Classic Americana Albums: Little Feat “Waiting For Columbus”

Warner Bros, 1978

Received wisdom has it that John Peel had stopped playing anything but punk by 1977. Not so. In February 1978 he devoted much of one show to songs from the new Little Feat live album. Recorded in August 1977 in London and Washington DC, the original double album has acquired some bloat on subsequent CD issues, although only the occasional overindulgence in jamming for jamming’s sake would make you press the skip button.

Like nearly all live albums of its era there was some retouching done after the fact but Waiting For Columbus is still one of the great live albums. One of the aspects of the band highlighted here better than their studio albums is the power of the rhythm section. Kenny Gradney on bass and drummer Richie Hayward pack a punch that propel songs like ‘Spanish Moon’ and ‘Fat Man In The Bathtub’. The latter song however highlights one of the few negatives, the very dated synthesiser sounds. The otherwise excellent version of ‘Tripe Face Boogie’ grinds to a halt for some synth that would be better off on an early Kraftwerk album. Taken against Lowell George’s slide guitar and the percussion and brass the synths just grate. But if you notice them then you are probably sitting still, which is next to impossible with much of the album. Even the more extended jams that fill out the running time of some of the songs don’t let the beat slide. For the ragtime style piano solo in the middle of ‘Dixie Chicken’ Bill Payne can be forgiven any number of rambling synth lines. Of the songs that weren’t originally included on the album back in 78 ‘Rock and Roll Doctor’ and the first version of ‘Skin It Back’ are the highlights. The version of ‘Skin It Back’ originally issued on the outtakes collection ‘Hoy Hoy’ is no match for the longer version.

If you are new to Little Feat this is probably the place to start, most of their best songs are here and the performances are pretty much all fabulous. Mick Taylor’s guest slot on ’A Apolitical Blues’ shows him every bit the slide guitar equal of George. If you only hear three Little Feat songs in your life then make them these versions of ‘Willin’, ‘Rocket In my Pocket’ and especially ‘Spanish Moon’. ‘Spanish Moon’ has the funkiest bass line ever committed to disc and with the kick of the Tower of Power horn section this one song distills everything that is great about Little Feat.

Waiting for Columbus’ is one of the few albums that I’ve managed to listen to consistently since its release over 40 years ago. There is just a joy about the whole record that is tainted only slightly by Lowell George’s passing just two years later. If you haven’t heard this album it’s time to catch up and join the band.

About Tim Martin 137 Articles
Sat in my shed listening to music, and writing about some of it. Occasionally allowed out to attend gigs.

3 Comments

  1. I agree with you Tim. For me, one of the greatest live albums by one of the greatest live bands. Ever! I saw the band at a warm up show at Newcastle City Hall before they recorded in London. (And before the Tower of Power arrived.) They were sensational. Yes, the synths were annoying and I recall that Lowell walked off-stage for all those bits.
    I had also seen them once before when they were supported by The Outlaws. One of the very few times I’ve seen a brand new support band get called back for a much deserved encore.

  2. Lovely article Tim. And well written .
    As much as i love “waiting for columbus” i do remember being upset by it on it’s release . The synth. additions obviously, but also how “tired” Lowell seemed to be throughout the album . Match this against the famous live bootlegs prior to it’s release and …………………… In hindsight we know that Lowell was not a well man , and well , the rest as they say is history . The album has major touches of brilliance , which you rightly acknowledge . And yes, we are so lucky to have it .

  3. Waiting for Columbus is a fine live album. However, compared to Feat’s blistering performance at the Rainbow Theatre on 25th January 1975, it pales in comparison. Probably the finest live gig I have ever witnessed. Bizarrely, Warner Bros did not deem the mighty Feat to be worthy of a headlining gig, so they went on as ‘support’ to the Doobies. A mistake of biblical proportions!

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