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Groupie Grooves

Little Feat can only hope to receive the same "welcome" they got here 31 years ago

To paraphrase George Carlin, people love to accumulate "stuff." Through the years, lots of it accrues in dusty boxes, dark attic spaces and basement cabinets. So when Little Feat keyboardist Bill Payne was planning a move, part of the job included sifting through artifacts he'd collected from the band's 30-plus years of existence.

That included lots and lots of tapes, some of superior quality and meticulously documented, others with blank labels that looked like they'd lived in the seat crevices of Johnson administration-era vehicles. But on an old quarter-inch reel, Payne and guitarist Paul Barrere found a bit of Feat history: the first known live recording of the band from a 1971 show right here in Houston.

An unearthed handbill reproduced in the band's recently released live compilations, Raw Tomatos Vol. 1and Ripe Tomatos Vol. 1, shows that, for a mere two bucks, one could have caught the first Texas appearance of the group (and an opening act, Kuba) at a club called Of Our Own, which was in the building that now houses the Rice Village Half Price Books.

The band that gave us "Dixie Chicken" keeps on tickin'.
The band that gave us "Dixie Chicken" keeps on tickin'.

Details

Little Feat inaugurates the Houston Press Groove Tour, a monthly free concert series, Friday, August 30, at Garden in the Heights, 3926 Feagan. For more information, call 713-280-2490. New Orleans Juice opens.

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"Texas has always been very good to us through the years," says Payne, who was born in Moody, Texas, and spent summers in the Hill Country. And though he doesn't recall much of the actual show or the raw recordings that survived (including "Texas Rose Café"), he does have a more vivid memory of the date.

"That would be the first appearance of the Houston Welcoming Committee, some very lovely, lovely girls," he laughs. At the time, Payne had eaten lunch with a friend then employed at Shell Oil, who turned him on to a group of young volunteers who wanted to show the fledgling band a bit of, um, local hospitality.

"Before that, I was thinking that I never wanted to tour again. But in Houston, I changed my mind. It didn't seem so bad!" Of course, this is a band that notes in one song that "Texas is a world all of its own."

But it's the Feat's musical, not social, history that's explored on the two double CDs, offering almost five hours of unreleased music covering the period between 1971 and 2001. Payne and Barrere sifted through hundreds of hours of tapes to select favorite and rare numbers from all phases of the band's life span, along with demos and rerecordings by the current lineup. The Tomatosdiscs are also the first releases from the band's own newly formed Hot Tomato Records.

Inspired by similar projects from the Grateful Dead, the Dick's Picksand From the Vaults series, Payne hopes eventually the label will stretch into Feat members' side projects, new acts and even publishing. "We wanted to break away from doing business with labels," Payne says. "Artists of our age, they rarely if ever promote you. So I thought that we are as capable as anybody of going to a bank, borrowing money and doing things the way we and our fans want."

Overall, the tracks reflect the off-the-cuff, ramshackle nature of the project. Many of them, mostly from the group's '70s gigs, are revelations that showcase the band's live prowess not explored on their studio releases. Others are tests of patience to all but the most devoted Feat fans.

"We've had a pretty spectacular run, and these records create an overview," he says. "And we're very happy to even be doing this. I mean, most bands have the life span of a fruit fly."

Little Feat's life began in 1969, interestingly enough, with Frank Zappa. It was he who first suggested that his guitarist, Lowell George, had too much talent to remain a sideman and encouraged him to form his own group. While commenting on George's unusually small and fat feet, Zappa drummer Jimmy Carl Black inadvertently named the new group.

Taking Zappa's bassist, Roy Estrada, and recruiting Payne and drummer Richie Hayward, George began to create his vision of a boogie rock band that would also incorporate elements of jazz, blues, soul and country -- a melting pot sound that, while common today, was unusual at the time.

As George was the main singer and songwriter, his offbeat efforts were the main thread of their self-titled debut and its follow-up, Sailin' Shoes. But, disappointed with the band's reception, he temporarily broke up the group in 1972, reconvening it later that year and adding Sam Clayton (percussion) and Paul Barrere (vocals, guitar). Kenny Gradney replaced Estrada on the bass.

It was this lineup that made the band a cult favorite and fleshed out George's vision on records like Dixie Chicken, Feats Don't Fail Me Nowand Time Loves a Hero. Along with the Allman Brothers Band and the Grateful Dead, they become best known for their live shows. It's not surprising that their live double-LP Waiting for Columbus remains the best representation of the band on record.

By the late '70s, though, George's spiraling drug problems and mental fragility began to derail the group, and Barrere took on the leadership role. After recording a solo record in 1979, George announced that the group would disband and then died shortly thereafter of a heart attack.

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