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Published: 2013/11/11
by Larson Sutton

Ben Fong-Torres
Willin' The Story of Little Feat

For Willin’ The Story of Little Feat, the stated intention of author Ben Fong-Torres was to chronicle the life of the legendary, and sometimes decadent, Southern California rock band, but do so balancing the contributions of its founder, the late Lowell George, with those of his bandmates. It seems a noble and welcomed mission, as George’s tenure in the 45-year existence of the group ultimately was limited to its first decade with his death in 1979. As with any good intention, it is the outcome that really matters, and Fong-Torres does not quite escape the shadow cast by the enigmatic leader.

The 250-page effort certainly hits the high points. Biographical markers accurately and neatly describe the various paths that led to Lowell and Little Feat, first in 1969, then again in 1972 when the quartet replaced its bassist and added a percussionist and second guitar. Each album, each song, their chart positions and sales, are recalled, so too the context within which they were written and recorded. Centered on George- his role, his input, and the band’s, producers’, and peers’ reactions to him- the principals are portrayed often as though planets around George’s sun. While his role as such is in some ways a fitting metaphor, it seemingly contradicts rather than enhances the premise. No more clearly is this demonstrated than by the text devoted to vocalists Craig Fuller and Shaun Murphy, who collectively spent 20 years fronting the reformed Little Feat following George’s demise. Their stories, and subsequent two decades of band history, are told in 31 pages, while George dominates over 185. For a book that set out to illuminate the creative impact of Little Feat as a unit, it appears resoundingly from Fong-Torres’ perspective that George’s star was the hottest and brightest.

To its slight detriment, there are redundancies that crop up and distract, from the listing of bands on the 1970s’ Warner Brothers roster to a quote describing George’s early life that, when used twice within two consecutive chapters, invokes an unfortunate sense of deja-vu. The same holds true when quoting Linda Ronstadt’s assessment of Lowell George’s mental capacity, again in redundant fashion with two nearly identical quotes used in two separate chapters illustrating the same point (while Fong-Torres refers to the singer in seeming condescension as, ‘Dr. Ronstadt.’).

For a band that has rolled into its fifth decade of music, Little Feat deserves to have its story told, and Fong-Torres should be commended for his effort. However, Willin’ too often feels parental and protective, especially with regard to Lowell George. There are mentions of the band’s notorious indulgent side with several anecdotes from the road, but those are handled with a veil of selective hindsight. Rock and roll tales don’t have to be sordid or salacious to be interesting, but these are veterans, survivors of the music industry’s most permissive days. So while Fong-Torres moves his account from past to present with enough flair and fact to remain engaging, the story of Little Feat could’ve been slightly more layered and revelatory.

Comments

There are 18 comments associated with this post

Mike Harper November 13, 2013, 09:12:49

One can’t say which is the greatest rock band in history, only their favorite. The original Little Feat is mine, and that’s because of the genius of Lowell George. He changed music in my part of the world. Dixie Chicken was unlike anything I’d heard before, a complicated, staccato beat fused with rich southern guitar. His band mates – especially Bill and Richie – complimented his genius. Lowell was an addict and his behavior reflected it, something about which I know a lot. Alcohol and cocaine almost killed me. If he’d gotten clean and sober, I’d have more valued possessions in my music collection.

Claude November 13, 2013, 16:41:27

Thanks for the review. Ronstadt and Lowell were in many ways kindred musical spirits and quite intimate. Ben Fong Torres goes way way back w/Linda and would not be condescending to her. Ronstadt is a real musical Zelig. Every bio I read from this one to Keith Richards to Neil Young there she is. Anyway Willin is a good solid read for Little Feat fans. Do we really need to get everybody’s past drug inventory these days – how is that revelatory?

