It hardly mattered that Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant all called Little Feat their favorite band or that critics fell over themselves with praise for the group's offbeat lyrics and undulating rhythms; to the rest of the world it was a cult rock 'n' roll band that never sold many records, never had any hits and seldom got airplay. It hardly mattered that in Washington Little Feat's raucous and sly syncopations helped it build a rabid following matched only recently by Bruce Springsteen. Little Feat could see out the Capital Centre, but the band preferred to play six or seven sold-out shows in much smaller halls because the music worked better that way.
Yet over the course of eight albums, Little Feat never lived up to the brilliant promise of its early work, never achieved the sales it deserved, never overcame the obstacle of trying to establish a democracy in a band whose heart and soul were in one man -- Lowell George. Little Feat has already fallen apart before 34-year-old George died of a heart attack in Washington in Jun 1979, just as he was beginning a solo career.
It does matter that there is a new two-record Little Feat set out that is likely to be eagerly snapped up by the group's still loyal and possibly unsuspecting legion of fans. It's called "Hoy-Hoy!" (Warner Bros. 2BSK3538), and features a typically whimsical Neon Park cover and a sticker heralding "16 Never-Before-Released Versions of Little Feat Classics and a 12-Page Brochette of the Little Feat Age." Unfortunately (for both fans and their memories of the band), "Hoy-Hoy!" is a great disservice and not at all indicative of the band's excellence or the diversity of its material. The keyword is "versions" not "classic." Caveat emptor.
Three cuts ("Skin It Back," "Red Streamline" and "Teenage Nervous Breakdown") come from the 1977 Lisner sessions that produced the double live-concert set "Waiting for Columbus." They are funky without being propulsive, which is probably why they've lain low for almost four years. Three cuts (the wondrously sensuous "Easy to Slip." "Strawberry Flats" and the classic electric "Forty Four Blues") come directly form Little Feat's first two albums; it's curious that Warner Bros. never put out a "Best of," even while the band went through serious personal and organizational problems that resulted in albums full of inferior material.
Three cuts are total throwaways: a 50-send acoustic snatch of Lowell George fooling around in the studio with "Rocket in My Pocket": a 1969 demo version of "Breakdown" that bears almost no resemblance to the Lisner version; and a two-minute excerpt froma concert version of "Feets Don't Fail Mr Now" that seems to have been used to bring the average amount of music on each side to 17 minutes.
There's "Front Page News" with a different melody than finally appeared on record; there's also an explanation that George complained this original version didn't "cut it" and that it needed "a lot of work." What a thrill to find it included here in all its banality! In fact, there are precious few good "Little Feat" moments on the album: a muddied "Rock and Roll Doctor," some extended solos on "The Fan." There are two new songs from the gifted Paul Barrere and Bill Payne, both in the classic Feat vein but lacking the sparkle. There's also one cut from the Lowell George Tribute in Los Angeles, with Linda Ronstadt singing "All That You Dream" with Nicolette Larsen and Rosemary Butler. It makes one long for the album that was supposedly recorded at the event.
What we have here is indictive of a growing insensitivity in the record industry to artistic integrity. The fact that George's widow, Elizabeth, helped put together the booklet and lent a number of personal photos, doesn't erase the fact the "Hoy-Hoy!" contains a lot of material that was never intended to be released for public consumption -- demos, radio broadcaqsts, concert tapes. The release of inferior meterial sullies not only George's reputation but the reputations of the band's surviving members.The s songs that stand out here, not unexpectedly, are the studio tracks from the early albums.
The classic Little Feat songs are scattered over its eight albums with live versions of almost all contained on "Waiting for Columbus." Sometimes those live versions were a bit too full or excessive or ragged, but they come closest to representing the true "best of" that Warner Bros. has not seen fit to collect on its own. The songs include "Willin'," "Sailin' Shoes," "Dixie Chicken," "Tripe-Face Boogie," "Fat Man in the Bathtub," "Oh Atlanta" and full versions of "Rocket in My Pocket" and "Fetts Don't Fail Mr Now." "Waiting for Columbus" is still in print, and as long as it is, there's no excuse for a second-rate effort like "Hoy-Hoy!" This is the kind of record a company puts out when they've lost an act, not when they're trying to honor it.