Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Young Folks' Boogie

Category: 50 Songs to Hear

SONG: New Delhi Freight Train
ARTIST: Little Feat
ALBUM: Time Loves a Hero
YEAR/LABEL: 1977, Warner Brothers

I played flute. Legitimate flute and thought I was a jazzer. I hated rock and roll then.
(Lowell George)

Little Feat was one of the best-kept secrets of the 1970s. Their albums sold well -- most of their albums earned "gold" status for 500,000 records sold -- but they never had a hit. And that is a crying shame. When the "superstars" FM format took hold in the early 1980s a lot of bands that had enjoyed success on FM radio despite not having "hits" had to go, and Little Feat was among the casualties. During the 1970s, however, Little Feat had a number of songs on FM play lists.

A number of songs from what would become their final studio album released during leader Lowell George's life, Time Loves a Hero, received airplay in 1977. Critics didn't care too much for Time Loves a Hero, labeling it "too commercial" or a dramatic departure from their previous work. Whatever the critic may have thought, the album yielded a great song: "New Delhi Freight Train."

The song, written by alt-country singer/songwriter Terry Allen, featured Lowell George's gruff, soulful vocals and rather subtle guitar work. The song is the tale of a man whose "real name is just Jesse James" who pillaged, killed, stole, and "killed a man named Smiley Jordan." George sang about this criminal describing himself as
"just a country boy." Much like other songs about the legendary outlaw (the country song "Jesse James" and Warren Zevon's "Frank and Jesse James") the villain is presented not as a "good guy" but as misunderstood (Zevon used that very term in his song). All the while the solid beat drives the song along like the train depicted in the title.

Little Feat's lead singer, lead guitarist, and major songwriter Lowell George died June 29, 1979 of a drug-induced heart attack while touring for his solo album Thanks I'll Eat It Here. George's death left Little Feat in limbo for seven years until the members re-formed the band with Fred Tackett on guitar and former Pure Prairie League singer Craig Fuller on lead vocals. While the revamped incarnations of Little Feat have enjoyed some success, it is the Lowell George era that is most fondly remembered. That's understandable because many memorable songs came from those years -- including "New Delhi Freight Train."


The entire Dixie Chicken album -- the title song is a masterpiece, "Fat Man in the Bathtub" is one of the funniest songs from Little Feat, and "Roll 'Um Easy" is one of their great ballads.
"Tripe Face Boogie" (from Sailing Shoes) -- oh, yeah. Fun ("New York, Yew Nork, you gotta choose one") abounds in this rocking number.
"Willin'" (from Little Feat) -- if there is a definitive Little Feat song, this is it. If you only know Linda Ronstadt's version or some other cover of this song, run, don't walk, to a record store and get the original.
"Straight From the Heart" (from Down on the Farm) -- a great song from the posthumous Little Feat release shows that there was nothing lacking in George's singing or sterling slide work.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've seen all Feat Line ups over the years. Don't short change yourself ! Let It Roll, Feat's comeback LP with Craig Fuller, is a great one.In fact, it was their first studio gold Lp and remains their top selling studio LP in their history. The concerts Feat gave when Fuller was with them were incredible, some of the best concerts I've ever witnessed. Their Austin City Limits show has been acclaimed as possibly the nest show in the history of ACL,that's how good Feat was with Fuller ! Certainly worth looking into, a definite plus for your collection.