Little Feat bringing ‘Columbus’ tour to Clyde
Influential jam band will play entire album during show at Clyde
Little Feat’s unique blend of rock, jazz, blues, and other styles has transcended time and influenced many more commercially successful artists like Bonnie Raitt, Robert Palmer, and even Van Halen.
Their music was groundbreaking, and their first live album, 1978’s Waiting for Columbus, caught the band at their best.
Little Feat will stop by The Clyde Theatre on Sept. 30 to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the album.
Waiting to be found
Like a lot of live albums of its time, Waiting for Columbus is not a single performance, but a blend of several concerts. The shows were recorded at the Lisner Auditorium in Washington, D.C., and the Rainbow Theatre in London over a 10-day period in August 1977. The finished album included some of Little Feat’s best-known songs, including “Dixie Chicken,” “Fat Man in a Bathtub,” and “Rocket in My Pocket.” Former Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor even makes a guest appearance to play slide guitar on “A Apolitical Blues.”
The album is looked upon by many as one of the greatest live albums ever made. The cover art, painted by Neon Park, who was one of the prominent album artists of the time, is just as iconic and depicts a tomato in female form, lying in a hammock.
“I don’t know if the painting was named ‘Waiting for Columbus’ in advance of this album or if they named it after that,” Little Feat guitarist Scott Sharrard said in a recent interview with Whatzup. “But, the play on that was that when Columbus discovered America, he brought tomatoes back to Europe and Italy, which was really seismic if you think about Italian cuisine. So, here’s this tomato in a hammock waiting for Columbus. Waiting to be discovered.”
Sharrard, who joined the band in 2019 after a stint in the Gregg Allman Band, said there has been some discussion within the band about whether the tomato also represented Little Feat waiting to be discovered by fans, but said he has never gotten a clear answer.
“Little Feat were always kind of this black sheep rock ’n’ roll band,” he said. “They were always legends amongst musicians. Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, The Doobie Brothers, and The Eagles were all heavily, heavily influenced by Little Feat, but Little Feat never got that commercial success.”
Finding a new audience
Waiting for Columbus is Little Feat’s highest-selling album and showcased some of the band’s best works from a string of classic albums released in the early ’70s, highlighting superior musicianship and stellar songwriting.
Though Sharrard was just a child when the album was released, it is still very special to him.
“I was born in 1976, so that record impacted me in a whole different way than the people who went out and bought it in the store,” he said. “It shows you how lasting this thing is though.”
Phish performed Waiting for Columbus in its entirety on New Year’s Eve in Madison Square Garden in 2010 and exposed it to a whole new audience.
“People were not as aware of this record as they should have been, but I think, by Phish doing that, it created some new fans for Little Feat and showed how influential this record is on every musician,” Sharrard said. “It’s one of the most important rock albums in history, not just live albums, but important rock albums.”
The album was recently reissued as an eight-disc collection that not only contains the original release, but three additional two-CD live sets as well, all previously unreleased except for a single song. The bonus live sets were recorded on the same 1977 tour that produced Waiting for Columbus and are presented in their entirety.
Little Feat are known for never playing a song the same way twice, “so it’s like getting a behind-the-scenes view of what it was like from show to show,” Sharrard said of the unreleased material. “Instead of getting two shows that were edited together, now you can hear all the shows from that tour, which is really pretty cool.”
Keyboardist/singer Bill Payne is the sole living original member in the band. At The Clyde, he will be joined by longtime members bassist Kenny Gradney and percussionist/vocalist Sam Clayton, who both joined in 1972, guitarists Sharrard and Fred Tackett, and drummer Tony Leone.
The band plays the songs as faithfully as possible, but, Sharrard admits, they are never going to be able to replace the styles of deceased members Richie Hayward, Paul Barrere, and Lowell George.
“We have to bring our own thing to it,” he said. “We try to bring, where it’s appropriate, our own flavor, but also really concentrate on playing what needs to be there to authentically play the music. It’s a bit of a balancing act, but I think that balancing act has created a fresh take on some of the music.”
Little Feat hold a special place in the hearts of jam band fans, and the Waiting for Columbus Tour is as much a tribute those fans as it is the music.
“I was raised by Little Feat fans in a house with a musician father,” Sharrard said. “Little Feat fans are very, very, very special and extremely enthusiastic. Part of it is that whole black sheep thing, and part of it is when you’re into Little Feat, it’s like being in a club. The fans are extremely supportive and always enthusiastic. Playing this album has been a special thrill for us and for the fans.”