In the mid 70s – a long, long time ago – I had a party trick which involved demonstrating the woeful ignorance of whoever was DJing. It was easy: all that was required was to approach him – it was always a him – and ask for something by Little Feat. There would be a pause, during which the assured smile would momentarily slip, then the same reply, “I’ve left my Little Feat album at home”.
Yeah, right. As if the prat ever had one in the first place, and that was the problem not just here but in the Feats’ native USA: they made great rock music, but for a while the sales just didn’t come. Fortunately, Warner Bros kept faith, and in his credits on Feats Don’t Fail Me Now, the album that put them on the map, main man Lowell George described Warners’ then head man Mo Ostin as the band’s “Guiding Light”, and further credited the evergreen executive presence of Van Dyke Parks as “Tail Gunner”.
Parks had helped out on the album, producing the George penned classic Spanish Moon: the two can be heard at the top of the track. The sales, 150K in the USA, at last brought the band some mainstream visibility, but it was not far down the line that they lost Lowell George, whose substance abuse contributed to a fatal heart attack – the day after he had spoken of getting back together with the band he had led.
Through all the difficulties of getting the band on the map, and keeping going when they lost George, founder member Richie Hayward sat behind the drum kit, and was he good at it. Look at the sheer range of content on Feats Don’t Fail Me Now – once you get past the classic Neon Park cover – and after just one listening, you know that whoever played drums had to be good at his job.
Little Feat carried on, in a variety of guises, for many years, but Hayward was diagnosed with liver cancer recently. Problem was, despite his having moved to Canada, he was not eligible for free health care, and the bills were in the thousands of dollars per week. The pneumonia that killed him did so because other conditions remained untreated, so at the age of just 64 he was gone.
That’s something to think of whenever the health care debate flares up again, as it surely will. We in the UK are very fortunate to have the NHS.