When a live LP is arguably a band’s most beloved album, it can set the bar high for decades to come. This is the case of the eclectic American rock’n’rollers Little Feat and their legendary 1978 album, “Waiting for Columbus”.
Compiled from a series of 1977 concerts on both sides of the Atlantic, “Waiting For Columbus” is a titanic document, offering essential versions of Little Feat classics such as “Fat Man in the Bathtub”, “Dixie Chicken”, “All That You”. Dream” and “Willin”, supported by the horns of the Tower of Power.
The platinum-selling double LP was named one of the best live albums of all time by Rolling Stone, and hailed by NPR’s Ed Ward as “probably the best live album of the decade”.
“The stakes have been set with this album,” said pianist, singer, songwriter and co-founder Bill Payne. “So what are you going to do next to bring people into the fold, to match it?”
Nearly half a century after the shows that would make up “Waiting for Columbus,” Payne is still on the road with the current iteration of Little Feat. The band performs at the Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank on Monday, September 19 and at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, New York on Tuesday, September 20.
“Especially with the arts, you’re only as good as you were last week,” Payne said. “And I think that’s unfortunate because a lot of people have a bigger place when it comes to things. But you pay your money, you walk into a venue, you buy an album or you buy a CD or you stream music. music – anything that lets you hear what people are doing. And the expectations, like you said, are ingrained: ‘Is this going to knock my socks off or not?'”
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Little Feat now features Payne and longtime bandmates Kenny Gradney on bass, Sam Clayton on percussion and vocals, and Fred Tackett on guitar and vocals. The four play alongside a pair of new recruits: Scott Sharrard, formerly of Gregg Allman’s band, on guitar and vocals; and drummer Tony Leone, formerly of Ollabelle and the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, who also played with Phil Lesh.
Payne and Little Feat have played with an evolving roster over the years. Singer, songwriter and co-founding guitarist Lowell George died in 1979, followed by drummer Richie Hayward in 2010 and Paul Barrere in 2019.
Discussing the band’s aftermath, Payne recalled seeing British blues rockers the Yardbirds at Pismo Beach, California’s Rose Garden ballroom in August 1966. He was there to see guitarist Jeff Beck, but at that time There, Beck was out of the group and in his place was a pre-Led Zeppelin Jimmy Page.
“We didn’t know who Jimmy Page was. We had never heard of it,” Payne said. “And yet, it was like, ‘Well, that’s okay.’ So we were putting Little Feat together for (the 1998 album) ‘Let it Roll’ without Lowell and it’s a (bold) move to do something like that, but I was thinking back to The Yardbirds with Jeff Beck and with Jimmy.
“You know, Lowell is not someone you can replace, not Richie Hayward, not Paul Barrere,” Payne said. “But you’re not replacing them – you’re increasing the conversation, musically.”
Payne and Little Feat find themselves on tour again behind “Waiting for Columbus”. Just in time for the album’s 45th anniversary, Rhino released a remastered, super deluxe edition of the album in July. Spanning eight CDs and also available through digital and streaming services, the set enhances the original album with three previously unreleased shows from the same era.
Because as worn as “Waiting for Columbus” has become, the new collection is revealing. Performing three 1977 shows in their entirety illustrates how comfortably daring the band was in serving up their uniquely American gumbo jamming of blues, jazz, country and good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll.
Heard at Manchester Town Hall in England on July 29, 1977, the sequence of the instrumental “Day at the Dog Races”, Barrere’s “All That You Dream” and Allen Toussaint’s “On Your Way Down” is an all tattered deck affair action game. But when the band tackles the same triptych less than two weeks later during an August 10, 1977 performance at the Lisner Auditorium in Washington, D.C., there’s an inevitable hint of swashbuckling threat, almost as if they tracked the songs.
“It’s kind of like home movies,” Payne said of the set. “I was there doing it, so I’m not really digging as deep as someone like you might because it’s new to you guys. … I didn’t come away with any revelations other than the fact that I’ll point out my own thing, singing ‘Red Stream Liner’ my voice was cracking. … I almost told them not to put it on the record and eventually convinced myself that was how I was singing at the time, at least on this song. … It’s good to give people a glimpse of what was really going on. And the band was great.
The Collection’s performance on August 2, 1977 at the Rainbow in London features an exquisite and expansive run, led by Payne, through the band’s “Dixie Chicken” that sways from boogie-woogie bounce to ballroom elegance and vice-versa before using a percussive locomotive. “Tripe Face Boogie” as a passageway to an inhabited “Willin'”, the anthem of truckers tired of the group’s world.
“Waiting for Columbus” is also a reminder of how far the band’s catalog has traveled over the years. “Willin'” alone was covered by the Byrds, Linda Ronstadt, Gregg Allman, the Black Crowes, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen.
John Sebastian, Deep Purple and Eric Church all covered “Dixie Chicken”. “Easy to Slip,” a Little Feat classic that wasn’t on “Columbus” but in his repertoire at the time, was featured on Bob Weir’s 1978 yacht rock classic “Heaven Help the Fool.”
To top it all off, the legends of jam band Phish performed “Waiting for Columbus” in its entirety on Halloween night 2010 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
And yet, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recognition proved elusive for Little Feat. The band was ranked second in a 2016 Rolling Stone readers’ poll of acts readers would like to see in the Hall, surpassed only by 2017 inductees Pearl Jam.
“People asked me if we should be in there and I was like, ‘Ah, I don’t know. We are well.’ But these days, I think yeah, we should be in there,” Payne said. “I mean, if Little Feat isn’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, who is? Our music is based on American music, for God’s sake. … I’m like, ‘I know these are political guys, but wake up.’ “
Go: Little Feat with Miko Marks, 7:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 19, Count Basie Center for the Arts, 99 Monmouth St., Red Bank, $29.50-$79.50; thebasie.org/events/little-feat. The band also plays at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 20, Capitol Theater, 149 Westchester Ave., Port Chester, New York, $45-$95; thecapitoltheatre.com.