Little Feat - Sailin' Shoes (1972) - Album Review

By Sergio Ariza

Your favourite musicians' favourite band 

Lowell George formed Little Feat in late 1969, after Frank Zappa pulled him away from his Mothers Of Invention for one of these three reasons. First, George had written Willin' and taught it to Zappa, who thought it was such a good song that the guitarist should try his luck on his own. Secondly, in that song George made reference to marijuana and wine and Zappa had a strict anti-drug policy in his band, and; thirdly (and my particular favourite), during one of his concerts with the Mothers George did a 15-minute guitar solo with the amp off. The fact is that, for whatever reason, George founded Little Feat with Roy Estrada, who also came from the Mothers Of Invention, on bass, Richie Hayward on drums and the extraordinary pianist Bill Payne - and the 70s were blessed with one of their most underrated bands.

With that first line-up they would record two albums, their eponymous debut in 1971, and this Sailin' Shoes, their first great album, in which George perfectly blends rock & roll, blues, R&B and country with a sense of humour very close to Zappa; delivering a magnificent album of what came to be called Americana.


The quartet had a very high musical level, highlighting George's incredible slide work, with his Stratocaster to which he added a Telecaster pickup and a lot of compression, and Payne's piano, which even Elton John himself praised.

The album opened in style with a band classic, Easy To Slip, the song that should have brought them fame and fortune but was once again ignored by the public at large. He also re-recorded Willin', which had already appeared on their debut album, but this time with him on slide; as on their first album it was
Ry Cooder who played it, as George had a hand injury. This is the definitive version of the band's best remembered song. As if that wasn't enough, the great Sneaky Pete Kleinow, who had already appeared on their debut, contributes his pedal steel to it. The song would soon become the subject of multiple versions, such as Linda Ronstadt's on her 1974 hit album Heart Like A Wheel or, later, that of the Black Crowes.


But the rest of Salin' Shoes is on par with his two best songs, with the rocking Teenage Nervous Breakdown being a perfect vehicle to showcase George's slide skills, A Apolitical Blues demonstrating his expertise in slower blues or Cold, Cold, Cold, and Texas Rose Cafe sounding like lost gems of southern rock. Nor should we fail to mention the title track, which sounds somewhere between Ry Cooder and Randy Newman; two artists with whom George's work bears many similarities.

Despite being praised again by the critics, the album sold very little, but Little Feat's status changed among their peers. In fact they became one of the favourite bands of many great musicians; people like Jimmy Page, who in 1975 declared them his favourite American band; Bonnie Raitt, who has never hidden George's enormous influence on her own work; Eric Clapton; the Rolling Stones; Bob Dylan; or Elton John himself.