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The Wait Is Over! Two Little Feat Classics From Rhino – Dixie Chicken and Sailin’ Shoes (Deluxe Editions)

07-01-2023 | By Robert S. Youman | Issue 128

Like many, I am a huge Little Feat fan. Despite all of the passion, I have been very patient. It's been quite some time since the last release of significant quality, but there have been several Little Feat audiophile LP reissues over the years. This is a band that still has a considerable following and the demand is absolutely still there! This includes commendable efforts from Nautilus, Mofi, Speakers Corner, Rhino and several more labels. We also have had a few failures. To my ears, the original (OG) pressings were a hit or miss like most originals back in the day. Even when considering some of the better reissues, these days they are extremely difficult to find. And of course, the best pressings in mint condition are outrageously priced. The time was ripe!

Now we have Rhino records taking another big swing, with Bernie Grundman and his exceptional remastering skills leading the way. It began in 2022 with a new reissue of the iconic double LP Waiting For Columbus. Considered by many as one of the greatest live Rock recordings ever, Bernie thoroughly crushed that one. Pressed at GZ, the production and sound quality were universally praised. In this case, there was plenty of competition. The 1978 OG is exceptional with many collectors claiming its superiority. Over the years, Mofi released two different pressings (1979 and 2010) that were both considered bench marks by several critics. However, despite all of this, the 2022 Rhino still won many of the shootouts on YouTube, and in several high end periodicals.

Next up to bat are two additional Little Feat reissues, and Rhino has done their homework well. As studio releases, Dixie Chicken and Sailin' Shoes are often ranked at the top of the totem pole by most fans. Each of these Deluxe Editions includes the remastered original mix along with two additional LPs. The two additional LPs include demos, alternate takes and live concert recordings. The original mix on both titles are cut by Bernie Grundman from the original master tapes. I could not verify the sources for LP 2 and LP 3 on both, though all LPs are pressed on 180 gram vinyl by GZ. We also have some exceptional packaging for both reissues, with a beautiful tri-fold jacket, and a very impressive booklet that includes unique graphics, rare pictures and a series of historic narratives that I am confident will satisfy even the most ardent fans!

Sailin' Shoes

Released in 1972 on the Warner label, Sailin' Shoes is the second studio album by Little Feat and presents a distinct difference from the follow-up Dixie Chicken in both style and substance (see additional comments below on Dixie Chicken). With more of a focus on the blues, rock and country, Sailin' Shoes was recorded by the original band which only included four members. This smaller but still highly creative lineup consisted of singer-songwriter and guitarist Lowell George, keyboard player Bill Payne, drummer Richie Hayword, and bass player Roy Estrada. All four of the musicians contributed to the song writing, but Lowell George was the primary followed by Bill Payne.

The two tracks that really stand out for me on this release are "Willin" and "Trouble." Both are beautifully remastered and never sounded better. "Willin" is also a fan favorite and is typically a highlight at every Little Feat performance. It might be the most covered song of the entire Little Feat catalog as dozens of other artists have also shown the love. Much like a country song, there is plenty of passion for the elixirs of life and the obvious downfalls. Referred to as "weed, whites, and wine" throughout, this provides the listener much to consider and much to contemplate. "Trouble" is a poignant piece that seems directed to a close friend and confident of the story teller. Sparse and intimate, you can just feel the concern and consolation. Again, both of these tracks demonstrate the wide range of skills and the musical creativity that drove the band forward. 

The outtakes and demos on LP 2 are also very interesting. I typically have mixed feelings about alternate tracks, but the examples here do provide some additional insight and understanding of how the songs evolved. For those collectors who count themselves as "completists," these tracks sound absolutely fantastic and should be important considerations. The concert included on LP 3 was recorded at the The Pallidum in Los Angeles, in August 1971. This is the only live performance of the original lineup that has ever been released. I must say that this one is a real keeper. The performance and sound quality is outstanding. Not quite the satisfaction of "Waiting For Columbus," but very close considering the smaller ensemble and venue.

For comparison purposes, we have the 1972 OG and the 2008 Mofi. I wish I had a copy of the 2012 Rhino mastered by Chris Bellman, but this was not to be. My understanding is that the Bellman reissue was pressed and released in Europe, with only a limited supply offered in the States. Finding a copy for this review in time turned out to be almost impossible. Again, supply and demand reeled their ugly heads. The sound quality on the OG was somewhere between good and very good. Though I have a near mint copy by appearance, the quality of the vinyl and it's high noise level, along with a few clicks and pops, all greatly curtailed the enjoyment.

Mastered by Shawn Britton, the Mofi was impressive, but still fell slightly short. Rich, detailed and with some additional muscle in the bass, I have been living happily with this for several years as "my go to copy." However, the 2023 Rhino presented a definite step up—it was so much more transparent and expansive. Vocals and instruments were better defined. Mids were properly fleshed out and cohesive across all the tracks. Still plenty of drive and weight in the low end, but never overdone. This is the one to have!


Dixie Chicken

Released in 1974 on the Warner label, and considered by many as their landmark record, Dixie Chicken still has that distinctive broad and eclectic style of the first two Little Feat albums, but something new and exciting was now clearly shining through. One of the reasons for the new creativity and slight change in direction, was the change in the band lineup. Original bass player Roy Estrada was replaced by Kenny Gradney, and rhythm guitarist Paul Barrere and percussionist Sam Clayton were added. Bonnie Bramlett and Bonnie Raitt also contributed on the album and provided backup vocal support. Though most of the original foundation still remained, we can now note more of a New Orleans direction in the music. As several band members later stated in so many words, it was now all about a new commitment to both the funk and the groove!