Bruce November 13, 2013, 21:52:31

Wow. I am almost finished and my take is that this is the best “Lowell was a brilliant asshole” reportage I’ve seen, and I’m a fan of the band from day one to now – saw Paul Barrerre and Fred Tackett in concert just a couple weeks ago. I come away more aware than I ever was that a) Lowell George was a wonderful songwriter and musician without whom there would be no Little Feat Model 1 AND b) down the track Little Feat Model 2 matured into a fantastic ensemble whose new guise Lowell would diminish. Frankly, you could cycle any number of vocalists through Little Feat Model 2, but there’s no Little Feat Model 1 without Lowell. No disrespect to Craig Fuller, but Fong-Torres got that right.

kurt n November 13, 2013, 22:29:54

I remember seeing Little Feat..geee way back 1974 or so….tripe face boogie my speakers away

Red Miller November 13, 2013, 22:44:39

Just finished the book. It’s not perfect, but I loved it. Thank you Ben Fong-Torres, and thank you Little Feat.

Boathouse Buddy November 13, 2013, 22:56:00

Mike Harper nailed it. The magic fueled our fires while it was fun before the fire rendered us fat men in the bathtub almost dead. The sunrise still looks so pretty, never such a sight, and I sing along while grateful having slept that night.

Dan Alexander November 13, 2013, 23:22:48

I wrote a piece on Little Feat, that appeared in Relix, in the Spring 1986 issue. This was a few years before the band reformed, at a time when there was not a lot of information flowing around. The band had officially broken up in 1979, and was getting zero airplay on the radio.It was through my tape trading friends that I was able to get more rare articles and tidbits, to combine with my love of this band and then write the article. If you are able, check it out. Long live the Rock and Roll Doctors.

Don Fernandez November 13, 2013, 23:53:46

Sorry no Lowell no Feat just that simple, like the Dead and Jerry should have just given the band a decent burial. Lowell George was a famous ass like so many genius’ are. The band did nothing of note after his death except provide income for the band members. Fong-Torres could have used a better editor BUT...thanks for 40 years of Rolling Stone.

Mark November 14, 2013, 00:01:46

Rock n Roll Doctor was a fair book. Lowell was a genius, so was Charlie Parker. Some survived cocaine, heroin etc. some didn’t…..same thing different era’s, but Feat was the most intelligent Band ever to come out of the US & with a sense of humor. Like Bonnie said, I miss ‘em every day. Seen every lineup…Ritchie Hayward was a genius & very under rated. It wouldn’t have worked without him.

ellen copeland November 14, 2013, 07:48:11

I am a fan, and have followed since Shaun Murphy… since Richie Hayward’s death, and Shaun’s exit I have lost interest. I disagree that nothing of note has happened since Lowell’s death and suggest that one listen to “Aint Had enough fun” as the beginning of the next era of the Feat. Perhaps a new name was in order….I remain a fan and they remain my favorite traveling music….

Ed FEAT in HOF! November 14, 2013, 12:59:56

Don F…. Have you not heard “Representing the Mambo”? The reformed band has its own genius. Lowell was around to start it, the other members made Feat music a niche of their own. Just not your cup o’ tea?

Daniel Miller November 14, 2013, 13:11:50

Some band, some music. So underrated by those that don’t know it isn’t true. Lowell was a genius and the rest of the crew were no slouches. Yes their star definitely faded post Lowell and more so after the first couple of comeback albums but I for one shall always cherish their contribution. Wonderful. Missing You, Lowell and LF 1970s.

Jerry Osness November 14, 2013, 14:08:48

Been a fan for the whole ride and loved every minute of it. I would just like to add that although Lowell’s genius cannot be disputed and Little Feat would never have existed without him it certainly didn’t die with him. I’ve seen them many times throughout the years and have never been disappointed. No one here has mentioned that Bill Payne is one of the greatest keyboardist’s Rock has ever known. Richie was in a league of his own and was instrumental in honing the Little Feat Sound; he will be missed. As a guitar player all my life, I can attest that Paul and Fred are no slouches on guitar. ‘The Last Record Album’ and ‘Time Loves a Hero’ are two of my favorite LF albums and George’s name only appears on four of the songs! They will be remembered as one of the hardest working, most crowd pleasing, rock bands in history and I am pleased to have been there.

