Can you imagine them on stage at Bonnaroo, any place where it’s one and done, purely about the experience? This world gets little press, but it’s huge, it’s the antidote to the Spotify Top 50, and the circuit and its fans will support you quite well, just ask Warren Haynes or Derek Trucks, and as good as they both are, they would admit that Lowell was better, sure, he could play, but he could also sing AND WRITE!
And if you’re a newbie, you might not get it at all. But this performance was done without a net, without hard drives, it’s all live, it’s music, it’s the essence of rock and roll.
Down the street I heard such a sorrowful tune
‘Comin’ from the place they call the Spanish Moon