My two favorite tracks on the album are "Kiss It Off" and the infamous "Fatman In The Bathtub." The former clearly stands out for me as something very different for the band. The use of the tabla and the introduction of the Moog synthesizer are unexpected but they truly enhance the entire melody and message. Lowell Georges' lyrics are so dark and painful, you can't help but feel an emotional connection. "Fatman" is a concert staple and one that I always look forward to during a live performance. The picture that Lowell paints is so much fun and so entertaining! Along with some references to drug use, I can just imagine "Juanita" trying to simultaneously entertain her two lovers—one in the back room tub and the other at the front door demanding more. This track is just one of the many examples of the innovative rhythmic drive and percussion mentioned above. Talk about a pulsating addictive groove! You can only smile and tap your toes as the music builds and the storyline unfolds. 

The mix and sound quality of the alternate track "Dixie Chicken" on the second LP might be my most favorite ever—for both in studio and in concert. Lowell is much more present on this version and the soundstage is huge. Sometimes these differences and little discoveries make this hobby all worthwhile. The live set included on the third LP was recorded at Paul's Mall in Boston Massachusetts in April, 1973. Again, we have another winner in terms of performance and stage presence. The band is on fire and very tight after several road shows and an intense touring schedule that year. Lowell George is set free and demonstrates his immense skills on slide guitar like never before on the studio album. The sound is somewhat veiled compared to Waiting For Columbus and the live tracks included on Sailin' Shoes. However, the energy, the excitement, and the musicianship are all still there!

I had three pressings on hand for a comparison. That includes the 1974 OG, the 2010 Mofi, and the 2008 Speakers Corner. Like the Sailin' Shoes OG, we have something very listenable but nothing exceptional in terms of sound quality. Fairly dynamic and with good to very good clarity and definition, it fails to compete with both the Speakers Corner and the 2023 Rhino. Again, though visually in near mint condition, the noisy vinyl of the day somewhat hindered the sound. The Mofi was disappointing with a dark and fairly muted presentation. For whatever reason, it was not up to the standards set by the Mofi Sailin' Shoes pressing mentioned above, also mastered by Shawn Britton.

The Speakers Corner reissue, mastered by Kevin Gray, is a real winner. To my ears and in my system, it's a toss-up between it and the 2023 Rhino. It presented a slightly warmer balance than the Rhino, but with plenty of inner detail and jump factor. Unfortunately, this is another tough one to find, as only a very few copies are currently available on Discogs, and mostly from Europe only. Several years ago, I paid well over $100 in total cost for a copy from Germany. Today, asking prices are even higher.

The 2023 Rhino Dixie Chicken cut by Bernie Grundman is a pure joy. Compared to the OG, there is now an immediacy and a timbral purity that this masterpiece truly deserves. Like the 2023 Rhino Sailin' Shoes, we now have a proper sound stage with a new sense of resolution and layering. Highs and mids have an air and openness that really helps the listener reach out and into the music. The bottom octaves have a new found amount of slam and authority. All in all, this reissue is a big success!

Six Degrees Of Separation

My apologies for all the following name drops, but there is a never ending list of storylines and "connect the dots" scenarios going on with Little Feat and these two titles that I find quite fascinating. Something similar to the expression "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," we might even call it "Six Degrees of Little Feat."

Rumor has it that Little Feat were the favorites of several important artists of the day including The Rolling Stones, The Allman Brothers, The Byrds, and The Grateful Dead. All have made comments about the impact and influence that Little Feat made on their music. Even in current times, artists like Phish, Dave Matthews, Jackson Brown and Bob Dylan continue to include the music of Little Feat in their live sets.

One curious backstory involves the support and mentorship of Frank Zappa. There are several versions, but one claims that as a member of The Mothers of Invention, Lowell George was able to demonstrate his then new song "Willin" to Zappa for his feedback and opinion. Zappa then unexpectedly fired him, because he felt that George was too talented to be a member of his band, and strongly advised him to start his own. Still another story, again linked to the song "Willin," claims that Zappa fired him for "writing a song about dope," as Zappa was not an advocate of drug use. In any case, Lowell would often introduce "Willin" during live performances with variations of these stories.

That song "Willin" continued to be a center of attention, as it was eventually recorded for the first Little Feat album (self-titled), but the lead guitar was performed by Ry Cooder as Lowell George had injured his hand at the time. As noted earlier, "Willin" was then re-recorded for the second album Sailin' Shoes, but this time around, lead guitar was performed by Lowell George himself. Both versions have much to be admired for. And lets not forget the backup vocals and contributions of Bonnie Bramlett (of Delany and Bonnie fame), and Bonnie Raitt on the Dixie Chicken album! The list of famous devotees is endless.

Final Thoughts

Even beyond all of the star power and connections discussed above, and the wonderful evolution of the band over time, the music still strongly stands on its own. It never fails that when I put this music on in both my listening room or my car, those who listen along at my side are quickly smitten if not totally absorbed. The music is timeless. Bottom line. Sailin Shoes and Dixie Chicken are both absolute classics and should be a strong consideration for every record collection! Highly recommended!


Exciting news. The current rendition of Little Feat will be touring this summer in support of both Sailin' Shoes and Dixie Chicken. The plan is to play two concerts at each stop and to perform Sailin' Shoes in its entirety at the first show and Dixie Chicken in full at the second. I have not seen Little Feat since my college years, but these two reissues have got my juices flowing! My tickets have already been paid for. I am greatly looking forward to hearing all about "Juanita" once again!

Rhino Records: www.rhino.com

Official Little Feat Website: www.littlefeat.net