Rudy November 15, 2013, 13:10:11

It’s heartening to hear many of the faithful fans sharing a similar perspective about this band. The Lowell George material and years will always be the most compelling part of the band’s story, but you can’t dismiss their reunion output. By this time, the band is more mature and stable, so the storylines aren’t as interesting and there isn’t as much to tell. I think the Let It Roll album stands with their 70’s best, and the succeeding releases all contain worthwhile songs. In concert, the band has remained strong, drawing heavily on a grass roots organization of devoted fans. I don’t get the people who dismiss the last 25 years of Little Feat. Doing so ignores the considerable joy this band has created through its releases and concerts since 1988 for thousands of us.

rita brown November 17, 2013, 07:08:23

Little Feat- My favorite band since early 70’s Warner et all
Blessed to have met and hung out with LTG had breakfast with all 6 originals in May 1978 food fight at the table these guys were livin’ the life, lovin’ everyone. They still are, I find old Feat fans that did not embrace the 88 return to be missin’ out.!!!
Lowell was an amazing guy, soft-spoken in person, warm, funny, witty, honest, I interviewed Lowell for my own personal agenda. I learned some pretty cool things directly from his lips.
The band are family, always have been always will be, they all honor Lowell every night when they perform. Lowell’s spirit and genius have remained with the band, each member an important piece of the 45 year old puzzle. Yes there are some missing puzzle pieces but The Music is and always has been engaging, fusionary, funkified, down to earth and heavenly cosmic all at once, yes Lowell was a genius can anyone who really knows and understands this band tell me there is a member of Little Feat that is not, THANK YOU Little Feat and Lowell for filling my life, my heart, my ears, eyes and soul with the very best Rock n Roll that has ever existed on Planet Earth. Find me any band anywhere that play, write, record, produce, tour and LOVE their fans, friends and family the way Little Feat do and I will give you my first and second born sons, both musical geniuses as well!! The only HUGE negative that I have to say about the book I have yet to read is THANKS BEN for stealing the title to my Book!!Long Live Little Feat and after spending 10 years in a row twirling fire at Little Feat Jamaica I have some of the best music memories of my life there. I met my soulmate in Jamaica Thanks to Little Feat!

randy s. November 18, 2013, 13:22:06

I read the book over the weekend and agree with many of the reviewers. Little Feat will always be somewhat of a tribute band to Lowell and that is not all bad. His songs are unlike most in rock lyrically and musically. Some of the songs written by others after his death have tried to make the magic happen, however they sometimes have a hollow ring. I will always be a fan and have been since 1977. I would have have liked to have read more about how some of meaning and back story of the songs. Not enough about the musicianship of the members was discussed, why does anyone think why all the members have had a prolific session career? Lowell was a unique slide guitarist who has influenced many, nothing was mentioned of his playing or use of a Craftsman socket as a slide or anything else. Too often Rock-and-roll bios swim in the excesses of the the lifestyle. This is certainly true and needed to be told however what made them a truly unique and original group seemed to have been left behind. A band which has know hits, little radio play but is still celebrated all these years in certainly a rarity. PS- I saw the band in St Louis under the arch shortly before Richie stopped playing. It was truly a magical night.

Jane moler November 21, 2013, 12:06:17

Luv’d the book. Was in DC at the 3/d concert what would be “Waiting for Columbus” album, little did I know that would happen. Ben Fong-Torres you did Little Feat proud. Am soo glad you did the book.

Steve f December 4, 2013, 06:42:42

first saw lil feat in 74 and many times after.they were one smokin band.i listened to them because the soulfullness of lowells voice n spectacular slide n clever songs and the whole group was fantastic.i had the good fortune to meet Lowell and the band a few times and they were kind and and fun people.i have most everything they recorded.Mick Taylor from the stones told me if they were from England they’d be as big as the stones n I agree.the book is an entertaining read for a fan and brought back memories of those crazy times.im a guitarist and love to play little feat music n blues.a lot their fans were musicians because each artist in the band excelled at their craft.with todays mediocre music i appreciate lil feat even more. I enjoyed this book because it took me back and reminded me how much Lowell was a character and brilliant and the whole band was great.enjoy the glimpse into the past I did n put on all that you dream n don’t let the wind thru the crack in your door.

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