Sunday, 15 December 2013

Ry Cooder and Little Feat live - Rampant Slide Syncopation

Ry Cooder
Back in the 70s two of the hottest live bands around were the Ry Cooder band and Little Feat. When it came to rootsy rock’n’roll with the emphasis on the “roll” or relaxed funk with a touch of shuffle, both the Cooder band and Little Feat pretty much had it nailed.

Little Feat
Cooder and the Feat had a lot in common apart from their live prowess. Ry Cooder and the Feat's Lowell George were two of the best slide guitar players of their generation. Cooder actually played slide on parts of the the first Little Feat album after Lowell George sustained a hand injury and couldn’t play on the sessions.  Both bands also had a fixation on all things “south of the border”. Cooder incorporated the Tex-Mex style and featured Texan accordion player Flaco Jiménez in his band. The Feat used latin themes as lyrical inspiration in songs like Spanish Moon and Down Below The Borderline.

Throughout the 70s both bands put out a whole series of superb, critically praised albums that were commercial flops. Revered in Europe and almost unknown in the US they had pretty much given up the ghost by the mid 80s. Little Feat temporarily split after Lowell George’s untimely death in 1979 and Cooder went off into score film soundtracks, most successfully on Paris Texas. He also worked with John Hiatt and Nick Lowe in the band Little Village, and helped bring Cuban music to the mainstream with the Buena Vista Social Club film and albums.

Amazingly, Cooder has only ever released two live albums. 1977's Showtime and this year's excellent Ry Cooder And Corridos Famosos Live In San Francisco which features versions of classic live 70s material like Crazy 'Bout an Automobile and Dark End of the Street.

Little Feat put out the double live LP Waiting For Columbus in 1977 which has since been expanded into a double CD. The band have also, and most generously, made a whole library of concerts spanning their entire career available on the Live Music Archive for free download.

So, apart from the official releases (which you really should own), here are a handful of excellent officially unreleased video and audio recordings which show off why the two bands were such highly regarded live acts.

Ry Cooder
"Let’s Have A Ball" is an excellent 90-minute Ry Cooder concert filmed by Les Blank. It features Ry Cooder and a band which includes Van Dyke Parks, Jim Keltner and Flaco Jiménez playing at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz, California, on March 25th, 1987. It was broadcast on Channel 4 in the UK in 1988 but is unavailable commercially. Apparently Cooder doesn’t want it released. God knows why. It's brilliant. Check out Cooder's sublime and sensual solo around the 18 minute mark on How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live?

The band are; Ry Cooder: guitar, vocals. Jim Keltner: drums. Van Dyke Parks: keyboards. Jorge Calderon: bass. Flaco Jiménez: accordion. Miguel Cruiz: percussion. Steve Douglas: sax. George Bohannon: trombone. Singers: Bobby King, tenor; Terry Evans, baritone; Arnold McCuller, tenor; Willie Green Jr, bass

Let’s Have A Ball / Jesus On The Mainline / How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live? / Jesus Hits Like The Atom Bomb / Down In Mississippi / Maria Elena / Just A Little Bit
The Very Thing That Makes You Rich (Makes Me Poor) / Crazy About An Automobile / Chain Gang / Down In Hollywood / Good Night Irene.

Thanks to  yosh95wilde for uploading this YouTube

Ry Cooder Live in japan 1988
Here's another excellent show recorded a year later in Tokyo on 28th June 1988.

Ry Cooder - guitar, vocals, Van Dyke Parks - piano, Flaco Jiminez - accordeon, Steve Douglas - sax, Jim Keltner - drums, Jorge Calderone - bass, Bobby King - vocals, Terry Evans - vocals.

00:00 Low-Commotion / 03:40 Little Sister / 08:00 He'll Have To Go / 13:30 Jesus On The Mainline / 19:00 Down In Mississippi / 27:20 Do Re Mi / 32:00 Get Rhythm / 36:00 Chain Gang / 42:00 Goodnight Irene

Thanks to TheRockenroller for uploading this on YouTube

1970 Cooder Promo film produced by Van Dyke Parks
As a bonus here is a wonderful 14 minute short on Cooder produced by Van Dyke Parks in 1970 as "Warner Brothers Records Director of Audio Visual Services". Cooder sounds pretty folksy here.

Thanks to CaptainJos for the Youtube upload.

Little Feat
The Feat are still going strong although now with Gabe Ford replacing the late Richie Hayward on drums. According to a friend of mine who saw them in London in February, they are still a live force to be reckoned with.

Here are two shows widely bootlegged in the 70s which contain arguably some of the best music they ever recorded with Lowell George. These albums, along with 1974's official Feats Don't Fail Me Now were pretty much my introduction to the band and I actually prefer both of these to the rather slick sounding Waiting For Columbus. Both of these are powerful electric funked up hard rock albums which demonstrate a band both inspired and very much at the top of their game. One of the tightest rhythm sections around coupled with Paul Barrere and Lowell George's snaky dual leads make this some of the best 70s live rock music ever recorded. No wonder Jimmy Page called them his favourite band in a 1975 Rolling Stone interview.

Little Feat Live at Civic Auditorium on March 20, 1973. Originally bootlegged in the 70s as Aurora Backseat. Eldorado Slim here was never officially released and Got No Shadow segues into the intense jazz rock of The Fan. Lowell is er... quite chatty.

Little Feat live at Ultrasonic Studios, Hempstead, NY. September 19th, 1974. Originally bootlegged as Electrif Lycanthrope in the 70s. The whole show is stunning. Particularly outstanding is the Spanish Moon > Skin It Back > Fat Man in the Bathtub medley. The Fan is a stunning blast of super rapid funked up jazz rock with the emphasis on rock.

And finally, with ex Rolling Stone Mick Taylor at the Rainbow in London on 3rd August 1977

More on stranger than known
Gregory Porter - The Gijon Jazz Festival

James Brown's Deep Funk - No synthetic effects. No Safety Nets... 

Medeski Martin and Wood - Gijon Jazz Festival 

The Rolling Stones' finest hour - "Get Yer Leeds Lungs Out"


  1. "Check out Cooder's sublime and sensual solo around the 18 minute mark on How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live?"

    I heard him play this live a couple of times in the mid-80's (possibly the same tour). The first time was at, I think, the Hammersmith Odeon in London. Friend and I had recently seen Bo Diddley and BB King, but both of them seemed to be more showbiz entertainers than bluesmen. With that one track - and, of course, there were more - Ry encapsulated the heart of the blues more than the two men who were probably among Ry's early idols.

    A few months later, I was in Atlanta, Georgia for an Eric Clapton concert at the Omni. Ry and his band were the support, opening the show. The audience wandered around, chatting way and not paying much attention to what was happening on satge. When Clapton came on with his band (which included fellow south Londoner Albert Lee), the audience went apeshit, whooping and hollering "the blues, the blues" as they waved lit cigarette lighters in the air.

    Bloody philistines!
    I gravitated here from the Guardian column of recommended 'Eccentric Songs' - Rufus Harley lead me here and I've now spent a couple of very pleasurable hours here browsing, listening and downloading. What a marvellously eclectic assortment of sounds you've assembled.

    Many thanks for the nostalgia, and for new discoveries eg. the Bouton Rouge sessions.

    And, as a fellow TEFLer, thanks too for your EFL SMARTBlog.

    1. Thanks for commenting. I never really understood why the Cooder band never had a higher profile in the US. Oh well.
      Glad any of this is of use or interest...